db Eats: The Five Fields1st October, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
While now a smog-filled concrete jungle snaking with black cabs and red buses, in the 18th century, the expanse of land taking in Chelsea, Pimlico and Belgravia was referred to as the Five Fields, after the five large meadows housed within it. Legend has it that the fields were used by duelists to settle disputes and were unsafe to walk through after dark.
Playing on the area’s pastoral past is an ambitious new Chelsea restaurant headed up by the jovial sounding Taylor Bonnyman, whose game is to deliver “elegant and playful modern British cooking with an emphasis on native artisanal produce.” Ticking many a trend box along the way, The Five Fields grows much of its own ingredients, including vegetables and herbs, in a garden in East Sussex.
Overseen by Heather Young, formerly in charge of the garden at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred hotel-restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, the East Sussex patch is home to over a hundred herbs, including unloved and long forgotten plants that Bonnyman is keen to revive with the help of head chef Marguerite Keogh and pastry chef Chris Underwood.
Set on the ground floor of a charming townhouse, there’s a sense of occasion when you walk into The Five Fields’ tiny dining room. Cosy, sumptuous and painted 50 shades of beige, the interiors are so soothing it feels like you’ve walked into a rich friend’s living room who just happens to have an army of staff buzzing about like silent bees to keep glasses full and crumbs from falling.
Seating 40 and offering two tasting menus, the restaurant runs just one dinner service per night, meaning diners are encouraged to linger and soak up the experience, which comes as a refreshing contrast to the plethora of singe-dish restaurants popping up in the capital faster than Miley Cyrus can take her clothes off.
Three courses will set you back £45, and an eight-course tasting menu £65, though the waiting staff are forthcoming with an array of “intercourses”, from palate cleansers to amuse-bouches, ensuring you leave replete. Bonnyman is sweet on the idea of temperature and texture play, treating his dishes like works of edible theatre that aim to surprise and delight.
On my visit one balmy autumn evening, my dining buddy and I opted for three courses and crossed our fingers for the extras. The first was a delicious twist on humble hummus laced with toasted sesame and boasting a consistency as smooth as George Clooney on a first date. We were off to a good start. A trio of playful canapés followed, the most memorable of which looked like a miniature pork pie but was crammed with juicy salt beef.
Doing their best to woo our taste buds into submission, yet another pre starter arrived in the form of a tiny bowl of pea green gazpacho drizzled with basil oil that served as interior air conditioning on this sweaty, hedonistic night.
The feast began in earnest with signature starter Rock Pool; an elaborate performance of four acts: oyster tartare; crab; langoustine and squid, served in futuristic vessels, making them seem like the edible findings of some space mission.
Each of the four elements worked in their own way, but to varying degrees – the squid smoky and charred; the tartare enveloped in a cooling Bloody Mary granita; the langoustines pink, fat, juicy and sweet, yet lifted by a lovely lemon zing and the crab perhaps the fairest of them all, drenched in pear, melon and yuzu with a salty caviar crown, it was life-affirmingly fresh and invigorating, like diving into a river at first light.
“Foie Gras” meanwhile, paid homage to Heston Blumenthal’s indecently delicious Meat Fruit dish at the now two Michelin-starred Dinner. A tiny glistening globe topped with gold leaf, the outer shield was beetroot in colour and cherry in taste, housing a creamy dome of foie given added interest by an edible garden of flowers and dolls house-sized veg, from golden beetroot to minute mushrooms in a charming ensemble that wouldn’t look out of place at the Chelsea Flower Show. Pipettes and tweezers were no doubt used – either that or they’ve got an army of Borrowers doing the plating up.
For the main event, I couldn’t resist the lure of suckling pig served five ways, from within a crispy croquette to a paper-thin sheet of salty skin. Showing off the diversity of pork in all its moreish glory, from meaty cheek and juicy loin to fatty crackling, the dish served as a testament to the team’s skills, proving they are doing more than just hiding behind edible flowers – these Young Turks know their way around an animal, from snout to pigtail.
Desserts won’t be to everyone’s taste – particularly those sharp in fang and sweet of tooth. The Five Fields seems obsessed with the idea of savoury desserts, to the point where each of the five options on offer includes a vegetable of some description, from black olive and green pea to cucumber and cep.
Reading my notes back, I’ve described the garden pea, mint and coconut sorbet as “disconcertingly good” – the addition of chocolate soil an obvious hat tip to Noma’s head honcho René Redzepi.
The overall feeling of the quirky creation was like surruptitiously munching a slab of chocolate cake in a vegetable patch in the pouring rain, such was the sensory overload. While some of the sweet-savoury interplay was a little too “out there” to be genuinely enjoyable or something you’d ever want to eat again, you’ve got to admire their cojones for putting these dishes on the menu.
But what of the wine? I hear you cry. As you might expect from such a gung-ho establishment, wine pairings were daring and largely succeeded, from a honeyed 2011 Loire Chenin Blanc from Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups to pair with the foie gras, to a juicy, cherry and spice filled 2010 Anton Bauer Zweigelt to marry with the five shades of pork.
A visit to The Five Fields is not something you’re going to forget in a hurry. I rather loved the juxtaposition of the reassuring surroundings and the madcap menu – as if the greatest of adventures can be had from the comfort of your armchair.
The cooking is accomplished, the menu oozing with vim and the dishes shown admirable attention to detail. While some of the compositions seem designed to confuse, boasting a mind-boggling array of ingredients, understanding each and every one is missing the point. The jigsaw only works when all the pieces of the puzzle are eaten at the same time.
While service remains formal throughout, it is friendly and informative to boot. The Five Fields is a special occasion restaurant that proves fun and fine dining needn’t be mutually exclusive, so don your best togs and take someone you want to spoil with culinary fireworks and edible soil.
The Five Fields, 8-9 Blacklands Terrace, London SW3 2SP; Tel: +44 (0)20 7838 1082. An eight-course tasting menu costs £65 per person without wine or £115 with wine pairings