Originally from the Cotswolds, our editor Laura Rowe joined O in September last year. She’s reviewed restaurants across the South West for the past eight years and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats.
Rob Naylor lives in Cheltenham and works for a US fashion retailer. He loves eating out – especially at Flesh & Buns in Covent Garden – but also enjoys cooking for his family from Nopi: the Cookbook.
Chef-director Chris White, who has previously worked at The Fat Duck, is the man behind The White Spoon’s strictly seasonal menu. He aims to showcase a wide range of ingredients with à la carte dishes such as confit salmon with rhubarb and kohlrabi; blackened Gloucester beef with potato terrine and chanterelle mushrooms; and caramelised banana cheesecake with salted peanut. There’s also a Sunday lunch menu that goes far beyond the usual roast meat and veg offering – try grilled octopus and Cotswolds chorizo to start, followed by Cornish plaice fillets with capers, pickled dulse and shrimps. thewhitespoon.co.uk
The White Spoon offers ‘attentive service in a relaxed setting’. But the reality on our visit was bad communication and a lack of finesse. Things were forgotten, orders taken too soon or not at all, and dishes plonked on the table. Three months in, with fine dining prices and a Saturday night waiting list of six weeks, I’d expected better. *I wasn’t recognised.
We received a cheery welcome from a young and enthusiastic team. They offered us a choice of tables and tap water was served immediately. Our sommelier, Andy, was fantastic and helped us choose from a selection of wines by the carafe.
Friends recommended the plant pot bread and it definitely delivered: teeth-crackingly crusty, light as a sponge inside, peppered with fennel seeds and served with soft, smoked butter.
The rest of the menu is seasonally driven by what head chef Chris White can source locally.Everything on his menu sounds divine and the wine list offers a selection of affordable and interesting options by the glass and carafe.
The French picpoul and Argentinian Doña Paula malbec are particularly good.The hen’s egg cooked at 63C with soft ox tongue and crispy chicken skin was a decent combination of umami flavours; and although our goat’s milk custard had just the right amount of Carry On wobble, an absence of seasoning left it and its platefellows – carrots, beets and hazelnuts – lacklustre. No salt and pepper on the table to save the day, either.
A light hand was used with mains of wild sea bass and pork belly. The latter could’ve been more melting, though, and my partridge breast, confit legs, barley and salsify arrived without the promised swede, but was swiftly replaced. Second time round the breast was better cooked and suddenly made sense.
Puds are clearly this kitchen’s forte – our treacle tart and coconut parfait were without issue and tasted as good as they looked.
First thing’s first, the plant pot bread was fantastic. As was a warm goats’ cheese and beetroot salad (three balls of fried, bread-crumbed deliciousness) with heritage beetroot – simply but beautifully presented. My queen scallops with clams, tagliatelle and truffle was creamy and rich, but quite salty.
As for mains, I chose well – the partridge breast and confit legs was a taste of autumn, and pearl barley was a toothsome accompaniment. However, my dining partner’s brill with pink fir potato and roasted cauliflower was a disappointment: the incredibly salty fish, probably cooked sous vide, had a slimy texture and was at best lukewarm. Plus, the langoustine powder on top tasted of intensely fishy polystyrene balls. The redeeming element was the roast and puréed cauliflower – gorgeous. Our waitress asked why my partner left half of her food on the plate, we gave her the feedback, and she said it would be passed on to the chef.
Dessert was dark chocolate fondant (absolute melting perfection) with honeycomb and milk ice cream (rather soft, but cleansing). Wine was excellent and included a Lismore chardonnay and a picpoul de pinet. It wasn’t initially clear what the ‘Lunatic California red blend’ consisted of (merlot and shiraz), but it was a good choice at £25.95 for a carafe.
The bottom line
While a lot of effort has gone into the food, attention to detail is missing. Dishes need refinement, and the service wants a complete overhaul. With new competition coming in thick and fast in this foodie town, there’s little to make me want to return, sadly. Total for 2: £90, including service
Food 6/10; atmosphere 7/10; service 5/10; Laura’s total: 18/30
This is a very good start for a new team and they should be very proud of this welcome addition to Cheltenham’s dining scene. It’s comfortable, friendly and ambitious in its food aspiration. The menu changes frequently and the wine list is full of interesting alternatives. I would go back just for the plant pot bread! Total for 2: £126.20, including service
Food 8/10; atmosphere 8/10; service 8/10; Rob’s total: 24/30
Food Made Good rating 6/10
The menu changes every week to showcase seasonal produce (the vast majority is locally sourced) and the kitchen makes everything including the smoked butter. The meat is free range, but, as yet, there’s no policy in place with regard to fish and its sustainability. There are a few issues to iron out. Dine at White Spoon on a Tuesday and you’re encouraged to take your own wine and pay £5 corkage which goes to a local charity, just one of a number of charitable initiatives.
You might also like
Best value UK restaurants for 2016
Bellita, Bristol: restaurant review | Elly Curshen
Black Axe Mangal, London: restaurant review | Tom Parker Bowles
The best UK restaurants for a party
Burnt Truffle: restaurant review | Tony Naylor
The Ivy: restaurant review | Tom Parker Bowles
Newman Arms: restaurant review | Rebecca Seal
Bone Daddies, Soho: restaurant review | Tom Parker Bowles
Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Grill Park Walk: restaurant review | Rebecca Seal