I’ll begrudgingly admit that I might not be completely without fault when it comes to writing about restaurants – Hang about, before you destroy my self-esteem by shouting out guesses I’ll just come out and say it: most of the places I get chance to review are pretty casual affairs. As much as I’d love to write about a different fine dining epiphany each week, my budget dictates that restaurants be separated into two categories.
Mostly I’ll visit “Buckaroo restaurants” where even the slightest mention is enough to persuade me to drop everything and visit spontaneously. If you so much as say a word which rhymes with “MyThai” around me when I’m a bit peckish, I’ll have an Uber en route before you finish the last syllable. And then there are the Main Eventers – destination restaurants that I’ll book a week in advance, study the menu for as if it contains a hidden cypher, and daydream about while eating my lugubrious packed lunch. The kind you can justify going to in the event of a special occasion. Shears Yard was placed firmly at the top of my Main Eventers list for a while, and when they announced a new Fixed Price menu I felt it was a suitably special occasion for me to find a clean shirt for.The list of fixed choices is a parsed version of the a la carte menu which doesn’t deny tightwads like myself the opportunity to try the Fine Dining flourishes that Shears Yard is synonymous with (If you were panicking that £14.50 wouldn’t be enough to get you a sorrel emulsion and pistachio soil over two courses then calm down, they’ve got it covered) and gives a generous four choices each for Starter and Main, and three Desserts.
The artful presentation doesn’t necessarily mean the portions are mean either, the Wild Garlic & Nettle Soup starter was far from stingy – and as gratifyingly rich and earthy it was, I’d have been just as happy with a bowl half the size. I suppose I could have exercised self-restraint, but why start now? The intricate labyrinth of Whipped Goats Curd and Caramelised Apple was much more in line with expectation, and might have been in danger of being sickly if it weren’t for a briney stab of Dried Olives and that tangy Sorrell Emulsion.
The mains met a bit more of a mixed reception – I wasn’t impressed by the seafood linguine, the cheese and dill sauce was perfectly light and fresh and just right for the middle course, but there was just too much of it. I’d never be so audacious to accuse the professional chef of cooking pasta improperly, so I assume it arrived on the wrong side of al dente because it had been sitting a hot puddle of that sauce, rather than being the fault of anybody in the kitchen.
I’m currently in the process of replacing everything I eat with a cauliflower imposter, so the Cauliflower Satay was a no-brainer which didn’t disappoint – slightly charred, roasted florets, with a saffron and apricot chutney and spiced peanut granola which, if I’m being pedantic (and I usually am), might benefit from ditching the sultanas – they run the risk of conjuring chip shop curry-memories when eaten in the same mouthful as the otherwise faultless, warm peanut satay sauce.
Envy reared its head again when I saw the desserts arrive – Chocolate tart with Rosewater Caviar, Pistachio Soil and an indulgent but punchy Chocolate Orange Sorbet turned up to the table looking like one of the dishes in the opening credits for American Psycho. That’s not to say my Horlicks Panna Cotta looked like something from beginning of Napoleon Dynamite though, it was just more…humble, arriving in a tumbler topped with more granola (the sultanas were welcome this time) and a chirpy green apple and ginger sorbet. The malty flavour I was expecting from the Horlicks wasn’t as strong as I’d have liked, but the texture was on point – so firm that if you dropped a 20p coin on it from 3 feet, the ricochet would take out a few constellations in the galaxy of filament lightbulbs overhead.
Not that they’d notice – there are about two thousand of them, and they serve as the only visual extravagance in the restaurant – it’s all exposed brickwork and poured concrete, creating an impressive dissonance between the food and its surroundings. The relaxed atmosphere is matched by the affable yet knowledgeable service, and prevents the (get ready for it:) “Dining Experience” being too stuffy as well – as soon as I sat down I predictably made a buffoon of myself by knocking a knife off the table and onto the hard floor, a few other diners glanced to see what the commotion was, but it largely went unnoticed – hardly a “DiCaprio dining in First Class on the Titanic”-level faux pas.
And that’s why the Fixed Menu is such a success; it’s no less of a “Dining Experience™”, it just makes that experience more accessible – Three courses for two people and a bottle of house red (which to my untrained palate, stands up to anything I’ve been charged £30 for in other restaurants) comes to £45 – which is either insane value for money, or a typo on the menu. Regardless of the price though, I held the place up to unfairly high standards that I’d set before visiting, and they still managed to impress me.
Thanks to Shears Yard for providing photos of the restaurant and desserts – no amount of filament lightbulbs would result in me getting photos anywhere near that good on my actual visit.
Shears Yard Review