On a sunny day like the one we enjoyed, its hard to believe that Torquay is in England. The quay is an expanse of yacht’s and fishing boats, the promenade a seemingly polite place to people watch with a cold glass of rose in hand. Everything glistens. Try to stifle those chuckles but we could have easily had been in the south of France. To the far end of the harbour is the award winning The Elephant. The chef and proprietor, Simon Hulme, has pedigree; he has represented blighty at the Bocuse d’Or and the restaurant has held a Michelin star for many years. Booking dinner there for our only night in Torquay was an easy choice.
The restaurant itself is a bright space with washed out hues of blues and yellows, with wooden tables nicely spread out. We dive straight in with nibbles whilst perusing the wine list. Olive focaccia was pleasant enough, with high quality olive oil to dunk the aerated break into. A scotch egg followed, the runny quails egg encased in a mixture of pork and quail. Outside the crisp breadcrumbs were sat in a smooth arrabbiata sauce full of heat. Give me a box of these with a pint of the black stuff down the road at Seamus O’Donnells and I’ll be a happy man.
We move on to a pretty plate of opaque beetroot slices draped over whipped goats cheese. It is a dish that benefits from the acidic and warming pickled mustard seeds without ever moving on to anything great. Elsewhere a singular pigs cheek sat atop of a fine dice of celeriac ‘risotto’. I like it; its a culinary hug with unquestionable cookery on display.
Slices of lamb rack follow, the meat perfectly pink even if the thick ribbon of fat has not been rendered down enough to my taste. Not that this matters. The other parts of the plate are a total joy; a potato fondant so buttery it should come with its own defibrillator, with a precisely cooked sweetbread on top. There is a croquette of lamb shoulder meat that reinforces the ovine flavour whilst working in perfect harmony with a spikey garlic and anchovy gremolata. Carrots and peas washed down with the most weightless of lamb sauces. It’s spring on a plate. It’s seriously impressive.
The vegetarian option is the lightest of pithivier’s, the filling of squash and spinach boldly seasoned. The star on the plate were the baby onions, meltingly tender and with a real depth of flavour. My only complaint is that both vegetarian options were so light my girlfriend felt that they would been better suited to a multi-course menu. Two courses in, and at the end of the savoury courses, she was still hungry.
Desserts were knockout. A chocolate mousse with the richest of salted caramel centres was a sure-fire hit. The tuile and biscuits crumbs providing nice additional textures, whilst a yogurt ice cream was a much needed relief from all of the richness. Best was a lemon and passionfruit tart, all bruleed top and silky interior. A banana sorbet of impossible depth added to the tropical fruitiness and was a nice counterbalance to the sharp tart.
The bill, including a good bottle of Sancerre, tipped in at just over £120 and felt fair, even if we both could had easily had eaten another course. Service was kind, though a bit rushed as we were in and out in a little over an hour. It was impressive stuff; near faultless cooking, with a light touch to all dishes. From the clientele it was obvious that is the destination restaurant for the Torbay area. The Elephant continues to stampede on.