When I see a sign saying ‘under new ownership’ outside a long established and well-loved restaurant my heart sinks a little. Darrell and Petra Brook ran their eponymous place for 30 years so their ‘retirement’ is well-deserved, and they can step back secure in the knowledge that they kept many people happy. How many of us can say that?
Stepping into those comfortable shoes must be a bit daunting for the newbies too. Comparisons are inevitable, and some of us are change-averse. Simmer down, everyone, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s all fine. In fact it’s more than fine; it’s really very good indeed.
Lauren Midgley and Greg Foggo are the young blood and they’ve created a cool, stylish, contemporary space in the handsome, double-fronted, floor to ceiling windowed building. There are tall tables in the bar, perfect for perching for a pre-prandial and a short but really interesting aperitivo menu which includes homemade dry vermouth, a White Lady (Old Tom gin, Cointreau and egg white) and a couple of alcohol-free ones – the pear & ginger shrub with soda is a beauty.
The menu is driven by an enthusiasm for sharing; the plates are simple yet modern and change with the seasons – and they certainly come off the page. Goat’s cheese profiteroles with truffle honey and haggis croquettes are found in “bites”, the profiteroles a perfect pop-in-the-mouth-size, the pastry exquisite. You might not know you like haggis until you neck a couple of these beauties. In the “small” section are the likes of beer braised pig’s cheeks, black pudding and confit garlic purée and Wookey Hole cheddar beignets, pecorino and tomato fondue, but coming our way, a chunk of nicely braised lamb belly with a puddle of creamy polenta cut through with a touch of sharp gremolata. Lobster mac ’n’ cheese is dreamily indulgent and I love the smoked eel with tiny batons of pickled apple.
Dish of the day is a perfectly executed Jerusalem artichoke and wild mushroom risotto, with translucent slices of pickled fennel and a scattering of artichoke crisps proving that someone in the kitchen knows their onions. That person is Dan Maxwell, former chef at the Gray Ox in Hartshead, which is where Midgley and Foggo met before heading off on an 18-month odyssey to Australia and New Zealand. Maxwell is clearly adept at bringing to life the couple’s vision to recreate a slice of the easy culture they found working in restaurants on their journey.
Next up from the “large” section, creamy smoked haddock chowder with Scottish mussels, pancetta and sweetcorn topped with a poached egg – bursting with flavour and colour. We’ve gone a bit mad in the “smalls” so I can’t tell you about the Skrei cod, scallop and squid gratin, but I can tell you that the baked cauliflower cheese from “sides” is a classic in the making.
In the interests of full disclosure, desserts include rhubarb and ginger mille-feuille, a chocolate malt cake with marshmallow ice cream and an impressive baked Alaska. The wine list has been really well thought-through, with a number from New Zealand and Australia.
These two have had more than enough hurdles since they opened; Storm Ciara wreaked absolute havoc in 2020 – then a pandemic. They’re made of stern stuff but they still need our help so please go along and support them – not just because of set-backs, but because the food is fabulous. Pop in for Sunday brunch (home made crumpets, bacon chop, Brook’s black pudding: you get the picture) or go full Tudor with a whole garlic and thyme roast chicken for Sunday lunch.