'I was 'electrocuted' by my dinner at this Suffolk restaurant'
PUBLISHED: 19:30 16 January 2020
Food and drink editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis has a meal quite unlike anything she's eaten before and says this place is 'one to watch'.
Mugwort, salty fingers, jelly beans, electric daisies. No, this isn't a concoction gleaned from the pages of a Hogwarts 'Magic for Beginners' manual. These are just a few of the ingredients which entertained and delighted diners at Forage Kitchen in Rougham last week -myself included.
As I've written before, it's not the most obvious-looking place to spend a Saturday evening.
"Have you got us lost again?" my hubby sighed as we pulled into the driveway to the restaurant. There's no uplit signage. In fact, there's no proper road. The only sign of life being a clutch of courtyard buildings and a farmhouse with a light on.
It is, perhaps, the most 'hidden' restaurant in Suffolk...and one where I really got to flex my tastebuds.
This was my first dining experience here, and, perched on one of the high seats (the restaurant only sits 16) front and centre, I had a bird's eye view of chefs Ricky and Ryan, who moved with an almost balletic choreography through service - barely breaking a sweat as they not only cooked and plated, but served and explained each of the 10 courses on the tasting menu.
And this is the part where I should explain- they only 'do' a tasting menu. Once a month it's experimental night (£40 per person) where diners are given a score sheet to offer feedback on dishes before they're tweaked for the menu proper.
Currently Ricky and Ryan are showing off 'The Best of 2019'. The dishes they, customers and their boss Mel really truly loved. At only £49 per head.
Strapped in and ready for a gourmand experience, I noted how relaxed the dining room was. This is fine dining without polished cloches and purse-lipped stiff waiting staff. Everyone was geared up for fun...and flavour.
A glass of fruity Pinot Gris rose in hand, I performed a vanishing act on the canapes as soon as they appeared. A tangle of crisp noodles dusted with nori powder and anointed with a homemade teriyaki sauce. Then, in a bowl, the guys' take on fish and chips. Sweet, firm fleshed cubes of cured cod with 'mushy peas', fresh peas, squid ink batter bits coated in salt and vinegar powder. I can't even explain how delicious this was. Sweet, salty, savoury, crisp. With a hint of mint - once the height of exoticism in British cuisine of yore.
It only served to excite my palate further.
We pushed on. To Ryan's homemade, warm sourdough, made with his own mother (as in the yeasty variety, he hadn't got him mum in the kitchen to help out). Crisp-edged, rounded in flavour and on the right side of chewy (ie, it won't break your teeth), it was paired with a trio of butters - schmaltzy chicken fat (oh my), Marmite, and mugwort and chive - a taste not unlike sage and onion stuffing.
Next, a vegan plate, which to my eye looked like parsnip, but in fact turned out to be mild-mannered, braised parsley root. And I realised then just how talented and inventive Ricky and Ryan could be. Their ability to harness the best from each ingredient, no matter how humble, and turn it into something absolutely mind-blowing, was pure wizardry.
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Cooked down in coconut, the root was served with a parsley and coconut puree, a zippy, sticky dollop of pineapple and chilli jam (given extra pow with the addition of kombucha vinegar), and coronation dressing. It had me wondering what I could do with all the gnarly roots and shoots in my own garden.
Our fish course was a delicate piece of Felixstowe day boat landed sea bass, bathed in beurre noisette, and set about with a punchy mussel and chive cream, Norfolk mussel foam, and pops of salinity from pickled cucumber, chanterelles and clams. Sea vegetables (namely salty fingers, jelly beans and sea aster) brought extra verve to what was already an accomplished dish.
Bubbling like a monster from the black lagoon, a following bowl of spoon-licking mustard veloute had hidden treasure within - nuggets of rendered, Monster Munch-like beef fat- the covering of fermented black garlic dust laying over the top, a burnished, sweet ash.
Rendered pork belly, cooked in tandoori spices with raita, lime and pak choi salad and a mango sauce, was exquisite.
And, although it wasn't for everyone, the sourdough parfait (Ryan's clever way of using up leftover bread) with a sourdough cracker, quince chutney and blue cheese powder, made me smile...and reminded me I still had Christmas cheese lurking at the back of the fridge.
As Ryan cleared the plate, lapping up praise, I told him I was glad it wasn't goat or sheep's cheese -my nemesis. His face dropped. Yep, the next course was ALL sheep. As ever I made a point of trying the yoghurt espuma however, and found it utterly delightful. A lemon-fragranced, subtle, cloud of fluffiness, sharpened by the sophisticated citrus notes of a Mexican marigold powder granita.
I absolutely would eat it again. And that's the joy of unannounced tasting menus. They're about a journey. The unknown.
Our final dessert swerved firmly back into familiar territory with the most sublime, wibbly sesame seed mousse, a miso caramel cream, frozen shards of lime, aerated chocolate, baked chocolate mousse shards and thick, decadent slivers of rich baked caramel. One of the best desserts I have ever eaten.
Coffee on the table after, the chefs made their way around the room with petit fours. Lemon and violet profiteroles, and lollies, to which Mel confided in me "now this one's really going to be a surprise".
I can only say I never have, and never will experience anything quite like the sensation when I gave that lolly a lick. Chef said it was akin to 'licking a battery' (something most teenage boys seem to do as a rite of passage). In my mouth, the electric daisy infused sherbet, felt like popping candy, powdered by pneumatic drill. It really did give the illusion of being electrocuted. A sip of tea only heightened the weird sensation which wasn't wholly unpleasant, more unexpected.
Thank god I didn't copy my hubby or the bloke behind, who put the whole damn thing in their mouths. "It's still going," I heard said man declare almost 10 minutes later.
Days on, we are still talking about our trip to Forage Kitchen, where we both felt we'd been initiated into some thrilling Willy Wonka-esque foodie members' club. This is great cooking. No, extraordinary cooking - I'd say to at least three AA Rosette standard or more. And at a price that won't have you weeping into your bank statement in shame. Book now before it becomes impossible to get in!