After ten years at the helm at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth’s first solo venture was bound to be something special. Core, which opened in Notting Hill in August, is fine dining but not as we know it. Smyth has opted for three- and five-course menus as well as a tasting menu – each showcasing the best of British cuisine in a simple and elegant way. There’s a large open kitchen, nature-inspired decor and the sort of playlist you might have saved on your iPod under ‘Guilty Pleasures’ (think Dolly Parton and Guns ’N’ Roses). ‘I want to take away everything that people find intimidating about fine dining,’ says Smyth, and her vision has paid off. There’s not even a hint of stuffiness here.
When Brummell visits, a group on the next table are singing along to the music and excited whooping can be heard when the dessert makes an appearance. For Smyth and her team, this is the beauty of an open kitchen: immediate feedback. For everyone else, it’s adding to the light, informal and fun atmosphere that perfectly juxtaposes the exquisite artisanal cuisine on the plate. Smyth has scattered her own personality everywhere, from the art to the books on display, which she invites diners to pick up and flick through as you would when visiting a friend’s house for a dinner party. Like a home from home, it’s clear this is a place where you can be yourself while eating some of the best food in London.
After an aperitif of the aptly named Knottyng Hull cocktail (nettle vodka, Escubac, jasmine and wine) in the bar, we were escorted into the main dining area. A muted colour palate throughout of moss greens and creams are offset by striking artwork by Op artist Bridget Riley, which can be found both in the bar and by the private dining table, which sits opposite the open kitchen. The tables in the main dining room are spaced out so you’re not shuffling to avoid the people on the next table when you head to the bathroom, and ours sits under yet another original artwork, this time by Marc Quinn.
We chose the tasting menu, a delicious nine-course feast celebrating the abundance of British-grown vegetables, such as the moreish charlotte potato served with dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe, and the lamb braised carrot – a dish which puts the vegetable in the spotlight – a nod to Smyth’s love of stealing carrots from the braising stew (‘they’re the best bits,’ she says). Each dish is presented to the table by a member of Smyth’s accomplished team, and each is accompanied by a story – which could be a link to Smyth’s heritage or details of a unique ingredient. Head chef Jonny Bone tells us that the butter served with the bread is Virgin Butter sourced from the Isle of Wight, it’s soft and deliciously whipped and is the only one of its kind. Brummell was particularly taken by the skate served with sweet-tasting Morecambe Bay shrimps, swiss chard and brown butter – a small portion with an abundance of flavour – and the artfully presented pear and verbena tart, which looks almost too good to eat (almost). Some of the dishes on the tasting menu appear on the other menus too so whichever you go for, you’ll get to experience the best of Clare Smyth. And it would be a crime not to mention Gareth Ferreira, Smyth’s award-winning head sommelier, whose knowledge of wine puts you in seriously good hands when it comes to pairing each dish.
It’s obvious Smyth and her team don’t just know food, they enjoy it too. Smyth’s taking all the best bits of British cuisine and rethinking them so that, whether you grew up eating this sort of food or not, you will recognise each dish as definitively British. With Core, Smyth has created a restaurant that she would want to visit herself: ‘It’s how I like to eat and it’s how I like to go out,’ she says. And what better way to spend an evening than eating exquisite food while tapping your foot along to Sweet Child O’ Mine?
Lunch from £65 for three courses; Dinner from £75 for three courses; 92 Kensington Park Road, W11 2PN; Make a booking at corebyclaresmyth.com