Drake’s Progress

He held a Michelin star for 10 years at his last restaurant, so will Sorrel, chef Steve Drake’s latest opening, win him another? Jessica Jonzen suspects so

People of Dorking, keep an eye on Zoopla, for I suspect you’re going to see a rise in the value of your home. Let’s call it the ‘Sorrel Effect’ – all thanks to the recently opened restaurant that bears its name.

It happened to Great Milton in Oxfordshire, home to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and estate agents in the Maidenhead area were cock-a-hoop when The Fat Duck in Bray won its third Michelin star back in 2004.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, you’ll have the chef, Steve Drake, to thank, for it is he who has bestowed a jewel on this quiet town. Having kept locals and Michelin men alike happy for over a decade at Drake’s, the restaurant in Ripley he ran with his ex-wife, Drake has emerged with his first solo restaurant. Named after his favourite herb, Sorrel has found its home in a charming 300-year-old building on South Street.

Entering via the external stairs, my guest and I were ushered in to the cosy lobby where we glimpsed the bright open kitchen, housed in a starkly modern glass cube. It juxtaposed perfectly with the skeletal beams of the original building. The dining room has only 10 tables, with a maximum of about 24 covers; it feels intimate and special, as though you were invited rather than made a reservation. No wonder there’s a three-month waiting list.

From my plush velvet window seat, I could see straight through to Drake and his team quietly executing his scintillating seasonal menu. A serene, polite and respectful kitchen; no shouting or egos here.

Whilst our sommelier poured us a glass of Nyetimber, we ordered the ‘Discovery’ menu at £90 for nine courses – as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

The meal began with two exquisite snacks: filo pastry with mackerel, and a surprisingly delicious broccoli mousse with kiwi. Things really got exciting when the first course arrived – a yolk-yellow warm pumpkin mousse with smoked paprika, Parmesan and parsley, studded with praline, which stopped us in our tracks.

Next came a delicately cooked scallop with smoked cauliflower, cucumber and curry cannelloni. Again, it was inventive, surprising and utterly delicious. Chicory, samphire, pork cheek, blood orange and chervil came next, followed by creamy Bosworth Ash goat’s cheese, salt-baked beetroot Douglas fir and sesame.

Poached monkfish preceded another stand-out dish: duck from nearby Etherley Farm, with ras el hanout and date, which was glorious. A delicate and playful duck liver meringue appeared alongside; the sort of fantastically strange idea that can only be pulled off by a gastronomic alchemist like Drake.

A Barkham Blue cheese dish that looked like a miniature Bakewell tart followed before two puddings. The first, Carrot Tobacco, was inspired by a sweet Drake enjoyed in his boyhood. Finally, Blackberry Waldorf, which was comprised mainly from celeriac parfait – something I’d never have ordered had I known, but I’m glad of my ignorance for this was truly exquisite.

So there you have it: the reason why house prices in Dorking are about to soar in value.* Although if Sorrel were my local restaurant, I’m not sure I would ever move.

*probably. sorrelrestaurant.co.uk

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