Firstly let me point out that Jay Rayner and I have never met. I’m sure he is a lovely guy, a 1st class restaurant reviewer, and an all round good egg. I have it on good authority that Mr. Rayner is a friendly chap, but why am i discussing Jay Rayner you ask?.. After all we are very much opposite ends of the spectrum. Mr. Rayner writes for various national magazines and newspapers, the bonus being he gets paid for it. I myself have 32 extremely valued followers to my blog. Jay has lavish flowing locks, lavish facial hair and his own radio show. I have short hair, it takes me a month to grow anything remotely resembling a beard, and I at best listen to the radio some days. I could go on, areas we live in, career paths, hobbies, the list is endless. We do however have 1 thing in common. We have both been fostered!
The title admittedly is slightly misleading. As I said at the start we have never met. The title is nothing really to do with our parental upbringing. Neither have the pair of us had tearaways lob a can of Australian lager at our heads either, well I haven’t anyway…. No no no, what we do have in common is our love of a certain little restaurant tucked away in the heart of Shakespeare country owned by Paul Foster. A picturesque and idyllic place in the very heart of our green and pleasant land. Well, maybe a tad to the left.
It was a crowdfunding website that first got me noticing the Paul Foster project. I recognised the name but couldn’t place it and so after a bit of research, (yeah yeah okay i googled him), it turned out I had seen him on Great British Menu. He was using this particular media platform, KickStarter, to raise money (for reward) with the intention to raise enough capital open up his own restaurant. Starting up any new business is tough going and I had no doubt that a restaurant venture in these increasingly difficult times would be no different. I chipped in a minimal amount and my “reward” was an invitation for 2 to the opening night on March 17th last year. It was a very nice evening where we had canapés and drinks.
There was certainly enough insight to warrant a 2nd trip. Not been to this neck of the woods?…Stratford-Upon-Avon is a beautiful town in its own right. Lots to see and do, the town has a nice feel to it and there are plenty of quirky shops alongside your mainstream. It has some nice bars and is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas. If I remember correctly Mr. Foster had originally been set to plant roots in another town in central England but for one reason or another it didn’t come to fruition. Having been based in SUA for a year now I wonder if that was a blessing in disguise, fate, call it what you will.
Her indoors and myself took our 2nd trip to Salt around the time of her birthday. We had a fantastic evening and I discovered a dish that I’d never had before. I’m not saying it was a revolutionary idea, just a 1st time for me. A baked onion. It sounds so simple when you say it out loud but knock me down with a 10lb sledgehammer if it wasn’t one of the most enjoyable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I’m an onion fiend!… I mean it was an onion, but it wasn’t if that makes sense. I’m doing it an injustice there. It was a “Confit Roscoff Onion, Beef Juices, Beef Cracker”. It was divine.
Mr. Foster also took time out to chat with us. We discussed a variety of things including the merits of a radish. Personally for me they are like wasps, absolutely useless, a pointless vegetable. I wait for the time that someone can prove me wrong on this front.
Given that the meal was so good I decided to book us a table for a bit later in the year. GB and I met on November 17th 1990. Officially, though we still debate it at some length to this day, the fact is we got together on the 18th. Amazing what a fox in a box joke can do… and what better way to celebrate! we booked a table for 17th November, the day before we officially met 27 years ago, (my opinion). We booked a hotel around the corner, overpriced and with a leaky roof but hey ho, onwards and upwards. For the record I have recommended a hotel in the area at the bottom of the blog. It doesn’t have a leaky roof, is cheaper, and the take on customer service is far better.
We arrived at around 19.30 after a couple of cheeky snifters at The Garrick. A nice cosy pub along the street. Walking in to Salt we were greeted by a friendly team member and shown to a table in the main restaurant next to a lovely fire. There are some tables out at the front by the bar, both areas are warm, almost humble, and inviting but you cannot see the master at work sitting at the front. We chose the tasting menu with drinks pairing. I’ve had a few of these at various places but am hard pushed to think of somewhere that offers better value for money that Salt when it comes to this.
So lets talk about front of house. Professionalism, check, knowledge of produce, check, attitude towards customers… hmm, they weren’t great… I’M JOKING!.. I’m just pulling your leg. They were marvellous. Extremely helpful towards her indoors who was on crutches at the time. Real friendly team who couldn’t do enough for us. More importantly they even introduced a Chardonnay to GB that she actually enjoyed, and my nearest and dearest doesn’t do Chardonnay at the worst of times.
It was over 3 months ago now that we went. I could pretend to remember the names of the team that looked after us, they did tag our menu after all, but for someone who will tell all and sundry he has a fantastic memory I forget. Charlie (ly?) and Tom (thank you mr. Foster) are awesome, as are the rest of the team that you don’t always necessarily hear about. I do recall the exceptional level of service we received and they are great ambassadors for the restaurant. Full kudos to you guys/girls. I’d take my hat off to you if I wore one.
So to the food, some might say FINALLY!… 7 courses (not inc the extra cheese course that we shared and the add ons that were unexpected but appreciated and delicious)…. Now I need to talk to you all, come closer my pretties, about bread. This isn’t just any bread. This bread with Salt. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say you could eat these bad little boys all night.They are like a burnt just baked mini loaf. Mother of god though they are bloody tasty and light. Whack some of the Salted butter on it and well, it’s a little bit of loaf shaped heaven. Worth visiting for on their own.
Pink Fir Potatoes, Roasted Yeast, Lardo. First course and already her indoors and myself were split. She loved it, that’ll be the Irish blood in her showing an affinity to the humble potty toe. I’m joking, it just wasn’t my highlight. It was a very pleasant starter and the purpose of food is to be interesting, thought provoking and tasty right?.. If this was the promise of what was to come then happy blinking’ days. GB had this down as her 2nd favourite overall by the end.
Course 2 was a first for me. It wasn’t the first course it was the second course, but my first time trying oysters. Some love them, some hate them, oysters are right up there with Brexit and marmite in the love/hate conundrum. You are simply for or against and there is no middle ground. There’s a first part paragraph you don’t hear very often. If they were cooked like this every time, (crispy and served with apple, kohlrabi, parsley sauce), I think I’d find safely find myself ticking the remain box. It was a triumph and the parsley sauce suited it perfectly. Definitely a winner we both agreed. No argument necessary although I don’t think you’ll see me knocking back oysters straight from the shells anytime soon.
We moved on easily and in good time to course 3. Carrot cooked in chicken fat, with chicken skin, and pickled carrot. Now remember what I said earlier in this review about the onion dish? (feels like about 6 months ago I hear you say… I know, sorry.. hehe), well this carrot bowl was pretty much its equal. To take something as humble as the carrot and elevate it to fine dining is hats off, socks off, and pants off to you chef. A winner of any “make something from a carrot competition” unless someone produces a carrot clifton suspension bridge. Stunning cooking. Would I swap it for my onion dish? maybe, but never the twain shall meet one hopes. My 3rd favourite dish.
This leads me nicely into my second favourite. Crispy Pork Belly, Chanterelles, Mushroom & Truffle puree. I’m not even sure how to describe this. I wish Jay Rayner was here. Is this a straightforward combination?..Maybe it is, maybe not, but the texture, seasoning, and flavours. Wow! (hope Jay doesn’t nick that one). They packed a punch. Not just any punch though, a full bloodied Mike Tyson punch to the tastebuds. The dish was a knockout (boom boom). We disagreed,again, on this one. I had it in the higher stratosphere of 9’s. GB had it down as her least favourite but horses for courses, each to their own.
The ‘main’ course was Saddle of Roe Deer, burnt cream, confit shallot. BABY ONIONS COOKED THE SAME WAY!.. Okay so it might seem a bit obvious I was quite excited by this prospect. It didn’t disappoint. Never had deer, so another first, although I did buy 8 venison legs for 50 quid once, is that two deer?. Moving on, the dish was cooked exquisitely. It was a masterclass of marrying flavours and to top it off it had confit baby onions. Shallots of them.. sorry two bad jokes in 1 paragraph is maybe too much.This is genuinely a chef nearing perfection. Cheery at its finest. Course that surely couldn’t be topped. I would happily have walked away there and then. Plate of food doesn’t get any better, unless it has a side of Roscoff confit onion. Oh hold on, it did! 10 to of 10. A fist pump and a high five. Her indoors was slightly more modest. Again we were at odds. Wifey was debating that the fir potties was the best course. Luckily I’m writing this so I can honestly say she was wrong.
I’m no cheese buff so I will briefly say there was great variety and GB loved them all. She did have a favourite but I fail to recall its name. Apologies for that. The slithers I did have were very tasty, definitely had the cheddar and i believe I tried the blue, but that was just an excuse for a cheeky glass of port.
For me this is where it got weird. GB chose this next dish as her favourite. Read it, think about it, then try to get your head around it. Poached blueberries, yep, normal, BROWN BREAD ICE CREAM, not so normal, frozen sorrel granita, again off the beaten track. Now in my head brown bread and ice cream should never go in the same sentence. I found this course challenging. Food as I touched on earlier is supposed to be thought provoking and experimental. There can be no debate that for me this was both. Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea. Can’t criticise the finished article and like I say GB loved it. It was just odd. I did finish it though so maybe it wasn’t as odd as I thought. Wifey continued to wax lyrical about it for the next week or so. She is more savoury than sweet though so maybe that was it.. she definitely enjoyed that one. Maybe it needed a sprinkle of radish?…
Our last course was Valrhona chocolate cream, pumpkin custard, pumpkin seeds. A lovely way to finish the meal. The only issue we had was that I was salivating over the main course and her indoors was rabbiting on about brown bread ice cream. It never really stood a chance. It wasn’t as memorable as some of the other courses but there was nothing wrong with it at all. It just got lost in a wave of brown bread and roe deer hysteria.
In essence what I’m saying is that ‘Salt’ is or should be the next big thing. It is without doubt the finest restaurant we have been to in a fair while. No question it is fine dining. It is also relaxed and casual. The good thing is that Salt doesn’t stop at doing what it says on the tin. It does SO much more than that. Salt is unobtrusive, and unpretentious. Like your favourite old snug t-shirt that you have worn for years its a treasure to behold, with the added bonus of serving immaculate food. What a fantastic advert for Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you find yourself heading that way in the near future, don’t take my word for it, book it, try it yourself. Even if you AREN’T going that way, book it, try it, make a weekend of it. It is brown bread ice cream and baby onion worth it.
If you are staying overnight I would recommend the Stratford Limes Hotel. Five mins outside of town run by a lovely couple. Nice rooms at a fair price and an excellent breakfast.
So there you have it. My take on Salt in Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you are reading this at any stage Mr. Rayner and feel the urge to offer some free journalistic tips to yours truly, I would be more than happy to meet up and listen. In fact I know the perfect place!
P.s. humble apologies for the length of the review. This is my most confident form of communicae and so quite often I have far too much to say. Something this good needs to be spoken about though right!
P.p.s I’m still lost at the point of a radish.