So May the first was the first sitting of Gorse at Mrs Atha’s. The vegetarian tasting menu offered 6 courses (7 for us LIF passport holders! Buy one now!) focussed around exciting regional, seasonal produce. Sorry it’s taken so long to review, I’ve been killer busy this week!!
With only the space available in the tiny downstairs kitchen at Mrs Atha’s available to them, chef Rab Adams is working tiny miracles, step-by-step. Ushered downstairs into Mrs Atha’s basement, it’s even nicer than usual – Rab’s partner in crime Geoffrey, a Parisian ex-advertising man who’s decided to call it a day and presumably do something much more fun, has created a cosy candelit ambience dotted with belljars full of gorse. We take our seats and wait for the main event.
The first thing whisked over to us is chef Rab’s sourdough. A firm crust and yielding, aerated interior made for a yummy bit of bread to kick things off.
We sat in that tiny, cosy downstairs kitchen at Mrs Atha’s and somehow, unbelievably, it was peaceful. Chef Rab, his sous chef and Jeffrey were plating in calm (or so it seemed, at least), and front of house was left to a friendly New Zealander who was efficient but again, calm. She knew our names and whisked diners to teir tables in a well-orchestrated seating plan. It was impressive to see such control in such a limiting environment. Imminently she whisked over a stones-worth of “snacks”. And so it began.
The snacks were trying to play it cool but they were definitely “canapés” or “amuses bouche”. These were no run-of-the-mill snacks. A fragile nacho with goats curd and the spike of homemade harissa came first, followed by a squishingly soft avocado parfait wrapped in roasted sesame seeds, and finally a beautifully rich sable biscuit topped with local rhubarb and some Shropshire blue, if I remember correctly. The whipped softness of the avocado was a revelation in its delicacy. The only criticisms of this course – the sable was too small to get a real hit of that rhubarb against the cheese. Or maybe I just already wanted more, like the greedy guts I am.
Next came a bowlful of winter warmth. Yes, it was May, but the dark nights are still around us, and down in the cosy Mrs Atha’s basement it worked a treat. This was the epitome of comfort food – the earthy freshness of pureed celeriac topped with a viscose-smooth runny egg yolk and some strands of “celeriac pasta”. For me the celeriac “pasta” strands weren’t necessary, but I appreciated the desire to add texture and visual interest to the plate. But when something tastes this good you eat it with your eyes closed anyway, making inappropriate “mm”-ing noises. We’ve already recreated this at home, that’s how much I loved it.
Next, Spring was sprung. This dish offered up my first asparagus of the season, alongside vibrant, verdant peas and spinach. The textures offered by the combination of these three greens was superb – softly cooked asparagus with a bite to it, with a fresh zingy puree and a darker earthy spinach, and some wilting spinach. The rapeseed mayonnaise sat fatly on the side, adding the necessary butteriness to unite these greens in a celebration of Spring.
Next came “onions, orzo, beer”. The shrivelled, sugar-sweet onion skins tasted great and looked excellent, but the foam they held offered little more than aesthetic value, with only a very subtle taste. The soft chew of orzo was a nice departure from a more predictable nutty risotto or grain, and the mandolin-thin sheets of crunchy mystery veg on top (was it large radish?!) added a welcome bite. For me, the malty, hoppiness was the interest point of this dish, and it didn’t get showcased enough – perhaps a second, crunchy onion texture would cement it in the earthy, hearty pubbiness that I was looking for. Maybe that’s the scampi fries-commoner in me, but that’s the truth! It was, I think, trying to be more sophisticated and self-contained than that. I wanted a smack of Yorkshire pub chat friendliness but it gave a polite London cafe nod.
As Leeds Indie Food Festival passport holders, we were then entitled to an extra course. Exciting! This was a revelation to me. I have never been a fan of the odious, sulphurous brassica; boiled to death in its own devilish juices I can’t think of anything I’d rather not eat. But this worked astoundingly well. Somehow apple and cabbage married without that all-pervading cabbage smell. Somehow, they made cabbage fresh, exciting and Spring-like. Yes! I’m a convert!
We then transitioned to sweet, with a dish of mango, carrots and basil oil. The aromatic basil worked perfectly with the mango and carrots, with their insistent, cleansing flavours, and made this both look and taste exotic yet familiar. For me the yoghurt was misplaced – a throwback to what would traditionally need to accompany a dessert, rather than there for a reason. The fruits needed no creamy backdrop – their zing was so beautiful alone. The cacao nibs weren’t easy to taste, either, though I know they can give a beautiful richness.
Finally we had reached the final course, Gorse’s namesake – the gorse flower pannacotta. The dried gorse flowers sat amongst the oatmeal and added more than a visual kick; their gentle coconut scent was just about discernible and the crusty sugar edges added a welcome kick of sweet (think upgrading your muesli to granola, but not in such a miserable, “I’d-rather-be-in-bed” kind of way). For me this didn’t quite work texturally – partly because it was impersonating a deconstructed cheesecake. The integral parts were much more reminiscent of a cheesecake, so that the gelatine-wibble of a pannacotta seemed a little alien. It would perhaps work better as a simple, gelatine-free cheesecake, or perhaps perfection would be as simple as a plate redesign, with less oats, to make it work as a pannacotta. The individual tastes were lovely though – something about the sawdusty oats shot through with floral sweetness against rich buttermilk really did work.
And so ended our night at Gorse. This was the first meal (besides a preview) that they had undertaken here, and it was a sterling offering which seemed to have a clean, clear direction. No, not for one second did it even cross my mind that we weren’t eating any meat. This is the future of cookery; Gorse pays homage to the beautiful flavours that the local countryside and the current season offers, and that it so much more valuable. The ambiance was right, the set-up was right, and the food made me smile, gasp and “mm”. What more could you ask for, really?
Book quick – I think only 3 nights remain!!