Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Restaurant Review: Duke of Cambridge

This weekend I trotted past the ranks of pub nobility - The Prince of Wales and The Earl of Essex, The baron of somewhere else - before arriving for dinner at Britain's first and only fully accredited organic gastropub The Duke of Cambridge.  I really liked The Duke  as a boozer and everything about me wanted to like it as a restaurant as well.    Outwardly it hits all the marks for this kind of place; it's local, it's seasonal and being able to get themselves a Soil Association badge highlights the care the team here takes with sourcing.  And a fully organic gastropub is a great concept in a time when people are thankfully becoming more aware of the shocking treatment meted out to the majority of animals that end up on our plates.  So given I want to like it and approve so thoroughly of the thinking behind it why didn't I enjoy myself?  Easy answer; a restaurant's main function is to produce great food and if you can't do that consistently the goodwill you win elsewhere goes out the window.

The Duke of Cambridge a nice looking place of the kind we're now used to after a decade of pub gentrification, but its sufficiently tweaked to feel individual.  It's a fairly large pub, with solid, high quality wooden furniture and plain wood floor boards.  It also has my favourite lamps of 2011- big metal, green faintly army-surplusy jobbies  - fantastic.  You can eat in the bar, but you can't book, so we ended up in the restaurant at the back with a seven o clock booking.  This has similar furniture, red painted walls and some bare brick wall and a conservatory, but lacks a bit of the buzz you get in the bar.

The menu is on a big black board on the back wall and we looked over it as we ate good bread and a fairly decent olive oil, nicely served in an old St. Peter's organic ale bottle (incidentally one of my favourite beers).  We settled on a pig's head terrine to share and both decided on lamb for our mains.  The very phrase 'pig-head terrine' screams big meaty flavours and I was looking forward to something really gutsy.  Sadly what we got was something with a nice, soft fatty texture, but that was under-seasoned and failed quite spectacularly to taste much of pig.  Any subtlety was completely overwhelmed by a spiced chutney.  The lamb main was much better.  In fact the lamb was fantastic.  The meat had a really deep flavour and had been slow cooked to bring that out, with just a little bit of resistance left to add a good strong texture.  That coupled with the thin, crisp layer of rich fat on the outside left us with a pretty fantastic centrepiece .    Kale gave a good irony counterpoint to an excellent intense and just-sweet enough gravy.  On top of all this was a sultana and walnut paste - described as a pesto, but God knows why.  This complemented the lamb brilliantly, add in other superlatives if you want, the bigger the better frankly because this addition turned the dish into a real show-stopper.  Why of why then would you ruin such a great dish with a large wedge of soggy, overcooked potatoes cooked in average stock and full of dried rosemary.  A mouthful of this managed to obliterate all other flavors by leeching water and dried herbs.  Not very pleasant at all and I left most of it.  I still enjoyed the dish, but nowhere near as much as I would have if they'd stuck a good dauphinoise on the side or some roast/fried potatoes to add a bit of crispness.  In the end this had to go down in good but flawed, instead of sublime where it could have been.  Continuing a theme dessert was good, but not great (it was at least better than the starter).  A good but not quite deep enough chocolate torte with hazelnuts that should have been toasted before going in.

So three-quarters of a really wonderful dish next to some also-rans and the worst potatoes I hope to eat all year.  Not really enough given with a glass of wine each this comes to £75 for two.  I'll stick to the pub I think and a nice pint of St Peters before heading down the road to the Charles Lamb

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