The Cross opened in 2014, set in a 19th century, Grade II listed building that was originally an inn. This restaurant is sister to Simpsons in Birmingham, both restaurants owned by Andreas Antona. The head chef at The Cross is Adam Bennett, who trained at The Dorchester under Anton Mossiman and also worked at Guy Lassausaie, Mallory Court and then at Simpsons, where he worked his way up to head chef before coming here. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star a year after it opened. Three courses were priced at £75 and the tasting menu at £95.
The wine list had 313 labels and ranged in price from £28 to £1,200, with a median price of £60 and an average markup to retail price of about 3.1 times, which is not unusual in London though a touch higher than some starred restaurants outside the capital. However, this number is a lot less precise than in my usual analysis since the list almost entirely omits vintages. The list was unusually diverse, so if you want some Turkish Muscat or a Chinese ice wine then this list has you covered. Just 32% of the labels were from France. There were a few oddities, such as the Margaret River producer “Leeuwin” being misspelled consistently, other misspelt producers and a missing producer for the Blanquette de Limoux. Most bizarrely, there were no vintages listed at all (except one), which I find surreal. I can’t imagine too many people contemplating spending £1,200 for a bottle of Chateau Latour and then saying to the sommelier: “You know what, I don’t care about the vintage. Let’s take pot luck and hope it’s a 1982 and not a 1984, eh?” (1982 currently retails at £2,539, 1984 at £517). Vintages make a huge difference to price in many cases, and not just amongst first growth clarets. For example, there was a Chateau Musar on this list at £95. Is that expensive? If the vintage was 2018 retailing at £25 then it is quite steep, but if the Musar vintage was 1983, with a market price of £307, then it is a steal. Who would know, short of interrogating the sommelier label by label, and who apparently would have to go to the cellar each time? There were two wines that actually seem to be below their retail price, so that is something at least. Sample references were Victoria Park Chardonnay at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Painted Wolf The Den Chenin Blanc at £48 compared to its retail price of £15, and Leeuwin Art Series Estate Shiraz at £87 for a wine that will set you back £30 in the high street. For those with the means there was Gaja Alteni di Brassica Sauvignon Blanc at £240 compared to its retail price of about £107, and Château Palmer Grand Cru Classé at £800 for a wine whose current market value is around £342, depending on the vintage, which of course they are not telling you on either the online or printed list.
The restaurant is on a high street and there is terraced seating at the back, as well a car park for guests. The main dining room is airy, with well-spaced tables, and there is further seating near the kitchen. Although there was a tasting menu available at £95, we went a la carte, which was priced at £75 for three courses, but there was also a shorter lunch menu at £50. The menu began with some canapes. First were some crudites with aioli, the vegetables supplied by a nearby farm called Mill Piece Farm, run by a French couple. The cucumber, carrots and courgette were fine but best was the cherry tomato, which had superb flavour. This was probably the best tasting British tomato that I have tasted; presumably the unusually sunny summer this year has helped ripen them well.
This was followed by prawn tempura with salted almonds and romesco sauce, made with charred tomatoes and roasted red peppers that are puréed and thickened with bread and toasted almonds. The king prawns were large and carefully cooked, the batter not as light as you would see in Japan at a specialist tempura restaurant, but certainly crisp. There was also cheese croquettes using Old Winchester (a cheese from Salisbury) filled with gooseberry purée. The cheese flavour was quite nutty and powerful, so the acidity of the fruit purée provided some balance (nibbles were comfortably 14/20). Sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and was genuinely classy, light and airy with a good crust.
Red mullet soup was poured at the table over a bowl containing a piece of red mullet and some rouille. You do not see soup on menus much these days, presumably as the Instagram crowd can’t take pretty photos with it, but when it is done well it can be lovely. The red mullet soup here was outstanding, having very deep flavour indeed. The little piece of mullet was precisely cooked and the rouille was also excellent. This was a really impressive dish (17/20). John Dory came with sea aster, girolles, peas. Charlotte potatoes, almonds and a parsley sauce and truffle. This was all finished with Australian black truffle grated at the table. This was another very successful dish, the John Dory carefully cooked, the sauce excellent, the seasoning spot on (easily 16/20).
Mango crumble was served with Kenilworth honey ice cream. The mango was ripe and full of flavour, the ice cream good, the crumble having good texture (15/20). I should mention that I tried a spoon of a fellow diner’s hazelnut souffle and that was absolutely impeccable. Coffee was from a local supplier and we skipped as we were heading off on a long drive, but we did get a chance to try a couple of petit fours. There was a nice chocolate but the star was a set of canelés. These are tricky things to do well, often ending up soggy and doughy, but these were top of the range, with a pleasing firm caramelized crust and with the rich custard filling having light texture. Apparently, the chef perfected these during lockdown and he absolutely nailed it. I cannot recall ever having better ones than these.
Service was good, and the bill came to £87 per person (we didn’t drink wine today). If you shared a modest bottle of wine and coffee then a typical cost per person might be around £105 or so. I was very impressed by the cooking at The Cross, which showed highly capable technique and a real gift for packing flavour into dishes: the red mullet soup was a great example of this. The menu was appealing and if I was in the area then I would be back in a heartbeat.