An epic tasting menu on a wintery Thursday night? Elaine Lemm takes one of 12 chairs at The Park Restaurant.
I will admit to a rather sharp intake of breath on hearing the news that chef Adam Jackson had left the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead to go out on his own. He’s decamped to Sutton Park, Sutton on the Forest – a handsome pile owned by Samantha Cameron’s father, Sir Reginald, and his second wife, Lady Victoria Sheffield. The Park Restaurant is, alarmingly, not a million miles from the Swan.
Adam has also, daringly, opted for the current fashion of the Tasting Menu; no choice, no variations, simply eight courses with both a meat and a veggie version. I am told the eight will shortly be scaled down to five for midweek visitors. For this, I gave a huge sigh of relief. I find four-hour tasting menus a tad difficult on a Thursday night. Jackson’s courses are small, neat and exquisite, and they keep on coming. This, the other half loved, even if I struggled.
The treats begin the minute you step through the door. Staff whisk away coats, serve drinks and canapés – on this occasion two fat Yellinson goats’ cheese and beetroot gougères. Without the need to choose, there was time to peruse what lay ahead on the menu and select an appropriate wine. The list is manageable, sweeps across all countries and styles and is – for the quality – very well priced. For those who can’t decide, there is a package of carefully selected wines.
Once seated in the cosy dining room (Jackson has deliberately kept to a limited number of diners) the journey begins, and it is hard to imagine, but four hours whizzed by.
Pillow soft foccacia with a piperade of red pepper and mascarpone kicked off the proceedings. This dish was followed by a silky French onion puree, Parmesan and teeny-tiny croutons which gave a welcome extra crunch. Next, a wobbly, lightly cooked hen’s egg yolk came trembling on a bed of watercress purée and a sliver of fresh truffle.
It is at this point in the dinner that the vegetarian and meat menu parted company for a while. The former came as artichoke, hazelnut and granola; the latter, the same but with the addition of a tiny, plump, pink partridge breast. This was my favourite of the night. So clever that the dish kept both a carnivore and vegetarian very happy with only one change of ingredient (and wine). It was a carefully balanced myriad of texture, colour and exacting flavours.
A spring roll with cucumber, soy and ginger continued to keep the two worlds distant. One came with a squeaky, fresh, piece of wild sea bass, the other, not. This dish got the favourite vote for the best wine match; a Nyetimber Demi-sec, NV from Sussex, a delightful choice.
I struggled with my next course of chestnut pie, cabbage, carrots and spiced salsify. It was a charming dish, but I am not the biggest fan of chestnuts, though Adam had cooked them perfectly, and they worked well with the vegetables. The meat offering of this course, however, was the darling dish of the night across the table. The vegetables were the same but with the addition of exquisitely tender slices of Roe deer. I believe the word “inspirational” was mentioned.
There remained two desserts (or a cheese for a supplement). The first, a pear, rice pudding and prune, was more homely in substance than other dishes from the evening – though it was served in an elegant glass. This came as a smooth, silky pear, slightly al-dente yet creamy rice, all enhanced with sticky prunes.
Even though by this point I was seriously flagging, there was no turning down the final dish. It was heavenly. Honey-glazed figs, shared the plate with a tiny pistachio financier cake, and a satin-smooth, unctuous cardamom ice cream. Second only in delight to this was the South African Red Muscadel from the Nuy winery served alongside; I shall be tracking this wine down, for sure.
This chef can cook. He has proven it in his former incarnation, and in his own restaurant he continues to blossom. I worry that offering just a Tasting Menu may deter some, it will also bring in others, namely the serious foodie. His choice to limit diners to just 12 is nothing short of genius, and hopefully keeps pressure off him, staff and the finances. This approach makes it hard to get in at weekends; thus giving the Park an added panache. And, as Adam’s wife also runs the tea rooms for Sutton Park from the same building and they have, nattily, incorporated decorative items for sale, throughout, they have covered a few bases in one.
My initial concern that Adam’s restaurant was too near The Black Swan has now gone. The two are different both in style, décor and approach. There is room for both.
The Park Restaurant, Sutton Park, Sutton on the Forest, North Yorkshire, YO61 1DP, 01347 810852. Open: Tuesday-Saturday, 7pm-9pm. Two tasting courses and one flight of wines comes in at £145.