Sorrel, Dorking, Surrey: ‘A meal that's as highly polished as the silverware'...

Sorrel, Dorking, Surrey: ‘A meal that's as highly polished as the silverware' – restaurant review


Comfort seems to be a dirty word in restaurant design circles these days, but after a long, damp trek from the railway station (you try getting a taxi in Dorking on a wet Friday evening), it’s pure pleasure to collapse into Sorrel’s plump, velvety banquettes and be spoiled rotten for a couple of hours. “I don’t think anyone else walked,” my friend whispers, eyeing up the frocks and ties on neighbouring tables. I suspect she’s right – not in those heels, anyway – but whether they came by bus or Bentley, everyone seems genuinely excited to be here, quizzing the waiters on ingredients and techniques with such frequency and enthusiasm that I begin to fear for our chances of catching the last train home. Either they’re all really, really interested in food, or I’m not the only one writing a review here.

While Jay and Giles do have a tendency to blend into the woodwork, my money’s on the former: chef Steve Drake kept locals and Michelin men alike happy for over a decade at his previous place in Ripley, and reports suggest this new joint is already booked up three months ahead, despite the London prices. Then again, this is Surrey, and it feels like it, too: all thick carpets and tastefully exposed beams; even the open kitchen is politely tucked away by the loos.

I could get used to this, I think, as no fewer than three amuse-bouches appear before us – “to keep you going while you look at the menu” – though I’m not sure I’d say the same about a broccoli mousse with kiwi and green tomato that seems an unnecessarily provocative start to proceedings. Apart from a similarly unsettling pairing of blue cheese and rosewater towards the end, it’s one of the few missteps in a meal that otherwise proves as highly polished as the silverware.

Some online reviewers have grabbed a kebab on the way home (“The portions wouldn’t satisfy a supermodel on a diet!”), but though dishes are indeed dainty, they’re also exquisite, and so intensely flavoured and texturally complex that they demand what’s no doubt known as “mindful eating” in the big smoke. Basically, you can’t just stuff it in.

Highlights of the nine-course tasting menu include a yolk-yellow warm pumpkin mousse studded with sweet, crunchy praline that packs a glorious parmesan punch; a yoghurty goat’s cheese and beetroot dish that’s so clean and fresh, we’re momentarily silenced (though I regret polishing off the accompanying polka dot of douglas fir mayo without stopping to consider if it tastes of trees); and, perhaps best of all, a plate of duck from nearby Leith Hill. Having slogged up that particular unforgiving hummock more than a few times on two wheels, I wonder if it’s all the exercise that gives these birds their fabulous flavour; their lacquered fat, sticky with a spiced date glaze, speaks to our most basic taste for sugar and fat, even in this most refined of settings. Two meringue sandwiches filled with liver paté turn up alongside, the kind of joyously weird idea that makes you grin inanely in surprise and delight.

Warm pumpkin mousse.

Sorrel’s warm pumpkin mousse: ‘It packs a glorious parmesan punch. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Guardian

Dessert is equally startling. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the “blackberry waldorf” had I known the main element was celeriac and walnut parfait, but it’s a triumph of autumnal flavours: pickled berries brighten the earthy sweetness of that poor, ugly root, and are helped in their task by an astonishingly good sorrel sorbet that ought to be a permanent fixture on Sorrel’s menu.

The rest disappoints only by dint of being delicious rather than downright extraordinary: a scallop in mushroom milk (the waitress tells us that no one’s ever asked how they milk a mushroom before) with garlic and parsley puree tastes fab, but the truffle shavings on top turn as dank as wet leaves the moment they hit the milk; a fabulously tender venison tartare with bitter orange and smoked egg yolk needs no such tarting up.

Restaurants operating at this level often strive to justify the price by sending diners away groaning with protein, but Drake has the confidence to give vegetables equal billing (the things that man can do with a cabbage). Sorrel isn’t cheap (thank God the cheery sommelier alerts us to the half-bottles hidden at the back of the wine menu) but, I reflect, huddled on the frosty platform at Dorking Deepdene waiting for the 00.38 to loom out of the darkness, it does make you feel very special.

Sorrel 77 South Street, Dorking, Surrey, 01306 889414. Open Wed-Sat, lunch and dinner, one sitting only. About £35 a head à la carte, tasting menus £60 and £90, all plus drinks and service.

Food 9/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Value for money 8/10

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