It wasn’t too long ago when the local culinary scene was abuzz with great expectations surrounding a young but hugely talented chef from the UK. It was 2015 and Kirk Westaway had taken over lauded French maestro Julien Royer (who left to open Odette but remains his friend and mentor) as the executive chef at one of the island’s hottest dining destination for modern European gastronomy.
Jaan was already a celebrated gastronomic platform with a reputation for handpicking exceptional culinary talents. So, there were huge shoes to fill. Not to mention questions about the future of the often-ingenious style of cuisine fans of the restaurant have come to expect to be answered. But Westaway never let the pressures distract him from the personal journey he needed to take.
He does, nonetheless, share a common passion with Royer, one that involves a vested interest in quality produce and their natural flavours, which also explains the matured restraint he’s always shown when it came to creating new dishes.
And though I had wondered if it would have been easier to play the British card from the start, because there weren’t many restaurants proffering a similar style of cuisine, I also questioned the risks involved and concluded that he simply needed time to evolve.
As it turns out, Westaway’s latest and aptly dubbed “Reinventing British” menu is at once a playful nod to British foods and a studied expression of the season’s best, though not how a typical Brit would see it.
Granted, the range of snacks that preceded the main menu did flaunt flagrant retellings of classic British nosh—think, “fish and chips”, “chicken curry” and cheddar cheese pancakes. But the experience is far from tawdry. The last, for example, stars a light, beautifully rounded and slightly nutty cheddar that’s produced close to Westaway’s family home in Devon, cradled in a delicate buckwheat pancake sphere.
Then there’s the mini tartlet of Atlantic cod that was first cured in a mixture of salt and fennel seeds and then poached in milk. This was a moreish amalgamation of freshly made brandade, capers, salted lemon, Spanish vinegar and hardboiled egg mayonnaise on a bed of thinly-sliced potatoes that were poached in the same milk used for the fish, then flashed-baked.
It was a reinterpretation of the classic “fish and chips” I would gladly have as part of a main course, paired with a beautiful Verdejo or even a Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut NV.
I could also go on about the melt-in-your-mouth snack of Yorkshire beetroot meringue topped with horse radish, smoked eel cream and a little eel fillet. But the moment would be best served reminiscing the blue chipper potato and truffle soup that followed. A familiar course, but this time made using a dashi of Scottish kombu, and served with a mini loaf and Somerset butter from Brue Valley farm.
It was the ideal foil to the first course—a lightly briny bubble bath of Jerusalem artichoke custard, steamed in the same caviar tin and served with a generous portion of Kristal caviar nestled under softly poached Irish oyster, next to some pickled artichoke and tapioca pearls.
So far, so good. An unassuming interplay of earthy and ocean flavours was slowly being unravelled. And while the next dish, the English Garden, was quite simply a salad, it was anything but simple. This was an artfully plated celebration of the season’s bounty worthy of contemplation.
In fact, it was the only dish that forced me to pause and ponder each and every delicate ingredient on the plate. All 36, to be precise—11 cooked vegetables, from white and purple cauliflower to baby carrots and Hokkaido corn; six raw vegetables, including black radish and Japanese kabu; 9 herbs, such as red oxalis, citrus mint and even locally grown wild tarragon; and five edible flowers. A balancing act of five condiments brought all the amazingly fresh flavours together, led by the savoury serenade of an anchovy dressing and a light “watering” of Scottish kombu.
The mains that followed continued to exemplify Westaway’s defining restraint, particularly in the case of the Scottish (if not Alaskan) langoustine, which was gently poached in a spiced vegetable bouillon and served with blanched violin courgette from Italy set above a purée of Amalfi lemon and sweet red pepper chutney. A small selection of locally-sourced organic flowers offsets the richness of the dish which is finished with a light courgette risotto (made with the trimmings) and goat’s cheese curd from Neil’s Yard in the UK.
That said, this was a tough act to follow, especially with a delicate dish of chargrilled line-caught turbot and blanched kohlrabi. Although the salsa of diced Amalfi lemons, tomato, fresh capers, croutons, parsley and brown butter proffered a bright and tasty compliment that allowed the fish to shine, all I could think about was that sweet langoustine I just had and the Welsh salt marsh lamb that was up next.
The latter was the delicate yet flavourful game I was expecting, given its diet of minerals, succulents and clovers. It was cooked just right and balanced with a simple yet no-less-delicious puree of steamed aubergine—an heirloom variety from Florence, Italy—and completed with only a tease of sweet lemon puree, coffee-honey caramel and a jus made with lamb, tomato and basil.
Now, it doesn’t get any more British than having Pimm’s in the park. But here, at the restaurant, the quintessential English summer drink is served as a palate cleanser—a crafty affirmation featuring Pimm’s-infused pomelo tossed with fresh oranges, diced cucumber, lemon granita, a lemonade foam and lemon verbena powder.
It was also smart to end the degustation with a refreshing “strawberry cheesecake” dessert. I appreciated its simplicity, which belied the complex marriage of French Gariguette strawberries, served fresh, as a jam and a consomée, alongside slightly acidic white pineberries, green almonds, mint leaves and lemon verbena meringues, resting on a buttery cheesecake biscuit base; complete with a quenelle of mascarpone sorbet.
Truly, such meticulous consideration defines a good meal. And while I will admit that it’s not the strictest of odes to British fare, I don’t believe it should be. I enjoyed its celebration of produce with provenance. But not as much as I did the ingenuity and evolving maturity of this fine English cook.
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