The Clock House,
High Street, Ripley,
Surrey, Gu23 6AQ
Tel. 01483 224 777
Food type: Modern Eclectic
Nearest tube: –
Note: Steve Drake departed the restaurant in August 2016 following the divorce with his wife. He retains ownership of the pub, the Anchor, located opposite the restaurant. Fred Shepperton was promoted to head chef. The restaurant lost its Michelin star in the 2017 edition of the guide.
I had invited David to visit Surrey and try out some of the restaurants in the area back in November. However because of how busy both our lives were, it was not until February that we were able to meet up for lunch. We had initially agreed that we would pay a visit to 2* Michael Wignall at the Latymer. However, as I was making the booking in January, I noticed that the restaurant website had removed Michael Wignall’s name. After a little investigating, I found out that Wignall had left the Latymer at the end of December and has now taken over Michael Caines to head up the kitchen at Gidleigh Park. In his place, Steven Edwards (best known for winning Masterchef Professionals) has been temporarily holding the fort until Matt Worswick starts at the end of March.
With that in mind, the only other option for Michelin starred dining is Drake’s. It is a huge shame that given how affluent the area is, there are very few fine dining restaurants. Towns like Farnham and Guildford have your usual suspects of mediocre chain restaurants (Prezzo, Zizzis, Brasserie Blanc etc.) and even finding a decent gastropub is tricky. I suspect that it is because of the close proximity to London that most of the ambitious restaurateurs would rather open up in the city where people are more willing to spend money dining out.
David was rather cautious about dining here. While the standard of judging in Michelin can be puzzling at times, the restaurants at a 1* level particularly outside London can be hit and miss. On one hand, there are restaurants like Drake’s and Purnell’s who are fully deserving of their star. But there are others like JSW and Turners who would probably not hold a star if they were in London. However, I was pretty confident that Drake’s would be able to deliver on the food front given that I have dined at Drake’s a fair few times. This is the restaurant I took my fiancee on our first date.
We dined during lunch where the restaurant was pretty full. There are various menus available – a cheap lunch option at £30 for 3 courses, an a la carte menu at £65 for 3 courses and two tasting menus of different lengths priced at £70 and £90. As David had made the effort to travel to Surrey to dine here, we opted for the full tasting menu.
The meal started with a couple of canapés. A chicken liver parfait was served on an unusual curried macaroon/ meringue. The aerated parfait had a lovely deep flavour and the curried macaroon added a nice background sweetness and heat which complemented the parfait really well. A beef croquette was presented with a bone hinting that it was made from slow-cooked short-rib. The croquette was meaty, the beef melt in your mouth tender and avoided dryness which can often happen when the meat to fat ratio is not correct. This was my favourite canapé. The final bite was a cheese sable with pineapple and ham – perhaps a nod towards a Hawaiian pizza. I must be the first to admit I am not a big fan of Hawaiian pizzas and I found the flavour of the pineapple to completely overpower all the other elements.
An amuse-bouche of leek, haddock and quail’s egg was next – a modern version of Cullen Skink. I was actually pretty surprised to see this dish (which is very classical) served at Drake’s given their cooking style is very modern and progressive. Of course, there was some modern technique used to elevate it from being a boring soup – the leek and haddock veloute had been aerated to give a lighter texture. Hiding underneath were a few flakes of haddock and a perfectly poached quail’s egg.
The first course was a modern crab salad with parsnips, curry cream and frozen sorrel. Crab salads can often be very boring but here the addition of curry cream enlivened the dish. I also liked the addition of the sorrel granita which gave the dish another element of freshness and a temperature contrast. There was also some unannounced finger lime on the side which offered bursts of acidity to help tie everything together. This was a salad designed by a chef who knew how to balance the different flavours without losing the natural flavour of the crab.
Next up were pork cheeks slow cooked in Noilly Prat and paired with the unusual combination of pineapple and cockles. The combination of pork and pineapple is pretty common in Asian cuisine but the addition of cockles was interesting. The saltiness from the cockles and sweetness from the pineapple helped balance the richness of the pork cheeks. There was also some surprise jalapeños hidden underneath the pineapple which gave a gentle background heat.
Beetroot and goat’s cheese is a dish which has been done to death, yet somehow the version served here was unique. Hidden underneath a beetroot tuile were pieces of golden beetroot dressed with a slightly acidic douglas fir mayonnaise and sesame seeds. The dish was served on a bed of douglas fir which had been torched to emit a smokey note although none of the actual elements of the dish had been smoked.
My favourite dish of the day was a lovely piece of steamed turbot served with a unique jerusalem artichoke escabeche. The dish was finished at the table with an aerated tarragon sauce and a grinding of sumac. The turbot itself was covered with a layer of finely chopped chives which disguised how perfectly timed the fish was. Moving the layer of chives aside, the fish had the coveted ‘mother of pearl’ effect. This was cooking which had utmost respect of its produce. All too often, modern chefs would take the easy option and sous vide everything in sight. Sous vide is a great technique under certain circumstances but in my opinion, it doesn’t work very well with fish as the final result tends to be fish which has a pappy texture. It is great to see a chef who, despite embracing modern cooking, has not forgotten his classical roots.
Our main course was another winner – duck with marmalade was a modern take on canard l’orange. Here, the duck had been cooked sous vide but with the fat properly rendered down, served with some caramelised chicory and bitter marmalade. We were warned by the maitre’d that the marmalade would be very powerful and at the end of our meal, Steve mentioned that he was worried that diners would find the marmalade too bitter. I actually enjoyed the bitterness that the marmalade brought to the plate. An authentic canard l’orange is served with sauce bigarade which essentially means ‘bitter orange’. In the 80s, canard l’orange was completely bastardised in England with the sauce made from orange cordial. Thus, the bitter marmalade is in keeping with the spirit of the original dish. If the marmalade had been any sweeter, it would have completely ruined the dish and turned it into a dessert.
Instead of cheese, we were offered a take on cauliflower & cheese. On top of a slice of caramelised cauliflower was a slightly runny slice of Tunworth with a generous grating of black truffle for good measure. On the side was a little pear and saffron chutney which helped balance the richness of the dish. Cauliflower, cheese and truffles have a natural affinity with each other and it is unsurprising that this dish was a triumph.
The first dessert offering was a unique trifle of cinnamon, hibiscus and Pedro Ximenez. Amazingly this wacky combination of ingredients (Really? cinnamon and hibiscus???) worked really well together.
We finished with a final dessert of grapefruit with passion fruit and basil. This dish brought back memories of eating LeSquer’s ‘Grapefruit Millefuille’ and on further reflection, it was evident why – they shared a similar flavour profile (grapefruit and basil). If there is one minor criticism, it was that the parfait was served slightly too cold which made cutting through it with a spoon a challenge. In fact, while trying to do so, half the parfait flew off my plate onto the floor!
This was yet another excellent meal at Drake’s. It was interesting to note that during this visit, the food draws inspiration from tried and tested classics but with a modern twist. Although there is plenty of technique involved in the cooking, it is not used for the sake of the chef trying to show off. For me, based on this meal, the cooking here is very close to 2* level. Indeed there are many 2* restaurants, both in and outside London whose cooking are less impressive and delicious than what we were served today. The people of Ripley are indeed very lucky to have Drake’s in their sleepy little village.