Maybe M&S started it with their “not just food” adverts, or perhaps it was around the time crisp flavours started getting all complicated. Either way there are plenty of restaurants these days where I can just write down what was eaten and I’ve already blown the word count. Adjective overload or just every ingredient and the precise way in which it’s been prepared, laid bare. The menu at Mr Cooper’s House and Garden is definitely complex, but in fairness reading it would surely get anyone who likes their food excited.
Best start somewhere simple then with pork scratchings, although they do come with apple gel, and they’re probably not what you’d find down your local either, no stray hairs here. The cocktails are pretty special too, and have been gaining a reputation almost as much as the food at Simon Rogan’s ground floor restaurant in the Midland hotel. The paper plane to Mexico smokes gently with chipotle chili, egg white, tequila and vermouth in a glass with a little red plane perched on the edge. I go for a northside garden fizz, and it tastes exactly like the sort of thing you’d imagine was sipped at the Midland back in its heyday. Pink peppercorns, delicate strawberry, mint and cucumber with gin and lime. Somewhere between Pimms and a stiff gin and tonic, it doesn’t get much more British than that.
Service is attentive and friendly and we begin with crispy buttermilk fried oysters that sit atop daubs of kimchi puree that is salty, spicy and ridiculously moreish, pickled fennel and pear bring a sharp acidity to the dish. Caramelised scallops are nicely arranged on fresh cucumber sambal with little curls of jalapeño fritter that explode with flavour, a swirl of tahini dressing complements it all. Both plates are brilliant in their own ways, oysters all crunch and bold flavours, then scallops, succulent and dainty.
Cumin rubbed lamb rump is even more fun to eat as it is to say. The meat is so tender, pink, yet textured at the edges. It’s got an almost ethereal waft of barbecue from smoked tomato, and it comes with bacon and gravy, so what’s not to like? Skate fillet is less impressive, the fish itself is nice but pan roasted parsnips and rocket mash don’t really make more than the sum of their parts. It feels lacking something and crispy seaweed isn’t it. To accompany the mains we drank wine by the glass, an Australian shiraz was full bodied enough to cope with the lamb and Marlbrough region sauvignon blanc was a similarly good choice from an extensive list.
The fried apple pie looks like a giant piece of ravioli, waiting for me to pile straight in. I always used to pick chocolate desserts but have recently found myself going for the fruitier stuff and there are no disappointments here. The sweetness of the apple and fragrance of cassia foam is balanced beautifully with savoury miso butterscotch and clotted cream, it leaves me wanting more. Caramel tart with mascarpone ice cream is probably the most concise description of anything on the menu, and proves what they say about simple things. The smooth toffee tart has a crisp top reminiscent of a creme brulee perhaps, delicious. A couple of well matched nightcaps in the form of a rum and raisin old fashioned and the rum forrest, rum warm the cockles and finish things off nicely.
All of that without even mentioning we were sat under a tree surrounded by all kinds of horticultural paraphernalia. The setting definitely feels eccentric, but no gimmicks are required here, the food is inventive and offers up playful platefulls not to mention some brash flavour combinations. With a regularly changing seasonal menu and some great-value, gourmet food there’s nothing to keep you out of Mr Cooper’s House and Garden.