The Five Fields. It’s complicated.
Below the radar for some time, it’s suddenly on everyone’s wish list. That may be because it’s awfully hard to get a table. Only 40 covers and not that many sittings, it’s not a last minute sort of place .The chef-owner is the wonderfully-named Taylor Bonnyman, previously chef at Corton, in New York, the executive chef was at Marcus Wareing and the pastry chef worked with Tom Aikens. Pedigree central then. And you can see that in the precision of the cooking.
All neutrals, good lighting and plush luxury, someone with deep pockets has spent a fortune on this fit-out. Tasteful, elegant and calm, it’s a grown up sort of place, attracting an interesting mix of punters. In evidence was the lesser-spotted leather-trousered Chelsea specimen and one or two hedge-fund types, but despite that, it wasn’t brash or noisy. You could, if you were a local hedgie spend a fortune on a wine from their “Sussex” Collection, where my eyes alighted on a lovely Mersault from 2004. My eyes bled a bit when I saw the £550 price tag. Fortunately they also have wines at a more reasonable level.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of tasting menus, so we decided to go for the three course fixed-price option at £50. Before that, some delicate canapés and great bread, with really good butter. Bread fresh from the oven and still hot. I took a flaky buttery roll, which reminded me of a solid, dense croissant in texture. Wonderful. And then a small dish of warm mushroom emulsion, topped by a cooler onion whipped foam. Delicious. And then another extra which I can’t describe adequately, other than to say it was crunchy and meaty and had parmesan flakes on it. Apologies.
I ordered a dish headlined “Garden” Herbs Fruit, Flowers and Vegetables. I’d wanted something light. Something simple. I think I was hoping for the sort of vegetable plate I’d had at L’Arpège, in Paris where, like here, vegetables are grown specifically for the restaurant. But it was nothing like L’Arpège, where the vegetables are allowed to speak for themselves. Here, the vegetables speak through the chef. They look wonderful but are overwhelmed by the slightly overwrought nature of the cooking. Lots of small herbs and baby vegetables, none quite distinct other than the spring onion, carrot and cauliflower. Just too much going on. I wanted to taste the freshness of those vegetables that they’d grown out in East Sussex, but roasting them just made them taste too intense and a little indistinct. Much of the dish was lost, which was a real shame given the effort so clearly involved.
Following that, Cod with Mussels, Fregola and Broccoli. As good a piece of cod as you’re likely to find, topped with a roasted baby leek (or it could have been a calçot ) and roasted broccoli , with a stock/sauce I found a little bit too salty and intense. Borderline. And I generally add salt to my dishes. I suspect that if you’re not a salt-lover, you’d struggle with this. I had the same salty experience twice at Marcus Wareing, where this chef was previously. Coincidence? I stopped going in the end. Even though I would have killed for that custard tart.
But before the dessert, a tasty pre-dessert. Again, I disappoint not only you but also myself, as I am not entirely sure of all the ingredients, but I recall mango, vanilla, possibly some coconut and a foam.
For dessert, I considered the Chocolate Tart with Milk Stout Ice Cream – C ordered it and I had a taste, even though there was a bit of Richmond-face. It was excellent. Unctuous, rich and not too sweet, with a salty-chocolate caramel sugar wafer. I wish I’d ordered it. But, already full, I’d chosen fruit. Rhubarb – or so I thought. I have to say that Rhubarb would have been disappointed in her supporting role here – she really didn’t feel like the star of the show. Meringue wafers, Panna Cotta tubes, blobs of custard with flowers, again, this was a beautifully presented dish. Artful, tasty and delicate. But not quite the seasonal rhubarb showcase I’d been expecting.
And then a selection of petits-fours. Some boiled sweet lollipops served with flowerpots containing, respectively, chocolate soil and sherbet. The lollipop didn’t really fit in the pots, so you couldn’t use it as a posh sort of sherbet dib-dab and it didn’t go with the chocolate at all. But the glass jar of chocolates and nougat looked much better. As I was fit to burst, I couldn’t manage any more than a single truffle and they kindly put the rest of the sweet things in a bag for me, to enjoy later. I was imagining a little private nibble at the hairdresser the next morning. Until I opened my bag the next day and realised I’d left them in the restaurant.
If complex cooking is your thing, you’ll really like this. It’s great value even at £50, because the service is superb, the room intimate and comfortable and the portions generous. They bring you lots of extras à la Michelin and it feels reassuringly expensive. They are clearly passionate about what they do, but like some lawyers I know who draft to death, you can make things too complicated. Sometimes less is more.