Unlike so many people who prefer to let their birthdays quietly slip by with as little attention as possible, and who dread the increasing numbers which they don’t want to be reminded of, I still take a ridiculously childish pleasure in mine. While I’m certainly not keen on the ravages of time which, unavoidably and rather annoyingly, insist on making their mark on my face and body, I delight in the anticipation of a new chapter, the new experiences ahead and on suitably celebrating the fact, that on this one day in dreary mid November, I am the undoubted Queen for the Day. Oh yes please, do make a fuss! In fact, go right ahead and make a big fuss, shout it out to the rest of the world, serenade me, spoil me, send me cards, messages, emails, flowers and chocolates, just don’t hold back in the slightest! Having lost my parents at a young age, theirs and mine, I am always thrilled to have managed to get another year under my belt. It seems like a most fine achievement for which I must be patted on the back and congratulated copiously. So pleased with myself am I, that, when I was a little girl, I firmly believed the National Anthem, which was played on the radio every year on my birthday, was entirely for me, little realising that I share this day with Prince Charles. So, you get the picture, my birthday is and always will be amazingly special.
This year, once again, the trumpets blew, the archangels sang, and my family and friends pushed the boat out in a major way. The Lovely Husband, as ever, spoilt me rotten (although, in truth, he doesn’t reserve this only for my birthdays), culminating in a stupendous dinner à deux at Core in Notting Hill.
Core has only very recently opened its doors on the site of what was The Notting Hill Brasserie. It is owned and run by Clare Smyth, the first woman to hold and retain not one, not two, but a whopping three Michelin stars in her role as chef/patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, from 2012 to 2016. I mean, that’s saying something! Having eaten at her own new venture, I am in no doubt whatsoever, that she will repeat this success at Core. A culinary adventure from start to finish within a wonderful environment, this restaurant is set to become London’s hottest new dining destination.
As we enter the premises via an elegant, welcoming bar area, I am immediately struck by the friendliness of the staff. Each and every waiter we pass on our way to the table gives us a warm, smiley “Good Evening”. There’s none of that inappropriate palliness of ‘Hey guys and how are we this evening?’ nor any stand-offish sneering down noses. Here they have exactly the right approach to guests. We are led to our table, which, I suppose, is the chef’s table, since it directly overlooks the glass fronted kitchen, where we can watch all the chefs at work, busy but not hectic. Clare Smyth herself, stands at the serving counter sampling and approving every dish that goes out to the diners.
Appointed in a contemporary classic style with quite stunning autumnal flower arrangements, the interior of the restaurant is very chic but still retains a comfortable informality. It’s like sitting in someone’s very smart private home. Small stands, which slot under the tables, are supplied for handbags. How thoughtful!
There are three menus, each offering basically the same dishes, all seasonal and sustainable, apparently; three courses à la carte at £75 a head, a five course set menu at £85 a head and a tasting menu at £95 a head. We’re excited by the possibilities and opt for the tasting menu, which will allow us to try a little of everything. Food preferences are enquired after and orders adjusted accordingly. Nothing’s a problem, anything can be arranged. You don’t like the listed choice? No worries, it will be replaced by something you do like.
While we are still perusing the menu, we are offered a sumptuous collection of amuse-bouches and some warm sourdough bread, beautifully soft inside and crusty on the outside, with a light, frothy butter, all very attractively presented. There’s a mini Pumpkin and Gruyere Brioche sitting on a small porcelain pedestal, tiny Jellied Eel, Toasted Seaweed and Malt Vinegar Tartlets on a crispy rye base, Spiced Duck Wing with Burnt Orange and Spices for the Lovely Husband and a Vegetarian Ravioli for me, as well as a little mushroomy thing, which I’m not sure what it is, though it definitely is superb. It’s all incredible, each bite more astounding than the next.
Our succulent, meaty, smokey Isle of Mull Scallop is served in its own scallop shell and, with a nod to its Scottish origin, surrounded by heather. It’s followed by what is more or less Clare Smyth’s signature dish, a yellow, creamy Charlotte Potato with Herring and Trout Roe in a nicely savoury brothy Beurre Blanc. Honestly, I have never in my life come across a humble tuber quite like this. It defies all expectations and surely is one tasty little morsel, if ever there was one.
The small serving of Skate with Shrimps, Swiss Chard and Brown Butter, sits in its gorgeous sauce. It’s all very fresh, light and moreish and combines fabulously well, of course.
Our gourmet journey carries on with the Lamb Braised Carrot with Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt. Are you thinking ‘big deal, a carrot, so what’? Well think again! This tastes like no carrot you’ve ever had! The sweetness of the carrot together with a small lamb filled brioche, matched by yet another delicious sauce surrounding a dollop of the lightest yoghurt, is sensational and makes the taste buds sing to the high heavens.
And then the last of our savoury courses, a small tender piece of Scottish Venison with Smoked Chestnut, Pearl Barley and Whiskey. Its two accompanying sauces, a dark and savoury Whiskey one and a paler, slightly sweet, chestnut one manage to not blend into each other but sit one atop the other. It’s all extremely mouthwatering.
By now we are pretty full but it’s far from over yet! Next we get to taste the pudding bites! The ‘Cherry Bakewell’ is nothing like the one you might buy at Waitrose, but a divine kind of Baked Alaska: cherry sorbet topped with a luxuriously fluffy head of soft meringue. Neither too sweet nor too tart, it ticks every yumminess box. We each replace one of the listed puds with another from the main menu, for me it’s the honeyed Pain Perdue resplendent with figs, which incidentally bears no resemblance to the eggy bread of the same name, and for the Lovely Husband, a Lemonade Parfait with yoghurt, which is firmish, lemony and moussey, crowned by decorative honeycomb. You won’t be surprised to learn that both are completely awesome.
Just when we think we’re about to pop with pleasure, two tiny warm covered Chocolate Tarts make their appearance alongside our shared coffee, competing for flavour with two Passion Fruit and Tasmanian Mountain Pepper jellies, which look like minuscule breasts on a glass dish covering Tasmanian peppercorns, or so I assume.
It’s common knowledge that I don’t like pretentious fancy-pants food and am always suspicious of rich sauces. Here though, despite all the sophistication and complexity that defines what we have eaten, there’s a healthy freshness and purity to the ingredients, which individually and in symphony retain or enhance their inherent taste, rather than being overly adulterated or fiddled with. Now that’s clever!
I know I have done Clare Smyth and her team an injustice by my inability to accurately describe to my readers the sheer skill, thoughtfulness and yes, love, that has gone into each and every last detail to make this food for the gods a gastronomic experience bar none, not to mention that my descriptions fail to quite convey the magical taste and construction of every bite. Let me just say that whether in terms of food, ambience or service, our dinner simply could not have been bettered. I feel positively privileged to have had the opportunity to eat at Core.
It’s not rocket science to work out that this meal was never going to be cheap. We paid £316.12 for two tasting menus, two glasses of champagne, an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, one Americano coffee and service charge. Yup, that hits the wallet hard, I grant you, but for this incomparably high level of perfection and creative wizardry here, it almost seems a small price to pay. One thing is for sure, this was a meal fit for a Birthday Queen.
What I wore
Red floral Jonathan Saunders dress, black hip slung leather belt (not shown), high-heeled black leather L.K.Bennett boots with patent toe caps and black Hermes Birkin bag as per image in text instead of the Chanel bag shown below.
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