I first met Tom at the Slow Food AGM. He was young, quietly ambitious and invited me down to do a review. My companion CC and I headed out last Friday to the north coast, still one of my favourite spots for dramatic sandscapes and bruised purple-blue rock formations. Despite the royal, preppy hype, it is a stunning location to which I often disappear with the dogs.
After chatting extensively to Stuart in the Mariners Rock downstairs, a real keen foodie too, about local oyster festivals and Cornish produce, we went upstairs and put ourselves into the hands of Dominic: our own personal gentleman for the night. He was charming.
Always ready to support any chef sensible and brave enough to put offal on the menu, I went for the warm salad of confit duck gizzards and CC for the gnocchi with pollock. First up was a little taste-tickler: an amuse bouche of vichyssoise with salted cod beignets, working on the same visual formula as battered fish and mushy peas. This however, was a glammed up version obviously from Tom’s days at the Ritz: the green of the peas replaced with the leek-green of the vichyssoise, next to the fried cod beignets. Exquisite.
Gizzards are usually a chewy tasty muscle I would eat as the obligatory prelude to a Sunday roast chicken (along with liver, heart and neck; arguably some of the best parts of the chicken) but the confit process meant that they melted instead, transformed into a delicacy and an offal revelation. CC’s gnocchi were light and crisp, topping the pollock and greens in a harmonious flavour embrace. I supped on a delicate, albeit slightly warm, pinot grigio.
And now for the main affair, but before that, we were interrupted with an extra course (this act of calculated serendipity happened more than once during the night, like a little lotto win): beetroot-cured salmon. Thin slivers of lipstick-red salmon, decorated Noma-style with a flecking of beetroot leaves, lemon pulp and walnut confit. We fell silent, glanced at each other with equal approval and fell back to eating. With the salmon cleared, next came my grilled halloumi, saffron and cardamom risotto and CC’s sea bream with langoustine tortellini and extra langoustine broth.
It’s not often I opt for vegetarian but this was as good a meat substitute as any veggie could get: robust salty halloumi against creamy, sunshine Milanese-style risotto and the quiet tones of cardamom whispering in the background. I would fall to my knees and consider a full vegetarian conversion if Tom agreed to cook for me. The double fishy combo of CC’s bream and langoustine parcels felt truly indulgent: a clean fish taste paired with earthy crustacean tones; simple; genius. Where had Tom got such pioneering taste combinations? The Ritz where he worked for three and a half years? He explained that working there in a team of more than fifty chefs made for a real hotbed of experimentation and collaboration and cites Frederick Foster as a particular influence. It is quite clear that he has the experience and confidence to push food into spheres of excellence and a vision to combine tastes into partnerships that smacks of genius. This theme continued into desserts.
Convinced we could consume no more, Dominic gingerly placed some dessert menus in front of us. It was our moral duty to collaborate. CC (ever the demanding guest) bemoaned that she had never tried a mojito sorbet before, Dominic paused, clocked her remark and soon came back with two shot glasses of an icy lime palate cleanser. ‘Hmm’ was the only monosyllable of which we were capable. Newly-invigorated (I saw the method in the ‘extra’ courses, each carefully prepared you mentally and physically for the next), I selected a blackcurrant soufflé with liquorice ice cream and CC the chocolate delice.
The soufflé arrived like the best John Lewis goose-down pillow, puffed out perfectly above the dish: lightly-browned, with a purple tinge, in the company of a ball of homemade liquorice ice cream. That was white. White liquorice ice cream? Surely childhood experience dictated that it should be black? On quizzing Tom, he disappeared and came back with a liquorice stick. The inside was creamy white, just like the ice cream. It’s never too late to learn. CC’s delice hovered in a blissful contradiction of mousse, torte and pannacotta, showcasing a chocolate depth that still retained the bitter hint of quality chocolate. With the delice came a scattering of golden, sugary jewels, in various sizes and design. More monosyllables (aka grunts of pleasure).
As a professional flourish at the end, more like a Tides signature, a little slate came out with a selection of homemade petits fours, fudge with star anise and shortbread made in house by a Scottish chef amongst other cubed delights. Trying (and mostly failing) to be caffeine-free these days, I had a Moroccan style mint tea, in a tall glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves and CC recklessly went for the caffeine option.
We left, full and content, feeling like we had dined at a good friend’s house, such was the level of hospitality and attention to detail. But beyond that, the food at Tides is worth exploring and tasting for the sheer passion that Tom injects into it. He manages to combine the revolutionary zeal of a Heston with the down-to-earth approach of a Nigel.
Find Tides Restaurant above the Mariners Rock on the road down into Rock itself. For more information and reservations call 01208 863679 or go to http://www.marinersrock.com