Steve Drake won the Roux Scholarship in 2001 and over the years trained in some serious restaurants, including The Oak Room, Aubergine and l’Auberge de l’Eridan. He worked at Drakes on the Pond in Abinger Hammer before becoming chef/owner of Drakes in Ripley in 2003, earning a Michelin star there. The restaurant closed in 2016 and the premises now house The Clock House. Sorrel opened in October 2017 and the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the 2019 guide. The 300 year old building in which the restaurant is situated is located on a main street in Dorking and has a dedicated car park. It previously housed a Pizza Express. The dining room is accessed by a flight of stairs from the street and seats just over thirty customers at any one time. There is also a ground floor area used for private dining at present. There was an a la carte menu for £65 (£45 at lunch) as well as a nine course tasting menu at £95.
The wine list had 142 bottles, ranging in price from £26 to £395. Although 68% of the list was from France, there were wines from as far afield as India, Japan, Georgia and Morocco, though rather oddly there was not a single wine from Germany. The median markup to the retail price was 2.5, which is not bad, and well below the levels that are common in London. Sample references were Viognier Les Iles Blanches 2017 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Between 5 Bells White 2009 at £52 compared to its retail price of £25, and Meraviglia Rosso Bolgheri Dievole 2016 at a very fair £85 for a wine that will set you back £79 in the high street. For those with the means there was Dom Perignon 2006 at £220 compared to its retail price of £162, and Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru Philippe Colin 2013 at £320 for a wine whose current market value is £241. There were a few genuine bargains in the upper reaches of the list, such as the Chateau Figeac 2015, which was listed at £125 yet whose current market value is £204. There were four wines below their current retail price, so a little advance research will bring rewards. Be aware that the printed list is not quite the same as the electronic one, and that the list will likely undergo a substantial review under the recently appointed new sommelier in any case.
The meal began with a quartet of canapés. Beetroot tapioca crisp with oyster and horseradish emulsion worked very well, the bite of the horseradish contrasting nicely with the oyster. Brown rice cracker was topped with pickled swede, cumin and grapes and was an interesting combination of flavours. The one that did not work was compressed and pickled cucumber with fennel and coriander, which was not pickled enough, had flabby texture and was dominated by the fennel. By contrast, Moroccan spiced meringue with duck liver parfait and Madeira jelly was lovely, the spices nicely lifting the richness of the liver. The canapés varied quite widely in standard but averaged between 14/20 and 15/20 level. A further nibble of pumpkin and aged Parmesan mousse contained mandarin sorbet and smoked paprika praline with pumpkin seeds. This sounded weird but was surprisingly effective, the sharpness of the mandarin balancing the sweetness of the pumpkin and richness of the cheese. The final touch was the textural contrast of the pumpkin seeds (16/20). Bread was made in the kitchen, and was a choice of brown beer bread and red pepper brioche. Both were good, though I particularly liked the brioche (15/20).
Red mullet was grilled and served with “canneloni “of cucumber, inside of which was red mullet with curry oil, as well as curried oat granola, smoked cauliflower purée and cucumber ketchup. The fish itself was accurately cooked and had good flavour, and the cauliflower was an effective accompaniment, more so than the cucumber (15/20).
Quail was glazed in tamarind and served with a langoustine tail as well as grapes, pickled swede and a reduction of quail and langoustine. The quail had good flavour and the langoustine was nicely cooked, though it had limited natural sweetness. However the pickled swede worked really well, the pickling juices cutting through the richness of the meat (16/20).
Brill was steamed and was served with salt baked turnip, Lollo Rossa lettuce, Jerusalem artichoke purée, potato crisp and a lemon thyme and oyster sauce. The fish was carefully cooked and the delicate crisp was a nice contrast to the smooth artichoke puree. Even the turnip, a difficult vegetable to get excited about, worked well here (16/20).
Rather less successful was aubergine with miso paste, served with artichoke and smoked paprika chutney, sherry vinegar jelly, parsley and garlic purée. The accompaniments worked well enough, but the aubergine was unremarkable (14/20). I preferred venison rolled in a grey ash and served with pink fir potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and bitter orange. The venison was cooked pink and the sharpness of the orange cut nicely through the richness of the meat (15/20).
The cheese board was all-British and the assorted cheeses, including Winchester and Tunworth laced with truffle, were in good condition. The dessert menu was hard going if you were looking for something that resembled a normal dessert. An apple dessert featured Granny Smiths cooked in black pepper caramel served with malt extract ice cream and a cannoli of garden thyme cream. This tasted better than it sounds, though Granny Smith is not the most thrilling apple on our shores, but worked well enough with the pepper (14/20). Chefs are doubtless keen to show how modern and fashionable they are, but few customers, especially this one, want to see shrubbery in their desserts. On this menu all three desserts were what one might charitably describe as challenging.
Coffee was from The Difference company and offered a selection of exotic coffees including Jamaican Blue Mountain and the excellent and mild yet pure Panama geisha coffee, which is arguably the best coffee in the world, and at $830 a pound achieved the highest price ever paid at a trade coffee auction in 2018. Petit fours comprised sorrel marshmallow with sorrel gel, saffron and mint jelly and a chocolate with Lemon and thyme. The best by far was a little mince pie, which not coincidentally was the most normal thing on the plate.
Service was excellent throughout the evening. The bill came to £138 with some a bottle of Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a three course meal plus water and coffee would likely cost you around £105 or so with service. This was a good meal and the overall package, with the charming staff, fairly priced wine list and nice room was attractive. It certainly deserves its star, though I slightly preferred the food at the chef’s previous restaurant, partly due to a touch of inconsistency tonight and partly because the menu to me felt that it was trying too hard in places. Dishes have a lot of elements, and the many modern touches seem just a little less assured than I recall at his previous venture. Nonetheless this was certainly a very good meal, albeit one that was fully priced.