The last time we stayed in Stratford the head chef of the restaurant we dined at told us to eat at Salt. We come home and a blogger friend of mine (I do have them, they’re not all horrid) tells me I should go to this great place she went to called Salt. The Good Food Guide comes out and the newcomer of the year is a little place in Stratford called Salt. We get the hint and book Salt. Ages ago actually, so much so that shaggy headed giant Jay Rayner tells the world just how great Salt is two weeks before we go. We expect it be great. Of course we do. Everyone else thinks it is. Even the blogger, and heaven forbid she even paid to go.
And guess what? It is great. Maybe the best £130 that I’ve parted with for two hours of fun since that stag party in Prague. Paul Foster has created a space with bags of character, where the only attitude can be found on the plate. It’s a star from the off, with smoked almonds that leave an imprint on the soul and impeccably sourced green olives that greet us on the table. Warm bread rolls first appear to be a little underdone though transpire to be a denser crumb with a nutty backnote. These are lovely; even better when smeared thick with butter so yellow it radiates warmth. For those who want it, there is a salt pot on the table. Of course there is.
The first of the lunch tasting menu is a belter. Pink fir potatoes wearing a coat of lardo, and a dusting of roasted yeast that echoes the taste of a jacket potato. It’s neatly layered in flavour, carefully controlled and ego free. The same applies to fillets of hake, flesh golden and just holding shape, sharing the plate with caramelised cauliflower puree and lightly dressed fennel. It is food that begs to be eaten as much as admired. We do both.
A bowl of carrots would be my favourite thing that I ate. Protruding out is a baton of bright orange veg slow cooked in chicken fat that I would be tempted to put a ring on, had I not wasted enough on diamonds already this year. There is a broth of sorts at the base cut through with a faint kick of vinegar, pickled carrots, a rye tuile, and blitzed crispy chicken skin for seasoning, because using only salt all the time must be boring for them. The result is a beautiful interplay of sweet and acidity, that is homely and comforting at the same time. It’s one of my dishes of the year, and I’ve been lucky to eat some seriously good food in 2017.
A pheasant breast would be the first time that it was obvious a sous-vide machine was in action, the meat cooked perfectly but lacking the depth that a slow roast provides. A purée of black garlic adds a fermented funk that needs the pickled shallots to cut through, whilst roasted yeast adds a deep savouriness. There is light and shade everywhere with only the cavolo nero and breast sitting central. It may not hit the heights of some of the previous courses but it’s still seriously impressive.
Desserts were on paper more challenging, though less so in reality. a brown bread ice cream was gummy in texture to the point that it clings to spoon and mouth, with a brown bread tuile, and sorrel granita hiding poached blueberries. I enjoy it much more than I thought I would, the sorrel and blueberry flavour seemingly lengthened by the ice cream coating the roof of the mouth. A similar story was had with a dark chocolate ganache, pumpkin cream, with chocolate tuille and shard of caramelised white chocolate for texture. Together it is a cohesive blend of soft and hard bits, working in unison with much more clarity than expected. The last mouthfuls are some of the best; choux buns with raspberry and Douglas fir oil. It is old school pastry work with flavours firmly rooted in the present.
The lunch tasting menu above totals £45 per head, which must make it one of the best value lunches in the country given the quality and volume of food. Despite its relative infancy, Paul Foster and the team have created a restaurant where seasonal ingredients are cooked with real technique. The accolades that follow will be just a matter of time. Every single recommendation for Salt has been justified.