Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon

I knew I would like Salt way before I arrived. Way before I looked at the menu online, way before I read the glowing reviews. It’s the name you see: Salt. That most simple of ingredients which has a place in almost every dish; one that humbly elevates it’s plate-fellows to heights they would never reach were it not present. In short, salt is like the person I wish I could be (but am definitely not). As a restaurant name, it connotes nothing but good things.

The restaurant itself must have once been a Stratfordian’s home and has retained a charming wonkiness, with low slung beams and cosy corners. Whitewashed walls and a lick of grey paint on those beams do wonders to lighten the space and prevent any suspicion that you are attending some sort of National Trust historic experience dinner. The kitchen pass along the back wall gives a view of a kitchen so poky that it reminds me of my own, which only serves to make the brilliance of the dishes that will shortly appear even more impressive.

At lunch, you’ll find an a la carte and a six course tasting menu. Both are obscene value, although at a measly £45 the tasting menu seems the obvious choice.  For that you get plump green olives and smokey almonds on arrival, quickly followed by malty bread rolls to smear with sunshine yellow butter.

The first course happens to be my favourite; pink fir potatoes under a layer of transparent lardo and radish, dusted with roasted yeast flakes. My boyfriend is right: it evokes the feel of a jacket potato. Buttery, rich and warming, it’s the kind of dish I wish I could reproduce in my poky kitchen so that I could eat it on the sofa, wrapped up in a dressing gown and sweeping up the remnants with my finger.

Without wishing to turn this into a loveathon I also get a little bit weepy over two fillets of hake, panfried to a golden crust. The accompanying caramelised cauliflower purée is sweet and earthy, with shaved fennel for some acidity. Following this comes carrot roasted in chicken fat which sits in a puddle of carrot broth, with crispy chicken skin and pickled carrots. Carrots cooked in chicken fat might just be my new thing. They’re the flavour of a Sunday lunch without the excessive carbs. The Northerner in me wants to clean out the bowl with a Yorkshire Pudding, but for now the last of the bread will make do. There seems to be a theme here; Salt is plate-lickingly good.

The pheasant that comes next is probably my least favourite course, if only because it lacks the same whack of flavour as the others. The breast was tender, the cavolo nero retaining a little bite, the pickled onions zingy. It’s a solid piece of cooking that on another menu would be a star, but here it is among such good company it pales slightly in comparison.

Desserts start with an ice cream of brown bread. No, I’m not using Cockney rhyming slang; it’s a transitional course that pairs savoury ice cream with a sorrel granita and sweet, sharp poached blueberries. As a dish it takes some getting used to, but in the end we are both agreed that it’s rather lovely in character.

The second dessert steers us into more recognisable territory with a dreamy ganache of Valrhona chocolate paired with some other chocolatey bits and a pumpkin cream. Chocolate is always a crowd pleaser, but the balance and quality here is clear.

We end on another high in the form of choux buns filled with raspberry and Douglas fir. They are as near to a perfect mouthful as any I’ve had. If these were available in shops, I would no doubt be the size of a house but blissfully happy.

Now, here I have to be honest. My visit to Salt fell around November last year and so the above dishes will be shamefully out of date, but I recently sent a good friend here who reported back that the standard is still just as high (and those choux buns still the finale). In fact, despite a visit to L’Enclume a few days earlier, her dessert of sea buckthorn mille-feuille was declared her “favourite dessert ever!”. And if that’s not enough to make you want to visit, I’m not sure we would ever get along.

Salt is at 8 Church Street, Warwickshire, Stratford-Upon-Avon, CV37 6EP. WEBSITE.

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