Review – 34 Windsor St, Burbage

October 19, 2013

It may be near a motorway junction, but Burbage does not seem the obvious place to site an adventurous fine dining restaurant.  That’s what it’s got in the shape of 34 Windsor Street.

Owner Zeffy Thompson has a background running restaurants in the rather more, erm, zeitgeisty setting of Dubai, while chef Sam Owen gained his chops in Lincoln. They have created an intriguing venue – large, smart, aspirational. It’s not going for an obvious crowd-pleasing approach but creates a stylish welcoming environment for a chef to offer innovative cooking in sometimes challenging combinations.

Take my starter of “pigeon, peach, cornflake and warm yoghurt” for example. I love pigeon, but the dish sounded somewhat, well, odd. Ok, you think to yourself, come on then chef, convince me. On this occasion, he didn’t really. Two beautiful pigeon breasts – cooked pink and possibly sous-vide, no searing anyway –  had great flavour, but the other main elements really didn’t add anything. Peach is not exactly a traditional accompaniment and now I know why. Cornflake certainly added texture but was a bit “so what?”. I couldn’t work out any justification for the yoghurt either.  Actually the one thing that did do the pigeon a few favours was the unbilled, more conventional woodland berry (elderberry?) dressing.

Our other starters included a very elegant hay-smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish that packed delightful flavours and a “full English breakfast”. This was actually a fairly straightforward rendering of the dish, though done with a fair bit of flair – crispy bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried bread. Innovation came in the form of a kind of egg yolk croquette, some broad beans in a tomato sauce and a mushroom tea.  It was the kind of multi-element dish where some things worked better than others – the tea was a bit bland – but had great quality ingredients and was put together with a sense of fun.

You get the sense that some diners may have been slightly discombobulated by the approach  – staff gave copious warnings that this dish was served pink, that the rice in that dish would have a crunch because it had been toasted not because it was uncooked and so on. Certainly the main course described as “a piece of lamb” was very pink, and very beautiful, served on top of aubergine with cubes of polenta and pickled onions and under a dome of smoke. We couldn’t find much evidence of the smoked toffee that produced it but this was a satisfying mix of flavours. My pork was a small but excellent cut that was very tender and well matched with excellent spiced red cabbage and spiced plums, though the crumbled nuts didn’t really deserve a place. Duck breast with a variety of carrots and a sauce of lime and vanilla was sweetish but more delicate than it might sound – another lovely piece of meat cooked with flair. One point, these dishes were on the light side – if you hanker after a bit of carbohydrate, you’ll want to order some sides.

My desert veered back towards more familiar partnerships – four “chocolate textures” matched with four versions of raspberry meant you could mix and match fresh fruit, ganache, sponge, sorbet and so on. It was an absolute delight  –  even the fronds of fennel worked well too.  A toasted rice pudding with that bit of crunch, plus plums and almonds, was declared good but not that good, while an apple tarte tatin with blackberry sorbet was fine and delicate.

So, there’s lots to like about 34 Windsor St. It’s a lovely venue, staff were charming, there’s an excellent full menu for vegetarians and the cooking is skilled and adventurous.  That said, not everything worked and some of the dishes felt like work in progress rather than really well-worked out statements. Sometimes there just seemed to be an unnecessary striving for novelty, but we left cheerful and pleased someone is giving it a go.

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