I had a booking for Smoke when Stu got in touch asking if I’d be up for trying something different. He offered the chance to be the first customer to try the ‘Smoke at The Manor’ menu that’s running for the first two weeks of October in the main house whilst Smoke goes through a bit of a transformation. I agreed. Of course I did. Mostly because I love his cooking and also because I’m so unbelievably tardy on this blog nowadays that it gives me some form of deadline to pull together the writing. He gets a Guinea pig and you, both readers, get to hear about something you can book as opposed to a menu six months out of date. It’s a win-win for us all.
Dinner starts in the greenhouse which now has heating so that it’s possible to dine all-year-round. A bite of Tunworth mousse in a beer brik pastry casing is an immense mouthful of mellow cheesiness akin to listening to a Lewis Capaldi record, and a taco of crab meat with crab xo and apple rife with umami and acidity. Two refined, delicious snacks. Excellent negroni, too.
We move into the restaurant for the tasting menu. Still the most amazing bread, upgraded now to include a whipped beef fat alongside the daisy yellow, more traditional butter. There’s lightly smoked trout with golden beetroot and sorrel, with a sour cream sauce spiked with trout roe and preserved elderflower. We try beef tartare with red jalapeño, orange and pine nuts; a borderline genius combo of heat and acidity that relies on the beef fat dressing to bolster the base note. It’s the most interesting tartare dish I can recall eating.
Stu brings out the next dish, saying he wants it to remove the chicken dish from Alex Dilling from the top spot of dishes for the year. Whilst the chicken is ultimately safe, it’s a great dish that will feature high on the list. Scallop from Orkney, the size of a babies fist, glazed with cocoa pod and cooked to one of those burnished crusts with a hat of deep-fried maitake. What makes it is the jamon butter sauce, a densely piggy affair the texture of soap suds and kissed with more lemon. I chase the last of the sauce out with the remnants of the bread.
One more savoury course to go. A4 wagyu cooked beautifully to the medium it needs to be to render down all of the marbled fat, with an intense purée of Jerusalem artichoke, king oyster mushroom, and a bone marrow and Madeira sauce spiked with the fruity heat of long pepper which wouldn’t be out of place in Helene Darroze or Alex Dilling. It comes with those iconic Boulangere potatoes pimped with the addition of autumn truffle. There’s nothing flashy or unexpected about this, just ingredients that work with each other executed with total precision.
Colston Bassett blue comes with pear tatin so good I ask for seconds, before a very boozy take on a Black Forest Gateaux with a miso, kirsch, and cherry layer which I’m still dreaming of two weeks later. Petit fours are a negroni gummy experiment that I believe might just have been for me. If there is any perk to the weight gain and incessant sniping from others, it’s the occasional negroni gummy. It’s a trade I’m willing to make.
I have no idea how much of this will end up on the Smoke at The Manor menu, though I do know that change – albeit subtle change – is happening at Smoke. They have added to the kitchen and front of house, and plans are afoot to add to the drinks offering and extend the opening hours. Crucially the cooking is adapting to a new style; one less reliant on the immediate terroir around them, and more focused on the global influences that Stu Deeley originally made a name for himself with. Smoke might just be my favourite place to eat right now.
Listen to The Meat and One Veg Podcast here