First time visit to Sally Clarkes last night. Previously the thought of the no-choice-menu and a mental blockage relating to (over)use of the chargrill meant that this restaurant although oft-considered had always been edged out by some other option when push came to shove. This time, the fact that my partners father had booked it for his Birthday (and was paying !) made the decision somewhat easier...
First success: passed the Gin Sour test (usual exchange: Gin what ?..leading eventually to... Sod it, just get me a gin and pour bitter lemon in it...)
Second success: The menu appealed ! (After decipherment. Sally Clarke has the most elegant illegible handwriting I have encountered. Image the grace of a Japanese calligraphist married to the readability of a G.P. ) My luck was in. I could therefore sit back and enjoy the meal secure in the knowledge that it didnt include pointless abominations like pineapple.
The cooking itself was first rate exceptionally well balanced between courses and with small themes throughout (goats cheeses of a different nature in the starter and cheese course...roast figs paired with balsamic roast onions...). The timing no doubt aided by the single menu was also good enabling the meal to flow in a comfortable way. And service was friendly and professional.
Bargain of the night came on the wine list a Meursault Clos de la Barre, 1995 (think it was 95 - I didnt order). I wasnt paying, and bluntly cant afford £85 for a bottle of wine when I do pay. But if it is your birthday, there are other sentimental reasons for choosing it, and you are going to spend the money, then its difficult to complain at a restaurant selling wine of this quality virtually below the retail price ! A great find in a good list.
But I am still left wondering about the no-choice menu deal. Is this a service to ensure the types of themes and balance mentioned above (but cant the punter be trusted to choose accordingly) ? Is it to ensure consistency and quality (but find it hard to believe that someone who can cook to this standard couldnt deliver equally across a wider repertoire..). Is it just a case of well, this is what I fancy cooking and youre free to join me or to go elsewhere as you choose ?
For me I thought the plus side was the balance and pace of the meal. The minus side was the uncertainty and the fact it made me hyper-critical about the cooking (if thats all theyre cooking, I expect it to be *really* right...not that it wasnt) In the end Id have to say whilst I would definitely go again and the cooking was excellent, the no-choice thing remains a significant negative factor...what do others think ?
P.S. the only other places I recall seeing this approach were Mr Underhills (erstwhile Suffolk, now in Ludlow) which I couldnt get a booking for when I was in the area, and the Altnaharrie Inn in Ullapool which, tragically, I understand will not be opening this year (...or again ?). No doubt there are many others.