For whatever reason I pretend to come up with, I’ve essentially been too lazy to secure a reservation at London’s 3 Michelin Starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
So when I heard that the restaurant’s chef patron, and one of the very rare three-star female chefs, was leaving to establish her own restaurant, I thought I’d be able to pounce. As it turned out, booking a table at Core by Clare Smyth was a little easier than expected.
I guess even the very best have to reestablish themselves and I wondered how the extremely talented Clare Smyth would go putting forward her own brand of fine dining. The native Northern Ireland chef had tasted the ultimate success in her career, leading to accolades galore and an MBE to boot; so the signs were promising that I was in for a pretty special meal.
I’d been travelling for work, which usually means a solo dining excursion, but this time, the girl had flown over to the UK to spend a week with me while on my travels. Which meant that I wouldn’t have to sit at a table all alone… A real bonus 🙂
Located in Notting Hill, Core by Clare Smyth is easy to spot as you’re walking down Kensington Park Road; old style gas lamps helped guide us to the front door of the beautiful building. Entering the main door led us to a bar area, where our jackets were taken before being led to the main dining room. Glimpsing an ultra modern kitchen with Clare and the team busy at work, our table gave us a great view of the dining room and kitchen.
While I’ve never been to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, I know that it’s of that old school style of fine dining; white linen and all that goes along with it…. Core had taken a slightly different approach, much more modern and much more casual. Polished wood floors, not tablecloths and a homey feeling that was more Martha Stewart than stuffy French fine dining.
Menus were presented and there was a choice of a small and large tasting menu, the latter being much better value; as well as a short and sharp a la carte set of options. It was an easy choice for us; you don’t fly to another country and dine with one of the world’s top chef to skimp out on a la carte! So we chose the larger tasting menu and settled in to dine.
Oh, I should mention at this juncture that SC was very sick, so she was surviving on hot lemon water…..
Our meal kicked off with a series of small bites, which is pretty much the expected order of things as part of a tasting menu. There was a little theatre as smoke infused duck and orange were presented; the smokey dome removed to show duck skewered to a wood base with orange peel separating two small bites of deliciously smokey duck. But my favourite was a small tart of foie gras presented on a mossy log, warming flavours accentuated by the expertly prepared and very creamy foie gras.
Rounding out the small bites; jellied eel with malt vinegar and toasted seaweed – quite sharp and intensely flavoured, and a pumpkin and aged parmesan ‘puff’ that was a little dry for my liking.
The story behind our first course was interesting; Isle of Man scallops were hand dived by a local conservationist to ensure a sustainable farming, the subtly sweet scallop was well cooked, however it was the butter sauce that was made primarily from the scallops roe that was the highlight, rich and a lovely depth of flavour. I’d personally have loved a little caramelisation of the scallop, which may have infused more flavour and texture, but overall a solid start to the meal.
I absolutely loved the presentation of Charlotte Potato, which was clearly the signature dish of the restaurant and linking Clare Smyth’s Irish heritage with the humble potato. The silky smooth potato was beautifully cooked, then topped with caviar for a salty hit and potato crisp for texture; finally, a creamy and quite salty buerre blanc was poured around the potato. The salty sauce married wonderfully with the potato, which felt wonderful on the palate. I quickly finished off the dish and licked the plate clean, it was that type of dish!
I must have had a complete brain fade when our Skate was presented – there’s no photographic evidence that we had the skate at all, and if not for some notes I made on the night, I would have completely forgotten about the dish… There was very Asian feel to the dish, the sauce that accompanied the flakey fish was very much like a Thai yellow curry sauce that had elements of sweetness and just a little fire.
Conflicted; that’s all I can say about our next dish. The Lamb Braised Carrot was interesting in that it was supposed to be about the vegetable element – the carrot. However, I found the shredded lamb placed along the top of the carrot to be too intesnse for my palate, which really diminished the flavour the root vegetable. Sheeps milk yoghurt sat beside the dish, ostensibly to settle the punch provided by the lamb, and largely it worked, but I found the carrot flavour muted overall.
I continued to be conflicted when the Rost Grouse was delivered; my only previous experienc with grouse had been quite ordinary (at the Two Star Hibiscus see post here). On this instance, I found the grouse to be heavy in gamey flavour but still the quality of the produce shone through. There were little touches that I appreciated, like the ball like flowers sitting on top of the breast, the richness of the sauce and the flavour combinations; however, I didn’t love the cabbage wrapped foam-like grouse bite that accompanied the breast, it was just too powerful for my palate.
We were back on solid ground with the fisrt dessert, which was a Cherry Bakewell; a light foam covering a cherry sorbet with shortbreat crumble. There was a sweet contrast with the foam and the slightly bitter cherry sorbet, the combination tantalising the tastebuds with alternating hits of sweet – sour.
The main dessert of Pear and Verbena was simple in it’s presentation but with clean lines and precision was also quite elegant. The meringue half sphere of a base held meringue slices and a pear sorbet, which was very cold and texturally quite lovely against the crunchy toasted meringue and fresh pear discs. The dessert went down very easily, but I couldn’t help feeling that a warm dessert may have been a better option; given that the cold weather had kicked in??
That desire for a warm dessert was partially satisfied when our petit four contained a warm chocolate tart; the rich and decident chocolate warm and delicious. Even better, the girl was full by this time and I managed to scoff down both of the chocolate tarts, which helped end the meal on a high.
From what I’ve been able to gather from reading reviews from those in the know (ie, have sampled both Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Core), there is a distinct difference between the Clare Smyth of old and the ‘new’ Clare Smyth. Now obviously I cannot comment on this, but I’d definitely have hoped for a little more from a chef with Three Star pedigree. There were dishes that I really enjoyed, but overall, I found the meal to be ‘solid’ if uninspiring. I probably only would rate one dish as absolutely delicious, and that was the potato dish.
It’s early days for Core by Clare Smyth and no doubt it will take time for the very talented chef to get into a groove. To build a catalogue of amazing dishes takes time, as does coming out of the shadow of a chef like Gordon R… I think I’d like to head back in a year’s time, once the restaurant has had time to find it’s groove; I’m positive that my next experience will be more in line with my (wild) expectations, not to mention one or two shiny new stars.