Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s home, and also home to (the slightly less famous) Paul Foster. A rising star of British gastronomy, whose inaugural restaurant Salt is equally worth the pilgrimage for. Especially since it was awarded its third AA Rosette Award for Culinary Excellence and, just this month, Stratford-upon-Avon’s first Michelin star.
As his first solo endeavour, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Chef Paul Foster opened Salt in March 2017. And since then, the informal fine dining restaurant has gained a reputation for serving dishes that infuse his love of modern British cooking with flavours from the wild. A reputation that is enough to lure someone who rarely ventures outside zone 1 for fine dining, to look into booking an overnight stay to see what the fuss is all about. Leading us to discover a stylish little guesthouse, into the bargain.
With a refurb going at home, I’ve turned into a bit of an interior bore so, from the moment I stepped onto the slate, lavender lined pathway to Arden House, I was taking notes on how to get its luxe but cosy look. With antique mottled mirrors, Versailles herringbone parquet wooden floors and chic mushroomy ‘Pampas’ by Zoffany paint colour (yes, I asked) hitting the spot. While, as I type this review from my own home, I am enjoying the glow of pendant lights suspended over bedside tables with Carrera marble counters, dimmable by shiny gold light switches. All inspired by the Arden House interior.
Still warm from the oven sourdough malt bread with cultured butter, was served fast. Followed, by a steady stream of seasonally curated dishes from the Tasting Menu. Such as the carrot cooked in chicken fat, with crispy chicken skin, which has me salivating even to type it. (Although I did miss the actual chicken.) Hand dived scallop with pickled girolles that melted in the mouth, along with a fair few dishes that required at least one ingredient explaining, which I often consider to be a good sign of a chef’s creativity. Flavours in layers, all served on suitably rustic style chunky flecked crockery, made bespoke by local potter Mike Rundle (Had to ask. Told you. Obsessed).
Pre-dessert was a divine textural contrast of baked yoghurt with shortbread, followed by an insanely good smoky aerated chocolate, with tart raspberry sorbet. “All’s well that ends well”, with a meal of choreographed flavours that dance upon the tongue. And although we had eaten nine courses, we didn’t feel like we’d had “too much of a good thing” as we took the five minute stroll back to our charming B&B. To enjoy a cup of mint tea on the beige leather chesterfield. Before slipping into the crisp self stripe sheets of our small but perfectly formed double bed.
Aside from the delicious decor though, after a longish journey from the big smoke – the complimentary refreshments in the dining room were another highlight. Where, alongside self serve coffee from the industrial size Nespresso machine and selection of teas, a pantry sideboard is stocked with all kind of nibbles. With the posh kind of olives, wasabi peas and crisps, along with cheese straws and biscuits available for guests to help themselves to throughout the day. Dangerous. And I had to remind myself that the main point of this overnight stay was our dinner at Salt, so as not to get carried away with the snack station.
Salt is intimate and relaxed. Misshapen black-beamed Tudor rafters and flagstone slate flooring – which could easily pass as being centuries old, are juxtaposed against contemporary design details. Like the trendy chandelier type situation, with bare amber light bulbs hanging from a drift wood board.
The following morning, our humble bed and breakfast outdid our expectations with its menu. With freshly made smoothies and pressed clean, green juices, guests can order the likes of Severn and Wye smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, avocado and keta caviar. Or, as I did, wild mushroom and wilted spinach on brioche topped with poached egg and hollandaise. A decadent start to the day, before we headed to the nearby Mallory Court Spa. Interestingly, the hotel where the founder of Salt was formerly chef. Information learned from a release that just landed in my in-box to promote Paul Foster first cookery book, available to buy from 12th November.
In the book Foster talks of leaving his position at The Dining Room at Mallory Court to crowdfund his own restaurant through Kickstarter. Now, is it just me or are all the cool cats are crowdfunding these days? No doubt the book will be time a Christmas gift to one of his 605 backers. And although I considered popping it on my list to santa – I would rather pop back for another dose of Salt, from the man himself.
Salt by Paul Foster costs £39.95 and be available to buy from Salt restaurant: https://www.salt-restaurant.co.uk/salt-the-cookbook/
8 Church Street
58-59 Rother Street