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Core

92 Kensington Park Road, London, W11 2PN, United Kingdom

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Core opened in 2017 in the former location of Leiths in Notting Hill, which became the Notting Hill Brasserie and then the Notting Hill Kitchen prior to its current incarnation. This is now the culinary home of Clare Smyth, formerly executive chef of Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. The restaurant gained three Michelin stars in 2021. The dining room is elegantly decorated and has one large dining table directly opposite the kitchen. Tables are quite widely spaced though they are not very large by fine dining standards, so fitting the canapés on the table required a certain Tetris-like level of spatial planning from the waitress. Sixty diners can be accommodated at any one time.

The menu that we selected was £235, and we added a white truffle linguine dish. The a la carte of three courses was £185 and there was a further tasting menu at £215. The wine list had 752 labels and ranged in price from £50 to £7,500, with a median price of £273 and an average markup to the retail price of 2.9 times, which is not at all bad for a fine dining restaurant in London. Sample references were Sancerre Terre de Mambay Pascal and Nicholas Reverdy 2021 at £65 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £24, Assyrtiko Cuvee Monsignori Estate Argyros 2020 at £100 compared to its retail price of £47, and Domaine Fourrier Bourgogne Rouge 2018 at £145 for a wine that will set you back £49 in the high street. For those with the means there was Domaine de Trevallon vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone 2015 at £475 compared to its retail price of £142, and E. Guigal La Landonne 2009 at £1,250 for a wine whose current market value is £505.

The meal began with an array of canapés. The lobster roll had a tarragon-flavoured Marie Rose dressing and worked nicely, the shellfish being tender and the sauce nicely judged. Little taco-like roast chicken parcels were made from chicken skin, with a filling that included roast potato and gravy jelly. These were pleasant rather than memorable. Better were little caviar sandwiches made with buckwheat pancakes, creme fraiche, egg yolk and chives with Imperial oscietra caviar. This had a pleasing balance of flavours. Finally, there were warm Parmesan gougeres flavoured with pumpkin and truffle. The choux pastry was good and there was plenty of cheese flavour. These were very enjoyable canapés (average 17/20).

Bread was a sourdough flavoured with treacle. This is not made in the kitchen but is made specially for the restaurant by a local small baker. The first formal course of the meal was crab in three ways. Steamed Portland crab from Dorset was served as a parcel of crab jelly, alongside a bowl containing claw meat and brown crab meat in a crab sabayon topped with a dollop of caviar. Finally, there was a glass of crab tea flavoured with lemongrass. These elements all worked well but the star was the sabayon, which had a lovely flavour and silky texture (18/20).

Crisp veal sweetbread was glazed in honey and mustard, served with tapioca crisps with red and yellow mustard seeds, as well as Norfolk kohlrabi and pickled kohlrabi ribbons dressed in Chardonnay vinegar. Finally, there was a kohlrabi sauce laced with Madagascar pepper, mustard leaves and peppery rocket and wasabi leaves. I am a big fan of sweetbreads and this was cooked very well, the glaze working nicely and the kohlrabi nicely balancing the inherent richness of the sweetbreads, which in themselves did not have really great flavour. What would elevate this dish further would be to use top-notch French produce rather than the Dutch sweetbreads (from the very good butcher Aubrey Allen) that were used here. Some other top restaurants in London use high-quality sweetbreads from the southwest of France, so such ingredients can be obtained here, albeit at a price (16/20).

Next was turbot with a poached Porthilly oyster from Cornwall, served with oyster veloute, cucumber and an oyster leaf emulsion. The turbot was cooked well but the fillet was from a medium-sized 4kg fish and did not have the really dazzling flavour that you often get from the really large 8kg plus-sized specimens, which command a higher unit price. Still, the sauce worked nicely and the cooking was accurate (17/20). 

We opted for a supplemental seasonal dish of linguine with aged Parmesan emulsion with white truffles. The pasta was made from scratch in the kitchen and the truffle, shaved at the table, was from Umbria (the truffle supplier here is an independent, a gentleman called Alfredo). This was a simple but thoroughly enjoyable dish, the pasta having excellent texture, nicely enriched by the cheese emulsion and the truffle pleasingly fragrant (18/20).

Jerusalem artichoke from Leicestershire had a crumbly base of the excellent five-year-aged Davidstow Cheddar from Camelford in Cornwall. The base was flavoured with hazelnut and black truffle and there was also artichoke skin that had been flash-fried, with a sauce of artichoke and black truffle. This was a pleasant dish, the artichoke going well with the top-class cheddar, the hazelnut adding an extra flavour dimension and the truffle bringing some luxurious contrast to the earthy artichoke (17/20).

The final savoury course was venison loin from Rhug Estate in Snowdonia. This was cooked over juniper wood and served with a smoked chestnut puree. There was a terrine in the style of haggis, the venison neck braised with chestnuts, pearl barley and bacon. The dish was completed by a 16-year-old Lataille whiskey sauce and some celeriac. This was another very good dish, the venison carefully cooked and having plenty of flavour, the earthy celeriac working well with it and complemented nicely by the chestnut (17/20).

A pre-dessert was a carrot cake base with crema cheese mousse, sweet cicely, pickled ginger, bee pollen, grated carrot and carrot sorbet.  Carrots can work well as dessert, as shown in the classic Indian dessert halwa. However, for me this dish did not work well at all, lacking in sweetness and the carrot itself lacking much flavour (14/20). 

The main dessert was better. “Core-teser” was a riff on Maltesers. Aerated chocolate was accompanied by a chocolate crema, hazelnut ice cream and chocolate “feathers”. This was a quite clever technical dish and was both enjoyable and indeed reminiscent of the flavour of Maltesers in a far more luxurious way (17/20). Petit fours comprised very good warm chocolate tarts, alongside sweet Sauternes and Banyuls wine gums. Coffee is from HR Higgins.

Service was excellent, with a charming Welsh waitress looking after us very well, and flawless wine topping up throughout the evening. With two moderate-level wines, a drink at the start and a glass of dessert wine, the bill was a hefty £551 per person. Admittedly we had a supplemental truffle dish at an extra £90. Nonetheless, even if you went a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine, you would end up with a bill of maybe £260 each. The cooking here is always very precise and the service was certainly charming. The meal that we had was very enjoyable, and the technical skill in the kitchen is beyond question. The ingredient quality here is good though in some cases not at the very pinnacle of what can be found, which is a pity as this would really take the food to a higher level. On the other hand, the menu itself was appealing and the service was genuinely lovely. Core is a very capable restaurant and the only real issue for me is the value-for-money factor.

 

Further reviews: 28th Jul 2018 | 15th Aug 2017

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  • Jla

    I disagree with “FG” comments I totally agree with Andy ‘s review and mark of 17/20 Core is a very god restaurant but not an amazing restaurant and certainly not at the level of a three stars in France I personally much prefer to eat at the Ritz or the Clove Club in London I also would certainly not say that Core puts to shame Darroze or Ducasse. This is insulting for those very good ( but not outstanding) restaurants . Thank you Andy for all your outstanding reviews of this year.

  • F G

    I am honestly surprised at your string of 17/20 scores for Core, which, food wise, is honestly the best dining experience in the capital at present (including The Ritz). Their plating, flavours and the ideas behind the food put the likes of Darroze and Ducasse to shame. The lamb dish I had at Core in June this year might have been the singular best meat dish I have ever eaten (and I have been to Parisian three-stars as well). It is with good reason that reservation slots released three months ahead disappear within minutes. You mention value for money, but is £235 for a tasting menu that shocking for a 3* in London these days? There has been a price creep (it was £205 this time last year) but that is unsurprising given the overwhelming level of demand. Core is a strong 18-19/20 in my book.

  • Matt Davies

    Dear Andy, This review is such thought provoking, as at this level of Three Michelin Stars, I’m bewildered that the Sweetbread wasn’t as you say Top Notch ingredient, which with a professional palette, this can be found. Especially with the breathtaking price charged. I only had Three Rosettes when cooking professionally, and tbh, that standard was bloody difficult! I personally bought my Sweetbreads from Classic Fine Foods, via Rungis in Paris, and yes, a few pennies more, but definitely worth it. Review as usual is phenomenal, and always so enjoy reading them. Merry Christmas Blessing, Matt x