I thought we’d probably had our best meal of the year back in January when we went to Northcote but, fan as I am of Lisa Allen’s cooking, I’d have to say that dinner at Purnell’s beat it. Just by a nose, so to speak.
It’s dinner by way of tasting menu. There’s the shorter “Reminisce” one, featuring some of Purnell’s back catalogue of dishes. And then there’s the longer “Now” which, of course, is the one we went for. That comes as nine courses, although there may be two or three separate presentations within the course. For example, “Veg” brought four items. A BBQ’d baby sweetcorn wrapped in lettuce, a simple disc of beetroot stuck on a lolly stick and dusted with sesame (?) seeds, a baby carrot with cumin powder to dip into. And, best of all, “beef tomato”. No, not your usual beef tomato. This was a normal tomato, roasted so it was soft but still held its shape and stuffed with long cooked beef.
The Shellfish course, brought a seemingly simple crab salad – just the flaked white meat topped with a little crab bisque. But the hook here was a sumac wafer, lending the citrus notes that you might otherwise expect from lemon. And then, moments later, the second part of the course arrived – a single perfectly cooked scallop dressed with an almond satay (just like a peanut one in flavour notes and texture) and a little ponzu sauce.
The course named “Remoulade” brought, unsurprisingly, tastes of celeriac/celery. A single cube of salt baked celeriac; a crisp pastry enclosing a celeriac/mustard mix. Each of these to be eaten in one mouthful. And finally, a shot glass of apple & celery juice – one of the best palate cleansers we recall.
Fish was excellent. A small fillet of red mullet, a little pomme Dauphine and a red wine sauce. Nothing gimmicky here – just good cooking. Rose veal cheek was also excellent – long cooked, packed with flavour with sesame and treacle.
There was then the almost ubiquitous course that moves you from the savoury dishes to the sweet. A tiny waffle – a couple of inches square – with maple syrup, topped with a foie gras butter and crispy chicken skin. It works.
Desserts proper were also excellent. A small bowl with dates, topped with a lemon posset which was itself topped with a crumble mix. I could happily have eaten a bloody big bowl of this. Creme brulee (or “burnt English custard” as Purnell patriotically calls it) in a real eggshell. And finally, warm chocolate served with mint ice cream and aerated chocolate – think mint Aero.
Service was excellent throughout. My partner had taken the wine pairings and was impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the sommelier. This was a cracker of an evening.