Paul Foster’s recently opened restaurant in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon is causing a bit of a stir. But is it worth its… salt? Vicki Gumbley put it to the test.
Three AA rosettes, a place in the top 50 UK restaurants in The Good Food Guide, the Observer Food Monthly ‘Young Chef of the Year’ award and a string of excellent national and local reviews under his belt. It’s fair to say that Paul Foster has a lot to live up to.
And it isn’t just professional critics whose words he has to live up to: Mr Foster’s restaurant, Salt, got off the ground thanks to a crowdfunding campaign – ordinary diners who had loved his cooking at Leamington Spa’s wonderful Mallory Court backed him to the tune of over £100,000 in just 33 days.
The restaurant opened last year, promising is ‘relaxed fine dining’, something which often proves to be an oxymoron. Not so here. The chunky wooden tables are intimately spaced and the atmosphere amiable, highly conducive to sparking up conversations with fellow diners and taking surreptitious glances at their menu choices.
The young team seems to be as passionate and knowledgeable about the menu as the head chef. As well as being beautifully presented, each dish in our generously-portioned tasting menu was introduced and carefully described, right down to where certain ingredients had been sourced, such as the handcrafted butter from Ampersand in Oxfordshire and beef from Aubrey Allen in Warwickshire. Apparently everything is locally sourced – even the crockery.
As well as looking truly stunning, there were no weak links in the tasting menu: every dish surpassed the last in purity of flavour. The beef onglet, wild garlic and sprouting broccoli were divine, succulently dissolving on the tongue. Favourites from the inspired vegetarian tasting menu were the English asparagus, soured cream, pea salad and lovage, closely followed by the Jersey royals with wild garlic and crispy onion, so simple but exquisite.
We plumbed for the optional cheese course, which was served with lavoche bread – handmade using a pasta roller, generously coated with seeds and baked to a crisp – accompanied with a spiced apple chutney.
But it was the desserts that most delighted, particularly the Valrhona chocolate cream, sea buckthorn curd, candied pumpkin seeds and caramelised white chocolate chard – an enchanting combination of surprising flavours.
Paul has received excellent reviews from the likes of Jay Rayner and John Lanchester and it’s not hard to see why. With more than 18 years’ experience in some of the most progressive restaurants in the world, including The French Laundry, Restaurant Sat Bains, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and WD50, his vast talent has been put to good use here and certainly makes him one to watch.
The diners next to us described their meal as exceptional. We would have to agree.
Salt, 8 Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon – book via 01789 263566 or www.salt-restaurant.co.uk. Tasting menu £45 lunch/£65 dinner, wine pairing a further £38. The à la carte menu is £37 for two courses at dinner, or £45 for three courses.
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