Seasonality appears to have taken pride of place over local sourcing and provenance of ingredients, but happily there still some chefs who manage to combine both factors and at Artichoke this is certainly the case. The tasting menu no longer offers a choice of main, which always seemed to us something of a throw-back, and every course was in perfect harmony with the rest to make up an extremely well-balanced ensemble. Super home-made focaccia and whipped butter preceded a chilled melon soup amuse-bouche which set us up for some brilliant, tenderly charred octopus, with oyster leaf adding a touch of minerality to the dish, and this was followed by poached, charred and pickled elements, in particular some beautiful beetroot, contrasting with green vegetables and brought together by a super dill emulsion. Outstanding foie gras with tayberries and toasted rice for the crunch brought us to a fish stew (or bouillabaisse) with classic fish, brill and John Dory, highlighted by pickled fennel, saffron potatoes and an excellent rouille. The main dish was local duck which exhibited exemplary flavours and was notable for its black garlic dressing. Three desserts may seem a bit much, but each contained just enough perfection to make you want more. Macerated blueberries with an excellent digestive biscuit crumble, an accent of lime, and viola leaf chiming in with white chocolate mousse brought us swiftly on to one of the all-time ultimate indulgences of strawberries and chocolate, lavender meringue, strawberry crème pâtissière and buttermilk sherbet strawberry soup. We finished up with a feta medita, the stupendous baked apricot backed up by intriguing puffed mustard seeds.
If there is one thing you can guarantee when you dine at the Artichoke it is that Laurie Gear and Ben Jenkins will serve up a meal that will leave the offerings in many one-star restaurants absolutely standing. This has been the case for many years, and, with its style evolving and advancing on a regular basis, Artichoke continues to be synonymous with high class and delicious fine dining.
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