Top-notch tasting menus and top-notch prices, in a seriously odd location
And the award for least starry entrance goes to… Restaurant Sat Bains. Its grim location feels more like a place to dump a body, but this industrial wasteland conceals a tranquil country house.
I regretted heels as I click-clacked gracelessly across the pebbled drive and stone floors, but the welcome was warm and reassuring (despite bafflingly being listed as ‘Mr Helen’). A glass of Nyetimber in the cottage garden, alongside pet bunnies and a thriving greenhouse, kicked off the evening nicely.
Much is made of the mighty duck egg that earned Bains his place on the 'Great British Menu’, so it appears regularly as an extra. Having plumped for ten epic courses, we forsook it… in favour of the optional cheese course, obvs. (Alas, a bite and a half of brie ‘rarebit’ does not merit £8pp in my mind).
The somewhat obtuse menu might rub people up the wrong way. Each dish is given a flavour profile - whether it’s big on umami say, or a super-balanced palate cleanser. This either encourages deeper consideration of what you’re eating, or points towards a chef that’s as pleased with himself as his ingredients. (Having trained under the likes of Raymond Blanc, perhaps he’s entitled). We chose to savour every mouthful, and reaped the pure joy of 'textures of asparagus’ and scallops with ponzu jelly and piggy treats. Sea trout in mussel broth disintegrated temptingly in the mouth, while celeriac linguine with pesto was downright luscious.
Simple ‘steak au poivre' inevitably had a twist; the umami-rich beef was prepared as tartare and nasturtium leaves delivered the peppery heat, while resembling trembling lily pads in a water garden. The plate looked magnificent, but uncooked meat is an acquired taste. I, for one, prefer my meat to be seared (at the very least), but I sense Chef Bains might shoo me off his premises for such philistine ways. Be sure to flag dietary preferences when booking for this very reason. I forgot, and while the first improvised alternative was flawless, the next offering recycled a distinctive element from another dish; after all, it’s not hard to spot horseradish ice cream in a line up.
Rare moments of understated theatre changed the pace of the meal, and sweet courses (including a posh Aero with top-secret ingredient) were suitably unpredictable. Feeling comfortably stuffed, the chocolate log finally did us in; with its homemade confection and bonkers combos, white choc with bee pollen and camomile was one taste sensation too far.
The damage for our boozy blowout was nearly £450, although you’d rack up more at a Michelin two-star in London. We were utterly smitten with our charming sommelier, who delivered fine wine matches and a novel sake with dessert. (He later emailed our bespoke list, which was an unsolicited but nice touch). All in all, Restaurant Sat Bains is very, very good; brimming with masterful tasting menus composed with fluidity and skill. But come prepared to sell your granny, all the time knowing it could miss the mark with non-foodies.