I visit Toffs almost a year to do the day from my last dinner. Back then, it was the second ever service for Rob Palmers new venture, a sort of press night where we mostly paid for what came in front of us, and sent shared bottles along the bar line with friends. Whilst then they were finding their feet, tonight had a more polished feel. The front of house have a swagger to their steps whilst the team in the kitchen know their place and are contributing to dishes. Behind my seat on the pass are three French blokes, suited and tucking into some pretty wines with the twelves courses. If they are from a tyre company I don’t think they’d be leaving disappointed.
The meal starts familiarly. The berkswell cheese cracker has followed Rob around for years and tonight it still tastes like a cheese and pickle sandwich from your dreams. We eat that after the crab tart, bound with just a touch of the brown meat, and before the final snack of Jerusalem artichoke, caviar, and chive; a carefully composed two bite full of salinity. I’m not sure they were capable of such simplified beauty a year ago. It’s the first sign of big improvements from the kitchen.
There’s bread as good as any in the city, and more bread if you finish that. This isn’t a course as some restaurants now focus on, but a consistent throughout the meal. Use it to chase the dots of caviar that make the potato foam and egg yolk dish sing, and pile both raw dishes that follow on to. I suspect in time they’ll change the order of the taster so that both aren’t next to each other, first with a scallop ceviche of sorts that has nuggets of pork for seasoning and a heavy hand on the dill. Then, and far superior, a tartare of beef under a cloak of onion jelly, with beer pickled onions and various other bits. It’s new on that day and already very polished. It just needs to sit in a different part of the menu. Ribbons of dressed celeriac with old Winchester and hazlenuts taste eerily like Waldorf salad and brings a lovely earthy note in before the courses get larger.
Not many people cook fish better than Rob Palmer and he is at it again with cod, flesh pearlescent and crust a buttery golden crown. It comes with shrimps in a tangle of softened leeks, and the kind of XO that shakes hands rather than fist pumps. If those three blokes behind are from a tyre company they are going to be very happy by the time this reaches them. There’s veal sweetbread kebabs with a Berlin-style curry sauce, followed by veal with miatake mushrooms, diced tongue, mushroom purée, and crispy garlic. Given it’s not my favourite set of ingredients, it’s cohesive and technically very precise.
Jam on toast transpires to be damson jam with ice cream and a bread tuile. It’s new on and already feels accomplished. There’s a kind of Mille Feuille that’s not really a Mille Feuille but features puff pastry, a cream of star anise, and poached rhubarb. On the side is buttermilk ice cream, freeze dried rhubarb, and freeze dried tarragon. The combination is tested but the delivery feels fresh. It’s one of the best dishes of the night and manages to make his almost signature dessert of chocolate, sherry, and vanilla appear ordinary.
The bench where we are at is £125 a head, though menus drop as low as £60. The wine is fairly priced and the team know what they are doing. Make no question, Rob Palmer can cook and one year on this is a very different restaurant to the one that opened. Rob isn’t reinventing the wheel, more taking a new approach to classic flavours. It’s an excellent restaurant that makes for a very enjoyable evening.