Core: More than essential

For someone carrying the burden of expectation as being ranked one of the very best restaurants in the country, Clare Smyth cuts a remarkably relaxed figure. Indeed, as we descended the stairs to Core (her first restaurant since parting ways with Gordon Ramsey), Clare was positively beaming, as she greeted us with a friendly wave from the glass-fronted kitchen. The moment captures all that Core is about: this is a relaxed venue that is confident in the knowledge that it will deliver an exceptional experience. Rather than starched white tablecloths and snooty waiters, the vibe here is more ‘lux-casual.’ Being at Core reminded me a little of being in someone’s (albeit very nice) house. We liked the informality of the light pine bookshelves around the room, interspersed with artworks, including by Bridget Riley. Bigger than the now-absent Marianne yet smaller than the Ledbury, Core felt just right; intimate yet with a buzz. The kitchen, of course, is the place that really does the talking and what singularly impressed was the artful playfulness that went into the composition not just of each dish, but also to the broader conception of the tasting menu. Take my first dish, an Isle of Mull scallop tartare. I am mostly indifferent to scallop and find it depressing how regularly fine dining venues default to including it on their tasting menus. Here, however, Clare Smyth has taken such an item, transformed it, and its corresponding taste sensation, and presented said scallop beautifully, in a seashell with a vegetable consommé surrounding it. I was similarly impressed by my ‘lamb carrot.’ This is just what you might imagine it to be: a humble carrot topped with braised lamb and finished with a beautiful dollop of sheep’s yoghurt. The flavour and taste sensation were deep and lingering. Presentation throughout was superlative and my vegetarian comrade was similarly wowed with her offerings, particularly a spelt ring. Paired wines were chosen thoughtfully and with connoisseurs in mind. It was a delight, for example, to see an aged Tondonia accompany the monkish and a Le Crau from Vieux Telegraphe paired with a duck dish. Pricing is what you would expect in such a venue and in line with comparable locations. Despite the service (which was, at times, somewhat over-zealous; a small gripe, but worth mentioning), this is money very well spent. You need to book well in advance to secure a table but being organised definitely pays off.