When I visited, the Artichoke had been open since November 2009 following a fire that consumed the premises in 2008, after the restaurant originally had opened in 2002. The narrow premises seated just 24 covers when we visited, though some expansion appeared to be in progress. The wooden floor meant that noise levels were a little high, so the music in the background could have been omitted. Chef Laurie Gear’s cooking focuses on local ingredients, perhaps having been influenced by his stint in the kitchens of Noma. There was a seven course tasting menu at £62, with wine pairing on top at £48, while from the a la carte three courses were priced at £43.50.
The wine list had just over 100 wines, and started at £19.50. There were some carefully selected growers, with mark-ups that were not excessive, with many of the wines priced at under £50. Example of the selections were Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas 2009 at £32.50 for a wine that retails at about £9, Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette Delas 2007 at £75 for a wine that retails at around £30, and the lovely Antinori Tignanello 2007 priced at £115 for a wine that will set you back £51 in the shops. We drank Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2009 at £51.50, which compares with a retail price of around £19. It was nice to see bread made from scratch: one flavoured with Alsace bacon, the other a sourdough made with Mackeson. These had good texture and flavour (6/10).
An amuse-bouche was new season asparagus, served cold, with quail egg, hazelnut mayonnaise on a sourdough crouton, with artichoke crisps. The artichoke crisps had great flavour as well as being light in texture, though the asparagus and crouton overall could have benefitted from more mayonnaise, as the overall effect was a little dry (5/10).
Scallops from the Isle of Skye were cooked a fraction longer than I would have chosen, but were of good quality. They were lightly curried, served with pickled coriander and carrot, roasted coconut and artichoke puree: the slightly unusual set of flavours worked quite well together (5/10). My starter of quail breast was topped with a ravioli of confit quail and roasted hazelnut and parsley, with sage beurre noisette and watercress. The quail was cooked nicely and had good flavour, and I thought the seasoning was very accurate (6/10).
Fillet of sea bass from Cornwall was served with lobster raviolo and spaghetti of vegetables, resting in lobster bisque with saffron and orange. The fish was timed well, though it was not of dazzling quality, but the lobster raviolo had good texture; the bisque for me could have been more intense in flavour (5/10). I had venison with caramelised shallots, kohlrabi, chanterelles, pennywort, hawthorn berry and rosehip emulsion with venison sauce, as well as some unannounced turnips and morels. The venison had plenty of flavour and was carefully cooked, though for me this dish had too many components to be entirely coherent (5/10).
Pre dessert of rhubarb granita resting on ginger ice cream was excellent, the textures as they should be and the component flavours really coming through well (7/10). The desserts were a mixed bag: apple “lasagne” (presumably a typo for millefeuille) was served with poached caramelised apple, apple sorbet and salad of apple with wood sorrel. Unfortunately the biscuit layer of the “lasagne” was much too hard, and the filling lacked enough apple flavour, though the sorbet was fine, and I could at least pick out the wood sorrel from the apple (4/10). By contrast a souffle of prune and Armagnac with vanilla ice cream was genuinely good, light and fluffy and with plenty of flavour, the ice cream on the side also excellent (7/10).
Similarly, petit fours were very good: passion fruit jelly was moist, shortbread biscuits excellent, pistachio financier a little light on pistachio flavour (6/10). My espresso arrived with no crema at all, and although I was assured it was a high grade coffee I think there was considerable room for improvement here.
Service was very good throughout, friendly and attentive. The bill came to £94 a head with a mid-priced bottle of wine and one glass of dessert wine. The meal overall was very enjoyable, with cooking that generally showed plenty of technical skill but in places seemed to me to be trying a little too hard: sometimes less is truly more. With slightly more consistency and slightly less complexity I imagine they would be well set for the star that so far eluded them.