When I visited: September 2017
Location: London, Notting Hill
Team: Clare Smyth (Chef Patron), Jonny Bone (Head Chef), Rob Rose (Restaurant Director), Gareth Ferreira (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress
Ambience: Fresh, friendly
Course of the meal: Charlotte potato with dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe
If I could change one thing: A little more innovation on some of the savoury dishes
As soon as I heard that Clare Smyth had left Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and set up a new restaurant, I made sure to get a reservation before that became impossible. The Notting Hill location is the first sign that the intention was not to simply carry on as she and her team left off; the overall atmosphere in Core is very friendly and fresh rather than formal, with neutral décor in cream, light green and gold colours reminiscent of Scandinavian-influenced restaurants like Texture and Aquavit.
We recognised and chatted to some of the staff from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (including the Restaurant Director Rob Rose), who were all very attentive and seemed to be enjoying the new experience. The Head Sommelier Gareth Ferreira was really good at thoroughly explaining each of the paired wines as well.
We went for the longer tasting menu (as opposed to the shorter tasting menu or a la carte options), although all the menus looked very promising. Confusingly, the snacks written as included with this longer tasting menu were served before we had actually decided which menu to go for, and we got an extra snack that wasn’t written down, but this may be because they are still refining which things to include on which menu in the restaurant’s early days. The snacks were foie gras with mushrooms served on a mini cup, a crispy smoked duck wing with burnt orange and spices, jellied eel with toasted seaweed and malt vinegar sprayed on top, and tomato and basil gougeres. All the snacks were delicious, but the crispy duck wing was the standout. We also got thick homemade sourdough bread (with Isle of Wight butter so light that it looked like clotted cream).
The first ‘starter’ course was an Isle of Mull scallop cooked over wood – this was beautifully presented on a shell and various plants, a bit like some of the woodland elements in the menu at The Fat Duck. Next came a Charlotte potato with dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe. On paper, a course whose main element is a potato doesn’t sound exciting, but this one was really innovative and so, so tasty. It was also the first of many courses where a carefully prepared sauce was added at the table.
The skate with Morecambe Bay shrimps, Swiss chard and brown butter was tender but perhaps not as interesting as the two courses that preceded it. However, the lamb braised carrot with sheep’s milk yoghurt and brioche brushed with lamb butter and containing lamb was another really great course, not least visually – the way the ‘carrot’ is presented reminded me of the famous meat fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. To finish off the ‘mains’, we got roast grouse with red cabbage and bell heather, another beautiful course where extra sauces were added at the table.
Both dessert courses were truly amazing – I wouldn’t change them at all. The ‘Cherry Bakewell’ was (in contrast to normal, heavy, cherry bakewells) super-light and perfectly balanced. The pear and verbena poire Williams sorbet almost got the ‘course of the meal’ tag over the Charlotte potato course – it looked almost like white truffle and was just gorgeous with the slightly bitter and acidic hints cutting through the sweetness of the fruit.
We enjoyed some green tea to finish off with petits fours – a mini warm chocolate tart (where the chocolate oozed out, satisfyingly) and a passion fruit and red kampot pepper, a lovely mini jelly.
There were a few minor mistakes in service throughout the meal – a slight spillage on my partner Owl at the beginning and some tea brought over when we didn’t order it – but these were hardly a problem.
There is a kitchen with a wall of open glass as you walk into the restaurant, so if you are at the coveted Chef’s Table (or if you are facing the right way) you can watch the team of chefs as they work. We were lucky enough to meet Clare briefly afterwards in this kitchen and she said they were still innovating and working on everything, so that next time we visited there might be some changes. We had a great first visit and I wouldn’t want much to change at all – I think that it’s very likely I will give this restaurant 5 hoots in the future.