Having a dinner comprising 22 dishes is one thing, having those 22 dishes served by the chefs themselves is something else and speaks of kitchen confidence and an understanding of showmanship. The theatricality was carried over to the presentation of the food, which meant that in some cases the appearance dominated and outweighed the value of the ingredients. If most of the 22 are imaginative and possibly ground-breaking you would reckon on leaving the dining room on a real high. That we didn't was something of a shame. Kobe Desmaraults was not present, but his excellent sous-chef, Rose Greene, was clearly capable of handling the cooking, so why did we not find ourselves submerged in a sea of wows? Perhaps it was something to do with the small plates philosophy being taken to the extreme, so that one or two mouthfuls twenty times over became unsatisfying and because somehow the balance and coherence of the whole meal was lacking. The outstanding plates were definitely those that had the most content and our least favourites were mainly the on-trend deconstructions and those with over-emphasis on local seasonal and foraged ingredients all pared downto a minimum, with infusions that would possibly have been unidentifiable without the detailed explanation from a chef which we requested more than once. Perhaps this indicates that we are behind the times. However, a single whelk infused in its own stock with a bay leaf vinaigrette for dipping is surely unlikely to have most punters raving despite the artistic presentation of the dish. The seven starters provided a couple of winners, namely the lightest porkskin with a creamy mustard filling and the baby kohlrabi cooked with vinegar on a cream purée with chervil. The rest, including fermented carrot, smoky crispy potato, broccoli shoots with "farmer's cream" (i.e. with mustard), and mackerel à la plancha with brown miso, made more of a visual impression than anything. We were mildly amused when a chef brought what he described as the first main course. In fact it was not a great deal bigger than any of the starters. Once again, certain dishes were works of art on a plate but not on the palate, for example crab with pickled salsify and a chilled dashi made from mackerel bones, fresh sabayon poured over cooked down hop shoots, two types of potato served with potato in a salt crust and dipped in a potato mousse, salted and pickled black squid ink with wild garlic, zander with roe and spring onion and seared endive, 60-day matured beef with belly pork and soy, none of which were in large enough portions to leave a lasting impression. The wow-factor dishes comprised brilliantly tender oyster chilled down in an unripened mustard whey sauce, superb bisque-like clam in a jellified but warm reduction and young brassica with sorrel, amazing pork jowl bacon dried and served like pasta with ground elder plant and parsnip blanched with cream, an absolutely wonderful combination of perfect lobster poached in its own stock and with meadowsweet which actually had a sweet effect to provide a delicious match with the decent portion of lobster, and these nearly, but not quite, made up for the other lesser plates. The desserts were reasonable, using fashionable ingredients such as sloeberries, sorrel and sea buckthorn, and the best one being an amusing take on rhubarb and custard, the custard made from goose egg and the rhubarb boosted with juniper berries. The wine flight had been well-chosen and mostly matched the food perfectly. However, we found the wine waiter stiff and rather uncommunicative, but at least he accepted that we preferred not to have the beer which figured in the wine flight. This could have been a strenuous marathon if the dishes had been any larger, but it is safe to say that more ample portions of the seven that we enjoyed most would have sufficed, provided us with a top-class meal and resulted in a more positive review.
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