It was still Christmas when we visited in early January, or at least it was according to the menus. The festive spread was still being offered, with a very decent sounding blade of beef, but we went with the à la carte. (Our own family Christmas was rubbish, I didn’t want reminding of it and when it’s over, it’s over.)
The starters offer robust flavours with refined presentation. Ballsy main ingredients include black pudding and chicken with foie gras. I enjoyed the confit duck leg with a good spiced parsnip salad hinting at Purnell’s love of curry influences.
Small pieces of pickled apple gave a nice sweet-sour edge. The duck could have been a little warmer but it was well cooked.
A dish featuring small chunks of lightly cured salmon with watercress, hen’s egg and wasabi was light and refreshing. My wife said it was delicious.
I liked the bread but not the bits of string knotting the napkins, which were Robin’s Nest era.
A main dish of venison “Bourguignon” pie had a great saucy filling but my spirits rather dropped when the meat arrived with a mashed potato topping (à la shepherd’s pie) rather than a pastry lid. I had set my heart on a bit of Boy’s Own pastry, which would have given the dish a texture contrast, too.
I found the spiced red cabbage overly sweet. The brassica paired better with the piece of roast foie gras which came with the dish, but I’m not sure the liver added anything to the main event: the pie. A spoon was needed for slurping the good gravy.
The good hand cut chips were spoiled by being under (un-) salted. There are no salt/pepper cellars on the table. Please, chefs, can we have salt and pepper back on tables? It doesn’t mean you are failing.
Roast sea bass with a Gruyère and potato terrine and caramelised onions was well cooked – moist, tasty fish flesh and crispy skin – but it lacked seasoning.
The desserts read well (crème brûlée with poached pears, pear sorbet and shortbread and blackberry parfait with Ginger’s mojito sorbet and English blackberries).
My apple tarte tatin had good fruit and adequate caramelisation.
Sally was underwhelmed with the pavlova, served with iced honey yoghurt and griottine cherries. There just wasn’t enough meringue. Pavlova, for me, is one of the those puds that is meant to be big, bold and bordering on camp. Or maybe that’s me.
Dinner for two with a nice bottle of light Italian red wine and service was £94.
I won’t grumble on about whether Purnell’s Bistro feels like a bistro. Do you find fruit crumbles in French bistros, like you do here? And if you don’t, and you are in the UK, and the crumble is good enough, why not?
I do, however, applaud the changes Purnell has made to Newhall Street and I like the style of eating he is trying to create here.
It is an encouraging work in progress and is streets ahead of the former incarnation.