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.




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.

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