Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Lyndsay Bettles compare notes on The Five Fields.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Lyndsay Bettlesis from East London and eats out around twice a week. Her best-ever eating out experience was at Vinoteca in Farringdon and her guilty pleasure is Toblerone.
Tucked just off London’s Sloane Square in Chelsea, the The Five Fields is a smart new restaurant that aims to make the most of artisanal British produce, which includes using their own kitchen garden in Sussex. The intimate dining room is kitted out in soothing muted tones, with pretty glass panels and touches of gold. The kitchen is headed up by Taylor Bonnyman from the two Michelin-starred Corton in Tribeca, NewYork, and Marguerite Keogh, previously at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. The menu, although seemingly simple, is created to showcase the fantastic quality of the ingredients and superb cooking. It is only open for dinner.
This is a restaurant with its eyes fixed firmly upwards, towards the Michelin constellation. And in some places, the battalions of well- drilled staff can become irksome, ready to replace even the smallest sip of water. Here at The Five Fields, though, service is neither overbearing, nor smarmy. Just professional and slick. The sommelier knew his stuff, and didn’t go in for up-selling. *I don’t think I was recognised. And if I was, everyone got the same stellar service.
Service was attentive but not smothering. The waiters explained the dishes clearly, and when queried about where the olives were from, they knew without hesitation (although the response was muttered, so I sadly don’t know where the lovely buttery and sweet olives come from). The sommelier was warm and friendly, allowed us to look over the wine list in our own time and didn’t show the slightest annoyance at our choice from the lower end of the price range.
As I walked in my heart sunk. Beige walls and chairs, expensive lighting and some bronze fella diving into the wall. Oh, and jazz trilling quietly in the background.This was ‘feen deening’, no doubt about that. And with the odd exception, the prospect of tasting menus and questions as to whether ‘Sir understands our concept?’ filled me with fist-knawing dread. But my cynical chill soon thawed. There was a precision to every dish, a combination of technical know-how and well-tuned palate. Take a starter of foie gras. OK, so it arrived on a dreaded slate, but the ball of luscious parfait was encased in the most brilliant of purple beetroot jellies, like a great gleaming billiard ball. This tempered the richness of the creamy interior. As did the tiny Alpine strawberries – a brilliant match. This was an accomplished and sexy starter. As is so often the case in high-end places, there were bits and pieces that arrived unbidden. But they didn’t depart untouched. A puff of golden gruyère pastry, a tiny obelisk of breaded salt beef, with a slice of cornichon and a blob of mustard mayonnaise. Delicate and ballsy. Suckling pig, five ways, produced one of the finest shards of crackling I’ve ever eaten, along with a brace of tiny ribs (slightly superfluous), a croquette of either pigs head or cheek (again, robustly elegant) and slices of leg and loin. A few leaves of something sorrel-like added acid piquancy. It was very cheffy, but it worked. Pudding involved fresh peas and edible soil (please, chefs, no more dirt) but once thrown in the mouth, made the tastebuds grin.
The menu was ambitious with a variety of meat and fish options, but slightly lacking on veggie alternatives. The set menu wasn’t cheap (nor was the wine list), but since we were plied with nibbles, canapés, amuse-bouche and petit fours until we were at bursting point, we didn’t mind too much. To begin, little gooey gougères and crisp salt beef croquettes were both a little greasy. A green gazpacho amuse-bouche, on the other hand, was very refreshing. Two slabs of butter arrived next – freshly made in their Sussex kitchen garden. From the menu; beautiful soft scallops with crisp pistachio granola, and a stunning sphere of foie gras coated in vibrant beetroot jelly, served with shimeji mushrooms and rainbow carrots were delicious, but my husband was disheartened by the lack of brioche. The sea bass fell apart on the touch of the knife and held up surprisingly well against the more robust flavours of figs, grelot onions and summer truffle on the plate. The venison saddle cut like butter and melted almost as quickly in the mouth with the assistance of sweet beetroot, sour blackberries and smoky ricotta. For dessert, we had the classic strawberries and cream, and bizarre sounding garden peas and coconut, which was surprising – sweet garden peas, creamy coconut and buttery chocolate soil.We fought over them both. Finally, perfect little jars of passion fruit marshmallows and salted caramel and peanut truffles to accompany coffee – this place can do desserts!
the bottom line
I arrived expecting yet another tasting menu cooked by chefs to impress other chefs. But there’s talent in the kitchen and an innate understanding, not just of technique and timing, but of how ingredients work together. Presentation could be fussy but flavours were bold. Service was flawless and despite eating alone, I had a rare experience. A Michelin-type dinner I enjoyed. I must be getting old.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 24/30
The food, venue and waiters were all exquisitely dressed, and the flavours were divine, but the atmosphere lacked the buzz you find in many central and east London restaurants. All in all, a sophisticated restaurant providing an intimate if expensive evening out.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 6/10; SERVICE 10/10; LYNDSAY’S TOTAL: 25/30
The Five Fields Sustainable Restaurants Association (SRA) rating:
The Five Fields’ sourcing policy is exemplary, with a menu focused on local and seasonal ingredients. All meat is organic, free range and high welfare. Fruit and vegetables are in the height of season. Sustainability is also taken seriously: fish served follows the MCS ‘fish to eat’ ‘fish to avoid’ guidelines – scallops are hand-dived and sea bass line-caught. Where it lost points, was the foie gras. There is no satisfactory welfare certification for foie gras and we would encourage restaurants to look for alternatives. Environmentally, the restaurant recycles food waste and uses environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Written October 2013