A lot of people shy away from a tasting menu; some are overwhelmed by the number of courses, a few are put off by the cost. Others might even think it’s only reserved for the food snobs in our midst, but I’d like to convince them otherwise. I am a big fan. Obvious reasons aside, my seemingly insatiable hunger and that horrible plate envy, I like a tasting menu because it not only tells you about the style of the restaurant, but gives the chefs a chance to show off a little. It’s one thing to create a menu for the whole restaurant, it’s another to pull together a handful of dishes that flow cohesively to form the perfect meal.
It also saves me from the mental arithmetic of weighing up the pros and cons of each dish, mixing and matching course options for the ideal combination, then finally factoring in a certain someone’s choices to maximise our exposure to the menu. I know it’s a product of my own making but it can be a little tiresome and quite frankly sometimes (rare but it happens) I don’t mind having the choice made for me. Proof that it’s possible for control freaks to have a day off.
“But what if there’s stuff on the menu I don’t like?” I hear you wail from the cheap seats. Well suck it up, I say, tasting menus are about eating with an open mind and trusting the chef because if you knew as much as them, wouldn’t you be in the kitchen instead?
With this open mind and a hunger building since my pathetic M&S wrap almost 7 hours earlier, I made my way to Northbank Restaurant and Bar, ravenous and ready to taste what they had to offer. When I arrived, our little dinner party were already at the bar with Prosecco in one hand and the cocktail menu in the other so I wasted no time in ordering one myself — the heather fizz was pretty as a picture and not too sweet- the perfect aperitif before the meal.
Also tempting were the chocolate martinis which arrived at the table all dark and seductive so it was probably a good thing we were whisked away to our table not long after. Waiters armed with wine and warm little rolls arrived and without any hesitation I ripped into mine and slapped on a hunk of butter, though I was smart enough to save a crust to mop up the remains of the silky smooth carrot soup amuse bouche.
A pretty plate of grilled Cornish mackerel with fennel salad, dill emulsion and tempura anchovy kicked off the menu valiantly, followed by the indulgent foie gras brulee with warm onion sourdough and bone marrow butter. At this stage my I felt comfortable enough with my new friends to forgo the polite knife spreading etiquette and dunk my bread straight into the brulee, I’m one of those direct to the point types.
Smoked Tamar eel with charred cauliflower, smoked almonds and crispy kale arrived next, resulting in some approving umms and ahhs, and quite the discussion on the merits of kale; I’m on the side that finds very little merit in it. The great kale debate was silence by the arrival of the spring Cornish lamb rump and braised shoulder with wild garlic potato terrine, a dish we agreed to be the best of the night. I loved the blushing pink rump and terrine, but my only cry to the kitchen would be… where is the jus? Just a drizzle would have done the trick for me.
Finally, the last of the savoury courses, the Cornish catch of the day which was on this occasion a beautifully crispy-skinned sea trout with asparagus and beetroot. I was a bit surprised to end on a fishy note, but happily surprised none the less.
The well varied cheese platter was brought out and we finally, at the end of the meal, got our only menu choice of the night… the salted caramel brownie with blood orange sorbet or the more interesting sounding ‘cream tea’ souffle? Because I love chocolate that little bit more than tea, I went with the brownie and while the first few bites were nice, it was also sickeningly sweet, saved only by the sharp sorbet. Though really, it was only a minor blip in an otherwise well curated menu.
In case you hadn’t noticed the numerous Cornish references, the modern British menu served at Northbank is influenced by Cornwall and aims to showcase the produce of the region. The execution from the chefs is refined, well presented, and does justice to the produce they’ve worked so hard to source. Northbank sits prettily, and obviously, on the Northbank of the river, and has amazing views from The Shard to the Millennium Bridge making it the perfect spot for that after work drink and dinner or a lazy weekend meal!