Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Laura Rowe and olive reader Chris Attoe compare notes on this fine-dining experience on offer in Notting Hill
Check out our review of Core by Clare Smyth in London, and see if an expert restaurant critic comes to the same conclusion as an olive reader…
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats.
London-based Chris Attoe’s favourite food is Malaysian and he runs Southeast Asian supper club Slô Street Food. His top eating-out experience was Decatur for Louisiana-style food, and his guilty pleasure is eating Manílife peanut butter from the jar.
About Core by Clare Smyth
After gaining a starry reputation (as chef patron at three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and receiving an MBE for services to the hospitality industry), Clare Smyth has opened her first restaurant. The 54-cover venue in Notting Hill gives fine dining a contemporary edge, with huge windows letting in plenty of natural light and not a single white tablecloth in sight.
Clare grew up on a farm in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, and she continues to work with farmers to champion sustainable UK produce. It’s hard to get a reservation, but if you do, choose between the tasting menu (£95 per person), the five-course menu (£80 at lunch, £85 at dinner) or the three-course menu (£65 at lunch, £75 at dinner). Clare and her team work behind a glass wall to prepare dishes such as Isle of Mull scallop cooked over wood, lamb with braised carrot and sheep’s milk yogurt, and pain perdu with peaches and cream.
The tablecloths might be missing at Clare Smyth’s debut but the tone is undeniably formal. Don’t let that be confused with stuffy, though – Britain’s most lauded female chef has made her first solo mark thoroughly modern. *I got a wave from Clare but don’t think I was recognised.
Décor is stripped back and contemporary – via a small bar (where you can eat, too), you’re led to a dramatic chef’s table in front of the glass-fronted kitchen, and through to the bright dining room.
Clare isn’t the only one with fine-dining pedigree in the restaurant. An army of staff are better versed than most, thanks to restaurant director Rob Rose, who worked for a decade at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Along with head chef Jonny Bone – who has Geranium in Copenhagen on his CV – and Clare’s passion for the produce of her home soil, means menus that are surprisingly unfussy, ingredient-led and low-waste.
The à la carte promises three courses for £65 but delivers seven if you count four canapés – including the lightest tomato and basil gougère – tangy sourdough with ‘virgin’ butter (more like a sour cream cheese), a pre-dessert, and petits fours of mini, still-warm chocolate tarts and passion fruit and pepper fruit pastilles.
Colchester crab royale to start comes in three parts – a bowl of sweet white meat surrounded by a moat of brown meat, a crab doughnut and a flute of shellfish broth. A single Isle of Mull scallop is cooked over wood fire and delivered under a cloche of smoke. A brackish, buttery sauce is lifted by herbs and chopped coral pearls of roe.
The short-but-sweet grouse season was celebrated with trimmed breasts, bread sauce and a faggot, revealed within a red cabbage jacket. It was the oxtail-stuffed Roscoff onion, though, that won: the onion, the meat and its accompanying gravy as rich, dark and glossy as treacle.
Desserts are fine and dandy – a chocolate and hazelnut crémeux is a masterful play on textures and Snickers flavours; while slithers of pear and meringue, with fresh verbena, and a poire Williams sorbet perfectly balance sharp with sweet.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, the bill will be eye-watering but rest assured you’re in safe hands (lots of them). This is old-school British fine dining, updated.
Total for two, excluding service: £188.50
Our punter’s Core by Clare Smyth restaurant review…
My nosy tendencies were immediately indulged on arrival at Core, with a revealing glass wall the only thing separating Clare Smyth and her chefs from the dining room. As a solo diner, cookbooks had been placed on my table for self-amusement, a consideration that epitomises the thought that has gone into the restaurant. Everyone was attentive, friendly and keen to explain dishes, with a helpful sommelier who selected an earthy, herbaceous wine to pair with my main course (though it did weigh in at a hefty £19.50 a glass!).
I overlooked the tempting tasting menus to choose from the three-course à la carte option. I also ordered a citrussy old fashioned made from Bulleit Bourbon, Italicus bergamot liqueur and manuka honey. A selection of ‘snacks’ swiftly materialised. Highlights were jellied eel on a seaweed square with a spritz of malt vinegar, crisp choux pastry filled with rich tomato and basil purée, and a sweet, smoky morsel of duck leg.
To start, I went for soft and crumbly Charlotte potato with a smooth beurre blanc packed with the umami punch of dulse, a red seaweed indigenous to Clare’s native County Antrim. I later overheard head sommelier Gareth Ferreira disclose that it was inadvertently becoming a signature dish.
Next the roast grouse, smoked over bell heather, intensely savoury with the help of a grouse jus glaze, silky bread sauce and powerful grouse faggot. Though a delicate crouton promised crunch, it quickly went soft on top of the bread sauce, and the dish could have featured more non-carnivorous components.
A reinvented cherry bakewell with sour cherries, spiky sorbet and biscuity crumb was a pleasant pre-dessert before a lemonade parfait. The palate-tingling parfait with delicately crisp honey tuile, creamy yogurt foam and lip-smacking lemon curd was the perfect end to a meal. But wait – earthy chocolate tart and spicy passion fruit and pepper jelly petits fours arrived to have the final say, and I certainly wasn’t complaining.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I usually feel out of place at such lofty culinary establishments, yet at Core I felt welcomed and comfortable. A beautiful setting, exciting menu and innovative new dishes provide a compelling argument to return.