During Identità Golose, I watched chef Clare Smyth prepare a potato and roe dish served at Core by Clare Smyth, her London restaurant. I knew I had to taste it when I was in town as the dish resonated with me for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s no secret that I love potatoes, so I love it when chefs create something magical out of this simple starchy spud. Secondly, she had mentioned that her parents had grown potatoes in Northern Ireland. Due to their farm’s close proximity to the sea, the potatoes absorbed a salty characteristic so the potatoes and roe dish was an homage to that. The mere mention of anything Northern Ireland grips me immediately. I have family there and I find it to be one of the world’s most enchanting.
Clare Smyth was the head chef at Gordon Ramsey’s namesake restaurant where she inherited and maintained three Michelin stars, the first woman in England to ever accomplish such a feat. So when I was in London last month for the Kylie Minogue concert, I just had to dine at Core. I called my first day in town and thanks to a stroke of luck, managed to get a lunch reservation.
The restaurant sits in a townhouse on one of those endearingly quintessential Notting Hill streets. We arrived and walked through the sleek bar to glimpse into the lustrous kitchen displayed behind a floor-to-ceiling glass wall to arrive in the dining room. Like Mirazur, gorgeous light beamed through the windows and the restaurant exuded those comforting feel-at-home vibes. We took our seats at the linen-free wood tables and looked down to see that our napkins were wrapped with a tiny herbal bouquet comprised rosemary, lavender and more. Backlit wood shelves containing wine glasses looked like museum displays while–through the course of the meal–artists like Joni Mitchell, U2 and Guns n’ Roses played softly, further enhancing the ambiance. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but fantasize about this restaurant being my home, and what furniture I would put where. Anyway, I digress…
So, I have to say the attentive deliberate service blew me away. In fact, it was on par with Eleven Madison Park, which I think has the best service I have ever experienced in my life. I know you could say that I’m biased since I worked for those brilliant blokes once upon a time at NoMad, but I swear the fact that I used to be on their payroll does NOT sway my opinion in any way. The staff was sharp and polished, yes, but super chill…they made us feel like they were lucky to have us as their guests instead of us feeling like we’re the lucky ones to be there or them just being impartial to our presence, ya know what I mean? They described the dishes with a meticulous thoroughness, explaining which farmers they used where and elaborated on so many details, but not pedantically and not in a way to “regale” us…they spoke in a manner that implied that they were excited to share their food with us. And since excitement is infectious, we, in turn, couldn’t wait to dig in.
To drink, I opted for a 2011 Riesling Spätlese Felseneck Schäfer Fröhlich Nahe to go with the three-course prix fixe option. Would have loved to have done a tasting, but it was lunch and we decided not to overdo it. So, also like at Mirazur, I was in good company and enjoying the conversation, so I didn’t want to kill our jolly rapport by taking copious notes. So, that being said, here’s a look at some food snapped by me and my friend Jeff (I credited him where appropriate):
Dense, chewy, yeasty sourdough with virgin butter from the Isle of Wight (where Uncle Vernon’s sister Aunt Marge likes to vacation!). So, this was not my first experience with virgin butter…I tasted it in Copenhagen when I dined at Noma and Amass a few years ago. Turns out the Butter Vikings have opened a dairy on the Isle of Wight!
A trio of amuse bouches greeted us: dainty little foie gras tarts atop a mossy tree trunk slab; tiny skewers of duck protruded from a thick dark wood disc; smoked jellied eel with seaweed and a fluffy tomato gougère.
Potato and Roe
One of the best things I have ever tasted in my life! The potato was wrapped in seaweed and cooked with plenty of butter, then topped with trout and herring roe, tiny potato crisps and finished with a buerre blanc dulse seaweed sauce. It could even be a playful little riff on a British classic: fish and chips.
Isle of Mull scallop tartare with sea vegetable consommé
This was Jeff’s appetizer and it tasted as briny as it was pretty, and made me long for the beachy days of summer. Oyster leaves were in there, herbs that taste exactly like an oyster…wild!
Skate with Morecambe Bay shrimp swiss chard and brown butter
Simple and good…prepared very well with some nice textural contrasts happening. The fish was tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and the sweet baby shrimp complemented it nicely.
Oxtail-stuffed Roscoff onion with beef short rib
Jeff’s entree…have to say that with all due respect to the skate, I liked this better than mine. A sweet Roscoff onion stuffed with hearty oxtail accompanied by a beef short rib so tender, it practically melted in my mouth.
Cherry almond pre-dessert
I could have had another one of these! The bright tart black cherry flavor coupled with the bittersweet almond was just ever so gratifying on so many levels.
Carrot cake with ginger and walnut
A delightful riff one of my favorite desserts! A pillowy carrot cake was topped with a carrot-shaped sweet cream cheese concoction, then finished with crispy walnuts. I have yet to find a decent slice of carrot cake in Italy, so this held me over until my next trip home.
Chocolate and hazelnut crémeux salted caramel
I had a tiny bit of this and loved all the fun textures. I felt a bit nostalgic as well as I’ve loved all of these flavors since childhood, and it’s not every day I get to taste them in so refined a presentation.