First the bad news.  The splendid Wicked Witch in Ryhall, near Stamford, closed this summer. Now the good news – it’s reopened this weekend with chef Dameon Clarke once again in charge. I know strictly speaking this is outside Leics and Rutland but I’ve written several times about Coalville-boy Dameon’s cooking and am pleased he’s got another chance to do his thing.

I don’t know the full story behind the closure – assume it was something to do with financial backers – but after a couple of months doing pub food at  the Exeter Arms in Easton on the Hill, he was offered the lease on his old pub back by the brewers Marston’s.

The menu looks to have all the appeal of his previous venues (Assiette, Collyweston Slater, Nick’s), combining flair and technique with feel-good food. The dinner menu is two courses for £19.95, three for £26.95, and the first iteration takes in starters such as cep velouté, crispy truffle risotto, quail egg and marinaded ceps or pan fried pigeon with pigeon scotch egg, cauliflower and curry. Mains include sage and onion crusted pork loin, quince, crackling, parsnip dauphinoise and pressed duck leg with crispy duck wings, spiced plums, and  star anise stuffed pak choi.

 

 

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The Wicked Witch, Ryhall

November 30, 2012

Finally got over to Ryhall near Stamford this past weekend to get reacquainted with the work of Dameon Clarke at the Wicked Witch. I wondered whether he might have been chastened by the failure of his previous venture Assiette into a simpler, crowd-pleasing style.  Not a bit of it, it seems. The five of us who went over enjoyed a thrilling range of dishes, full of both invention and hard work.  It’s not really a place for those who like a simple, not-messed-about-with approach – which is an entirely honorable position to hold – but will delight those looking for exciting flavour combinations, artistic presentation and technical skill of  the “I couldn’t possibly reproduce this at home” variety. The venue is smart, but clings on to being a dining pub rather than just a restuarant. Nevertheless  it seems the kind of place to start with cocktails and they were very good  – the rhubarb and prosecco-based Rhububble being a particular hit. We started of with an amuse of earl-grey scented consomme with truffle – beautiful, elegant and ‘shroomy. My starter was a boned quail, wrapped in parma I thinnk,  coming with a fantastic quail scotch egg – runny yolk and all – and sweetish almond gazpacho. A great plateful of flavour and texture. Others enjoyed an immensely elegant beef carpaccio,with all sorts of little extras like more quails eggs and pickled mushrooms that had a hardened anti-fungi person on the turn. Seafood was well represented – a tuna sashimi starter was given a resounding ten out of ten, and other dishes of sea urchins and scallops also impressed. My main course showed the potential dangers of Clarke’s high wire approach  – you might think you shouldn’t do much to rump of salt marsh lamb but this had been given a long marinade resulting a strrong, almosy gamey flavour. I loved it, but others having a taste weren’t so sure. I loved the roasted sweetbreads with it too and the coriander risotto was suitably restrained – an overly assertive flavour here could have killed the dish   Lincolnshire beef with horseradish hashbrowns and roast beetroot went down very well –  a cod dish with gnocchi, seaweed and crispy chicken skin less so, though it was acknowledged this was down to personal preference rather any fault of cooking or ingredients.  I was enjoying myself far too much to take detailed notes but the other mains of pork and duck were throughly enjoyed for the liveliness and invention of the cooking. Deserts were extraordinarily pretty – I had a pecan tart with incredibly fine pastry and a maple syrup parfait that was just enough to moisten the fairly dry tart. And just look at the tonka bean desert with chocolate mousse and orange jelly  pictured right – what an absolute beauty.   The relentless pace of invention continued across the deserts  – a refreshing cider sorbet here, an intense grapefruit jelly there. By the end you definitely felt well fed, but you also felt entertained. Given the work that must go on in the kitchen prices are not that high – you could eat three very good courses for £30 plus drinks and service – and there’s nothing stuffy about the place. It adds up to a perfect place for those who want to push their culinary boundaries a little. Just wish it was a bit nearer Leicester.

The Wicked Witch

August 4, 2012

News reaches me at last of  Dameon Clarke. It was a great shame when he had to close his Stamford restaurant Assiette late last year, so it’s good to see that  he’s pitched up again in the region, this time at The Wicked Witch in Ryhall, a few miles north of Stamford. The restaurant is a glammed-up village pub that reopened earlier this year when a Peterborough-based team including Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex and manager of Peterborough United, decided that there was scope for another venue for people who regularly pack out places such as the Olive Branch in Clipsham and the George in Stamford.

Judging from the website it looks smart, aspirational and a teeny bit sterile.  The food should be great whatever – the menu looks a lightly reined-in version of Clarke’s trademark  technical  exuberance.  My first order would  be hot ham hock, quail egg and pea puree, followed by pan friend fillet of sea bass with cauliflower textures, lobster caviar and ginger bhaji, ending up with choclate tonka bean mousse, pistachio marshmallow and orange jelly.  

Good luck Dameon – hope this works out for you.

Dameon Clarke

March 31, 2011

Had an enjoyable chat on Wednesday with Dameon Clarke, he of the recently opened Assiette in Stamford and, as regular readers will be aware, a highly talented and adventurous chef.

For the full story you will need to see the next edition of Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland   but for the time being here’s A Few Things I Now Know About Dameon Clarke:

1) He’s from Coalville.

2) He was in the same Leicester City boys’ squad as Emile Heskey.

3) He was suspended from his first job after a fight with a waiter.

4) He did a spell as commis at Le Gavroche.

5) The Asian influence in his cooking came from a year travelling around Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

6) He had intended to settle in Australia and has an Aussie passport.

7)  He’s hoping for three AA rosettes and wouldn’t say no to a Michelin star eventually.

8 ) He’s hoping by the summer to get a barbecue installed in the garden of Assiette and sell people Oz-style barbecue packs that they can cook themselves while they sit outside.

9) Actually I think 8 is enough.

New openings

February 28, 2011

A little news on a couple of  new openings.  Not that I can offer much to say about them as I’ve not been yet and nor as of the last day of February do they have fully functioning websites but some of you might appreciate the information nonetheless.

Of especial interest  is Assiette  in Stamford. I appreciate Stamford is strictly speaking not in Leicestershire or Rutland, but I’m excited about this as it is the new restaurant of Dameon Clarke, who’s  complex, unashamedly show-off  food I’ve massively enjoyed at Nick’s in Oakham and more recently at his –  now former – pub the Collyweston Slater. Opened last week, hope to go soon – reports welcome in the meantime.

A new little Italian called La Vida has opened on Northampton St in Leicester city centre, on the site of a former Thai Restaurant. It looks a modest, intimate kind of place and while there’s no menu on display, a peek through the window at the specials board showed monkfish was on offer, so hopefully they’ve got a proper chef  in there.

*Update – forgot to mention there is also now  a branch of Hot Rocks on Braunstone Gate.  The gimmick of this franchise business is to offer steaks for you to cook at your own table on preheated volcanic stones. One can’t help but be sceptical here – if I wanted the freedom to cook a £10 steak the way I prefer,  I’d get down to Archer’s  on Queen’s Road to pick out a hefty South Devon ribeye and cook it at home. And flames would be involved in the cooking somewhere.  It’s not going to be Hawksmoor   or  Goodman’s , but those with a steak craving may want to give it a try.

The Collyweston Slater

July 19, 2010

 

[Update 3/03/2011 – Dameon Clarke has now moved on and has opened Assiette in Stamford]

A couple of years back I had a great meal at Nick’s restaurant in Oakham, courtesy of chef Dameon Clarke. Yes it was bit a showy, a bit bling, but for all the complex plates and modish foams and jellies there was a focus on flavour that made the meal a resounding  pleasure.

Clarke is now established as chef patron at the Collyweston Slater, a handsome pub over on the Rutland/Lincolnshire border near Stamford. There’s a bar menu on offer but one look at the a la carte shows he is still interested in pushing the boat out – one starter involves rabbit and foie gras terrine with carrot jelly, pistachios, carrot and parsley salad and deep fried mustard ice cream.

A little note on the website mentioning that he’s willing to create a seasonal tasting menu for those interested had raised our interest, so four of us headed out from Leicester on a Friday night prepared to be impressed. And we were. Mightily.

First of all the pub. There’s low ceilings,  a quaint exterior, and sympathetically modern interior.  There’s plenty of room for local drinkers and an informal dining area staffed by refreshingly enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.

Now for the food. First off, a lobster latte – an intense fishy broth in tall glass topped with beautifully judged parmesan foam, and accompanied by spoonful of lobster meat with veg and a cube of mild ginger jelly.  Great combinations of flavour and witty presentation.  Next up were some seared scallops, topped off with a crab foam and prettily laid out with cauliflower puree, samphire grass, asparagus, quail’s egg, crispy pancetta and cubes of cauliflower panna cotta.  Another wonderful collection of flavours put together with technical skill, even if the texture of the final item was not welcomed by everyone.    

scallops

 

Clarke had been happy to talk to us in advance about likes and dislikes but we had left it mainly to him to surprise us and the surprises kept coming. What was particularly pleasant was that our waiting staff seemed almost to be having as much pleasure at bringing and introducing our various dishes as we were in scoffing them.

An exquisite carpaccio of beef followed – a lovely piece of meat complemented with more quails egg, truffles, wild mushrooms and a  horseradish cream. It may all sound a bit busy but none of it overwhelmed the terrific centrepiece.

carpaccio

The next dish was probably voted our overall favourite – a cracking piece of sea bass with immaculately crispy skin, was perched on a beetroot risotto – probably the tastiest, definitely the prettiest food I’ve eaten all year. Grilled artichoke gave additional texture and flavour. Sadly the photo below fails to capture the vibrancy of the risotto, but let me asssure you it was simply lovely.

The “main” course was some excellent belly and fillet of pork with generous shavings of truffle and a sweet squash puree.  The potatoes  – a kind of champ duchesse – were probably the only less than excellent element of the whole night, having a rather unpleasant texture.

Coming towards an end now and we were treated to a very superior desert  – a somewhat deconstructed rhubarb crumble  cheesecake with rhubarb sorbet. The fruit came in a layered cocktail glass – a jelly, a compote and toped with a light crumble spiked with a touch of popping candy, some super- rich cream and a chocolate covered wafer filled, I think, with more cream and mascarpone.

rhubarb

A gratifyingly stinky collection of cheeses finished off what had been a memorable meal. Friends compared it very favourably to a tasting menu taken late last year at  Michelin-starred Glyn Purnell’s in Birmingham. At £45 this was better food, much better value, none of the corporate feel, and staff who not only put you at ease but were enjoying themselves. 

This kind of complexity is not going to convince everyone. But while there’s always a pleasure in, say, a simple salad picked fresh from the garden,  sometimes it’s nice to sit back and say to a chef “come on, impress me”. If that’s what you’re after, get to the Collyweston Slater quick.

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