The Dysart (formerly The Dysart Arms) is a pub in the smart Petersham area of Richmond, which in recent years has gradually transitioned from “pub that does food” to “restaurant with a bar”. This has much to do with the current head chef, Kenneth Culhane, who won the Roux Scholarship in 2010, and who had previously worked at Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin. The chef has his own garden to grow many of the vegetables and herbs used on the menu.
The dining room is fairly rustic, with stone floor and well-spaced tables without tablecloths. Lighting is limited, hence the murky photos. There is a set menu available in the evening at £19.95 for three courses in addition to the a la carte. There is also a tasting menu at £49.50, with a full vegetarian tasting menu also available; we tried the tasting menu on our first visit, and a la carte in the second. The carefully composed wine list had choices such as Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2012 at £42 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £15, Chateau Musar 1998 at £69 for a wine that retails at £36, and a relative bargain in the form of Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis 2001 at £125 for a wine that will set you back £100 to buy in a shop.
An August 2013 meal began with a few nibbles served on a board. Scottish salmon sashimi topped a little ball of crisp sushi rice with smoked lime and vanilla and Vietnamese coriander. Cumin polenta came with fresh herbs and confit lemon. A delicate Parmesan shortbread was topped with Bloody Mary jelly and Pork head Kromesky came with a Mejdool date, pickled chilli and hyssop. This was all a far cry from a pub Scotch egg, the nibbles being of a high standard; in particular the salmon worked well, and the Parmesan biscuit was excellent (15/20).
Two breads were offered, both made from scratch in the kitchen. A Roscoff onion and courgette flower pain de mie was one, the other an Irish soda bread and fennel pollen butter. The pain de mie was rich and enjoyable, but the soda bread was particularly impressive, remarkably light; apparently this is due to a two stage baking process, but the effect is a world away from the dense soda breads that I have often eaten (16/20 bread). On the second visit the breads changed, but maintained the standard. Guiness sourdough had excellent crust, the soda bread was as good as before and there was an unusual Hungarian kalacs bread with pear and paprika.
Foraged chicken-of-the-woods mushroom was an amuse-bouche, topped with new season garlic, radish leaves and Chateau d’Estoublon olive oil. This was very pleasant rather than thrilling (14/20). I was quite taken aback by the next dish, charred mackerel with kombu, braised daikon, ginger and champagne. This was superb, the mackerel beautifully cooked, the Japanese-influenced sauce light and refreshing, the ginger going really well with the fish. This was serious cooking (17/20).
Veal sweetbreads had good texture, served with black truffle vinaigrette and fresh almonds (15/20). Wild stone bass was another star dish, served with a little block of celeriac, spiced herbal kaffir lime and green chilli sauce. The fish was timed beautifully, having enough strength of flavour to cope with the lively spicy sauce (16/20). Beef was served in two forms, a fillet and also a slow-cooked feather blade, served with heritage carrots, sumac and miso mustard sauce. The fillet was fine but the feather blade was impressive, with deep flavour and surprisingly tender, the hint of mustard going nicely with the meat (15/20). On a second visit grouse was very good, the bird not too gamey, tender and paired with girolles and little spheres of apple to provide acidity (15/20).
Blood orange sorbet, jasmine and Alphonso mango was a refreshing pre-dessert (14/20). The Valrhona Jivara chocolate and praline bar with miso salted caramel ice cream with grue de caco was excellent, the rich chocolate nicely accentuated by the slight saltiness of the caramel (15/20). Burnt honey custard with Chablis apple had good texture (15/20), whilst greengage and figs with nastrurtium flower sorbet came with a superb sesame tuile (15/20). The petit fours were also of a high standard. Cornish sea salt caramel and passion fruit and roasted coffee pate de fruits were very good (15/20), but the greengage and brown butter financier was remarkable, delicate and with just enough sharpness from the fruit (17/20).
The bill came to £104 a head, but that was with the tasting menu, plenty of good wine and pre-dinner drinks. On a second visit the bill was £86 a head, including pre-dinner drinks and coffee. If you ordered modest wine and went a la carte then a realistic bill might be around the £70 a head level all in. My third and fourth meal here confirmed the standard of cooking.
Service throughout the evening was excellent, with wine carefully topped up, the staff friendly. This meal was quite a revelation to me, as I had no real expectations of it. I based the visit on just a solitary tip from someone I know, and indeed at this point there is very little in the way of reviews to be found for it. Despite the lack of fanfare, the standard of the cooking is extremely high, and there are certainly worse restaurants than this with Michelin stars. In these days of over-hyped central London openings, it is great to find a place quietly turning out lovely food. Dysart is a hidden gem to which I will most certainly be returning regularly.Book