Yes, Sorrel scooped the AA Restaurant of the Year title in September. And yes, it followed that up by gaining its first Michelin star. But chef Steve Drake, whose previous restaurant held a Michelin star for 11 years, has clearly saved himself for the big one — impressing me on a rainy Thursday night.
It’s a challenge he rises to. In an intimate, oak-beamed, three-chamber dining area, down a quiet street in Dorking, Surrey, Drake and his brigade dish up a nine-course masterclass, during which we’re treated to an impressive variety of flavours, textures and temperatures — not just between dishes but often between forkfuls. Take, for example, the pumpkin and parmesan mousse, which starts out warm and a little cheesy, but grows cooler and sweeter with every bite, thanks to a layer of mandarin sorbet lurking at the bottom.
It’s a trick repeated later with an initially earthy, but then suddenly tangy broccoli mousse, served up with a paper-thin broccoli and poppy seed crisp. By this point, I’m already won over, as in my book, anyone who can make whipped broccoli feel like a treat deserves all the praise one can throw at them.
However, the most enjoyable dishes are reserved for the middle order. First there’s seabass, with turnip and seaweed — a dish in which likeminded ingredients deliver a combined umami smack like a Phil Spector wall of noise. This is followed by my highlight of the night — the venison, which I expect to be balanced out with a crude hit of fruit. Instead, the flavours of bitter orange and Earl Grey fuse to produce something far more subtle, unexpected and satisfying.
All peaks are, by definition, followed by downturns, and I’ll admit to being only slightly less dazzled by the final third of the menu. The Carrot Tobacco is certainly clever; its layers of dehydrated carrot providing a pleasingly crunchy coating to coconut sorbet, but it just doesn’t feel moreish, particularly after what’s come before. And I’d have preferred more blackberry on the celeriac and walnut parfait, as the perfect mouthful proves elusive. But even these dishes are extraordinary in their way.
Drake has had his fair share of praise recently, and the biggest compliment I can offer is to say that I fully intend to visit Sorrel again at some point. Which means, essentially, schlepping all the way down to Dorking — and all for someone who served me broccoli mousse. Now that’s praise indeed.
Nine courses £95, or £170 with wine pairing.