With our modest Food Safari in full swing we headed slightly south of our location to the lovely Tees Valley are to a lovely picturesque spot called Summerhouse on the B6279. It is set in the centre of the triangle with Newton Aycliffe to its North, Barnard Castle to the West and Darlington to the East. I did not ask but got the idea it is situated on the sight of a small old country pub, if that is wrong then disregard it as ill-informed rubbish. There is a small parking area just off the road and a little exterior sitting area near the rear entrance. We arrived in warm bright sunlight, so bright in fact the ligt stone of the building seemed to reflect the light back at us. Craig the FOH manager greeted us warmly and seated us out in the warm sun. I say warm but it was actually hot and I did wonder if my little baldy head was going to get properly pinked.
At this point I think settling in for a comfortable afternoon is essential so we chose a nice chilled glass of sparkling wine to set the tone. Sadly I was not note taking and for the life of me don’t remember if it was a light champers or Prosecco I suspect the latter. I do remember sitting back and thinking “Great, we have made it to the Raby Hunt”. Friends like Ken Holland (specialist veg grower and culinary leaf developer) and Dave Coulson (Peace and Loaf) had previously asked if I had been, because they rated it and Head Chef James Close so highly.
While we looked over the menus a little entrée was placed before us.
Crisped cod skin and aioli. The dressing richly combined with the crispy skin, the effect was to create a lovely mixture of fresh fish and delicately favoured butteriness in the mouth. I am so fond of crispy fish skin, I would happily steal it from a plate. Sadly as much as I tried to distract Mrs. Zaps she was far to eagle-eyed for me to pull of a fish skin heist.
The menu was housed in a fantastically purple coloured binder. I was getting a nice feeling, what with the finesse to detail and execution of a fragile amuse and satisfying wine.
The plan to have a meal from the standard menu actually fell by the wayside at the first hurdle and the tasting menu was set to be the order of the day for both of us.
The interior of the Raby Hunt is tasteful and contemporary without being cold and loud. There were a couple of small parties in, it became obvious that a couple of diners were not strangers to the restaurant by the manner they interacted cordially with the very effective and friendly FOH team. Just watching them work together showed they had their collective finger on the pulse of service. Craig and his staff are friendly and knowledgeable and smooth.
the first thing presented to us was a remarkable little thing. A sous vide oyster with gooseberry snow on top and a beautiful elderflower cordial underneath. But is was one of those brilliant little food moments for me. As I put it in my eager mouth the smell and taste of gooseberry mixed with the fresh sea oyster and blended superbly, the elderflower bringing a fantastic compliment to the gooseberry. It was like eating an oyster with and intense Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely totally banging was that.
Razor clams are something that I like and yet at the same time often struggle with because they can be right slippery little beggars and texturally challenge me. However the James Close way is altogether bloody lovely.
Now I know Ken Holland had his hand in this, because I know he had his hand in this. The presentation was lovely, razor clam and shrimp, girolle and pea leaf and foam. I was paying attention at the time and the idea was to hit sweet sour and savoury in this dish. It darned well did too. I think it properly umamied itself quite brilliantly.
So here we are just two little tasters in and I am seriously thinking I could eat a whole plate of each of one of those things. I felt like I really needed to move in.
Quite what it would be next was unknown but it had something to do with ol’ Ken Holland again. This was something, Graig said, that James and Ken had been working to develop for about 8 months .
When it was placed in front of me my one thought was “WOWSERS!” it was utterly beautiful and.. such colours. Not a limp leaf anywhere, Perfecly fresh and vibrant. No meat, just perfect delicate veg and flower. Kale, nasturtium, carrot, fennel, beetroot and DRAGON’S EGG CUCUMBER. Yes you do have to shout that one becaue it is so rareyou see it. Feast your eyes on this.
The next plate might be what has become James’ signature dish. Beetroot, duck parfait and eel. I will splosh the picture in and then talk a bit more of my nonsense.
Drawing upon a red and white palette James worked a wonder with textures and flavours. The beets bring an earthy sweetness, the beet meringue cones added crunch, the flavour dots an intense softness and the duck and eel logs turn to a soft paste on the tongue. Gorgeous.
I was a light relief to the have a serving of a simply and artfully plated piece of bream spinach and roe. Well I say that (because it was fantastically intense visually and from a taste perspective) but really it was superbly cooked and the roe powder on the plate enlivened the tongue with its strong fish flavour.
When the squab arrived, all I could do was wonder what creative twist was being wrought upon my sense. The pigeon meat was rare and perfect and succulent, the Jerusalem artichokes presented in puree, julienne and crisped. Artichokes are a dangerous love of mine. I think they are so fantastic with such rich flavour but I do fear for the consequences, but hang it all at least by the time the effects kick in I will usually be clear of the restaurant.
Pork is always a favourite of mine and what a thrill to have 3 beautifully cooked pieces (might even have been the suckling pig too I think it was), each done differently, loin, belly and shoulder. utterly lovely. meaty and fatty to the right degree, succulent and with all the flavour you could wish for.
Again they were plated well and sweet meat meets sweet musty earthen tuber was a treat.
Dessert wa described as strawberry, and you know that you are going to be properly flummoxed when it arrives because you know it can’t be that simple in The House of Cheffy Chef James Close. And it’s not.
I know the ice cream was melting but I was wittering on to poor old Craig about how lovely it all was, and as we know it was a warm day so the frozen loveliness did what it would do under such circumstances.. it began to melt. trust me it still worked properly well. Pistachio and delicate mallow meringues and mint all adding more to the simple fruit propping it all up.
Trust me people if you are fond of a clever meal and a well cooked meal and an artistic interpretation of a meal, you really need to come here. I know I will again… they have rooms to stay over in. Next visit will be with a night time rest following the excess.
My thanks to James and Craig and all the servers and to Ken Holland for his produce and veggie know how and Dave Coulson for piquing my curiosity and to Stephen Hardy for supplying the words Flummoxed, Banging and Wowsers.
In the Hunt I am very impressed
Mr.Wolf…. TZ.. The Zap