This was the first day after the UK’s government-imposed coronavirus lockdown, which began on 23rd March. For over a hundred days no restaurants in England have been allowed to serve diners other than via takeaway or delivery services, so today was quite an event for those of us that enjoy eating out. The novelty of sitting at a table and being served food on smart plates without the prospect of washing those plates up was appealing in itself. All the more so when the food in question was the product of the Michelin-starred kitchen of Dysart, a long-term favourite restaurant of mine.
One advantage that Dysart has over many central London restaurants is a large physical footprint, so tables here have always been very generously spaced. The dining room has had some minor rearrangement for reopening in a post Covid-19 world, with the piano in a different position, but otherwise it was much as before. The owner here takes the new government guidelines seriously, and this begins with a screening call before arrival to run through a few health questions. A hospital doctor friend who visited on the same day said to me: “I wish we did that for our outpatient appointments.” On arrival you have your temperature checked with a laser thermometer, and the staff wear masks. The menus are not reused, and you are encouraged to check the wine list on-line. You can even opt to have your food delivered on a trolley to collect yourself, should you wish. Similarly, wine service is an option you can choose, or you can top glasses up yourself should you prefer. Bathrooms are sanitised after every use, and payment is via card only. There is no doubt that the restaurant has put a lot of effort in, including changes to kitchen processes that the customer doesn’t see but further enhance safety.
That preamble over with, I can resume my normal review of the meal. There was a choice of a la carte, which was the way that we went, or a tasting menu. The wine list, available on-line, had 222 full bottles ranging in price from £27.50 to £995, with a median price of £55 and an average mark-up to retail price of a shade over three times. There was quite a good spread of countries represented, with 32% of the list being from France but there also being bottles from as far afield as Bulgaria and Slovenia. Fully 41% of the list was under priced at under £50 a bottle.
Canapes were a Parmesan tuile topped with black truffle and truffle vinaigrette, the base having good texture and the truffle bringing its distinctive earthy aroma. Even better was a lovely fish cake made with cured cod, fennel and confit of wild lime, the latter contributing a pleasing freshness without being too sharp. On the side was Oxford potato soup with cured cod and a roasted almond tuile. This also worked well, the earthiness of the potato contrasting with the cod, and the tuile bringing an extra texture. The star canape was the fishcake for me, but these were all very well made (16/20 average).
A signature dish here is the charred mackerel with champagne sauce with ginger and radish, the gentle spice in the sauce working harmoniously with the natural oiliness of the fish, which was precisely cooked and had excellent flavour. The sauce had great depth and precise balance (17/20). Crushed cauliflower tortellini with vin jaune butter sauce was also excellent, the texture of the pasta just right, the earthy cauliflower enriched by the buttery sauce (16/20). I had an extra course of oxtail risotto, here made with aged carnaroli rice from Acquarello. I have written about this dish before and it is a real revelation, rich and glorious, a fabulous risotto (18/20 seems almost a churlishly low score).
Challans duck was served pink and came with tomatoes and sliced olives. There was also a ragout of duck made with the leg meat, which has deep flavour. The sauce involved cherries and Banyuls, the fortified sweet red dessert wine from Roussillon using Grenache grapes. The duck breast had excellent flavour and the olives were a clever way to balance the richness of the meat (16/20).
Cornish halibut came with braised morels, variegated kale and sauce Jacqueline, a slightly obscure sauce that traditionally can involve fish stock, white wine, butter, red pepper, onion, garlic, celery, fennel and paprika; the version here seemed to have carrot too. The sauce worked well and the halibut was nicely cooked, though it was not quite hot when it arrived. However, the morels were excellent (14/20).
I finished with a plate of English cheeses rather than dessert. There was, though, a simple but enjoyable pre-dessert of Yorkshire strawberries with chamomile meringue and clotted cream sorbet (15/20). Coffee here is from Drury, and the bill came to £89 per person before tip, including drinks. The staff were charming and managed very well in navigating the new service regime. The owner, Barny Taylor, is always a fine host and looked quite dashing in his mask. This evening was a lovely way to ease back into restaurant dining after the enforced pause of recent months. The food here is lovely, the experience relaxed despite the circumstances, and the staff make you feel very much at home. This is what the restaurant experience should be all about.Book