Since the pandemic started, Fiona and I have basically stopped eating out. We figure that in the risk/reward calculation, spending hours in a roomful of strangers in exchange for more convenient and slightly better food that you can make at home or get from a takeaway is generally not a trade worth making.
But there are exceptions.
Last Saturday, we finally had a long awaited and twice postponed meal at Purslane, a delightful small restaurant in Cheltenaham. Figuring that we don’t eat out often, so we should make the most of the times we do, we ordered the full tasting menu, at an admittedly eye-watering price, and concluded that it was well worth every penny.
It nominally consists of seven courses. But in fact there are two pre-starter courses before you get on to course one, and also coffee and petit fours at the end — plus in our case there was an extra secret course in the middle, which made it up to eleven.
Above us the first undocumented pre-starter, which goes by the humble name “snacks from the kitchen”. It’s two kinds of delicious bread with taramosalata, seaweed bread, and pea purée bites with grated smoked salmon. Below is the second undocumented pre-starter, the chef’s signature take on fish and chips with mushy peas.
From here on, I’m just going to show you photos, with the descriptions from the menus.
Galacian octopus, lardo, Isle of Wight tomatoes, wild garlic, monksbeard, romero peppers:
Cornish lobster and old spot pork terrine, boudin blanc, smoked heritage carrots, sweet cicely, apricot ketchup:
Scottish halibut, broad beans, violet artichokes, grelot onions, Summer turnip, oscietra caviar:
Undocumented secret course: breadcrumbed and deep-fried sweetbread (pancreas) from I don’t remember what kind of animal:
Shropshire rose veal, rump and shin, courgettes, girolles, Single Gloucester, Summer truffle.
At this point my camera ran out of charge, so we we had to switch to Fiona’s, hence the less good photos. Oh well.
Selection of British Artisan Cheese, fig and hazelnut bread, wheat wafers, hedgerow jelly, grapes, celery:
Wye Valley blueberries, cotswold wild flower honey sponge, Dorset yoghurt:
Valrohna 64% Manjari chocolate, Herefordshire cherries, almond, woodruff ice cream:
And to finish, Coffee and petit fours:
Let me remind you, this is one meal, not just photos of lots of different things from the menu. Even though no one course is big, It’s a lot of food. Happily, we’d planned ahead and semi-starved ourselves throughout the day. Even so, by the time we’d finished the blueberries course, Fiona was saying she was stuffed and the wouldn’t be able to eat any more. Then the final dessert arrived and she polished it off with no visible difficulty.
I highly, highly recommend this experience. It’s the third or fourth time we’ve had the Purslane tasting menu, and it’s been a sensation every time. Pretty much every course is a delightful surprise, almost always much better than the menu makes it sound.
I am so glad this kind of thing exists. I can’t eat a meal like this without thinking of Douglas Adams’ three states of civilization: survival, enquiry and sophistication, characterised by the questions “How can we eat?”, “Why do we eat?” and “Where would be a nice place to have lunch?”. I am deeply grateful, despite everything that’s going wrong with our dumb country, that we live in 21st Century England rather than almost anywhere else in space and time.