Thursday, 29 October 2015

The White Spoon, Cheltenham

If you hadn't already cottoned on, Cheltenham is doing pretty well for itself in the food and drink stakes at the moment. We had a bit of a surge of a few bigger chains finding homes in the town not too long ago, but now it seems the independents are taking the reigns, making sure Cheltenham lives up to it's classy reputation.

Last week saw the official opening party for the latest addition, The White Spoon. Fizz, the most incredible canapés (spoons of steak tartare and razor clams with ponzu cucumber give you an idea of the quality), wine tastings, and petit fours packaged up to take home, made sure that all the guests would be chatting about the 'new kid on the block' for weeks. Luckily for me, just two days before the launch, I had booked in for dinner; what a week!

Having taken over the site that was formerly the lemon yellow Cheltenham Dandy (8 Well Walk - a stones throw away from Boston Tea Party), The White Spoon is an unpretentious eatery headed up by Chef Director Chris White and his partner Purdey Spooner - hence the name. The whole family chipped in to transform the space into the elegant dining room it is today; special mentions go to Chris' dad who made the beautiful copper piping wall lights, and Chris' brother Andy who's taken the role of Front of House Manager. It's a real labour of love.

Although Chris is only a jaw-dropping 28 years old, he's worked in some great places, most notably Heston's prestigious Fat Duck group. These experiences have enabled him to cultivate his culinary enthusiasm, developing his own style using modern techniques. Primarily British, with a few global influences, Chris says that his food is generally a bit lighter; he's not heavy handed on the seasoning and doesn't over-do it with rich sauces, he simply lets the flavours of individual ingredients shine through.

Chris and Purdey want The White Spoon to be a relaxed environment, serving consistent high quality food and drink, just without the formalities of fine dining.

It was a cold and wet night when The Chap and I went, and as such it was quiet in the restaurant. Too often this kills the vibes; all diners feel awkward, you feel as though you're being watched like a hawk, and you have hushed conversations where you daren't say anything incriminating. It really didn't matter at The White Spoon. With soft lighting, ambient music and uncluttered surroundings, we could forget about the howling winds outside, and with the charismatic Andy looking after us, we felt right at home.

We started with the Plant Pot Bread (£2.00), which came with a duo of butters; Applewood smoked and salted. Cut into quarters, we greedily commented on how it had extra surface area for slathering butter on - every little helps - and whilst the smoked butter was bold in flavour, it was the salted butter that did it for me. Maybe I'm a bit of a purist, but with the bursts of anise coming from the fennel seeds, I didn't think it needed anything else.

*Apologies for the naff photos BTW, low lighting and a single tea light was never going to work in my favour.*

Goats Milk Custard, Goats Curd, Beets, Scorched Carrot, Cob Nuts (£7.50) was my first course. A plate of various goats cheeses can be a bit daunting for even the biggest goat-lover, but rather than the super tangy versions, this dish saw much more delicate flavours, quite like Ricotta, with only a small sliver of the intense cheese we're all familiar with. Beetroot is a classic pairing - naturally sweet and earthy - and the sugary beet shards, along with the freshness of the cobnuts, were a lovely touch. My only thought was that I was craving something sharp to counteract all the creaminess; pickled beetroot perhaps?

The Chap had Crab Tortellini, Shellfish Bisque, Lime, Borage, Brandy Jellies (£9.00), which was stunning. Three plump pasta shapes lay in the bowl, concealing the jellies underneath; the bisque was poured over and the dish came to life. It was the perfect balance of tart and sweet thanks to the lime, and wasn't punch-you-in-the-face shellfish either. The pearls of brandy held their own in the hot bisque too; they were incredible!

Main course is a tough choice for meat eaters at The White Spoon. With beef, duck breast and pork belly on the menu, how are you meant to decide?! I eventually opted for the unusual combination of Kelmscott Pork Belly, Wild Sea Bass, Smoked Potato Gnocchi, Butternut Squash, Salsa Verdi (£20.00). As a nod to the ol' surf n turf, I had to give it a go.

The pork belly was possibly the nicest I've had; it had the Goldilocks "just right" ratio of fat and meat, and whilst there was no thick layer of crackling on the top, crumbs of crackling gave a similar feel. The crispy skinned sea bass was just as well cooked, though put on the same plate as a hunky chunk of pork, there's no competition. This is where the other elements of the dish come into play; the salsa verdi gave the fish it's citrusy/vinegary accompaniment, whilst at the same time cut through the fattiness of the meat. Butternut squash added sweetness and the seared gnocchi added a bit of bite. Surprisingly neither made the dish feel too heavy - it just worked.

Blackened Gloucester Beef, Potato Terrine, Pan Roasted Carrot, King Oyster Mushroom, Onion (£22.50) - what The Chap ordered - seems to be the main attraction for The White Spoon at the minute. Covered in malt extract and thoroughly blackened with a blowtorch, the beef has all that charred flavour locked in before it gets cooked sous-vide style. Apparently someone had complained the previous week that the beef was too tender… Is that even a thing? Who are these people? Would they rather be chewing on an old cow to the point of jaw ache?!

Everything about the dish was heavenly - it's a must if you go - and it also went really nicely with our smooth and spicy wine choice; Santo Isidro De Pegôes, Touriga Nacional Reserva, Portugal 2012 (£22.00, also available by the glass or carafe). The wine list is excellent by the way, and from the launch party I discovered a personal fave, this one white; Gaia Wines, Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Greece (£29.50). "Salty dry with lazer-beam precision and very funky wild ferment layering of complexity with oak wreathed with minerality." If you're an off-dry Riesling fan, then this is for you!

For dessert, the Coconut Parfait, Poached Peach, Ginger Ice Cream (£8.00) ticked all the right boxes. The soothing coconut snowballs were contrasted with the spicy punch of ginger and sticky sweet peaches. The thin fingers of ginger biscuits were a welcome texture, and I was glad that they were just strong enough to aid my scooping.

Toffee, Pear & Rum Bavarois, Walnut Crumble, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream (£7.50) was The Chap's choice. Bavarois might be a little more popular since it was on the Bake Off last month, but to be honest, I think it was the rum that sold it (we both could've taken a splosh more). Toffee, pear and walnut seemed very appropriate autumnal ingredients, and that crème fraiche ice cream... Not too sweet, not too sour; just delightfully - erm - fresh?!

Our first dinner at The White Spoon will not be our last; Chris and Purdey have created a restaurant that really deserves to do well in Cheltenham. Fancy but not fussy, attentive but not OTT, it caters for all occasions; date nights, business lunches, boozy catch ups with friends, or a big family dinners.

If you book a table, you won't be turfed out for another sitting; it's yours for the night. And if price is an issue, you can get 3 courses for £15.00 Tuesday - Saturday lunchtime, or until 7.00pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They even let you bring your own booze on a Tuesday, charging just £5 corkage, all of which goes to Maggie's Cancer Charity.

I already can't wait to go back.

*Although our dinner was comped by The White Spoon, these views are entirely my own*

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