The Jetty - Guildford
You know, the last restaurant that I reviewed in my hometown of Guildford closed down a few months later. It's now a Sardinian bistro. Kiss of death? Rather it reflects the precarious position of restaurants outside London. There is no question that once you travel beyond the M25, opening a restaurant that aspires towards a higher level of culinary excellence is a huge risk. Guildford is an affluent town smack bang in the middle of the stockbroker belt. It should be teaming with chichi bistros and feted restaurants, boast a Michelin star or two. Instead, too often menus can be summed up by the equation "x + chips" and you ask yourself "y" you booked a table. Alternatively the menu attempts to smash all the rules of cuisine thanks to their 17-year-old wunderchef whose signature dish of deep-fried pilchard and mango is yet to find a sympathetic audience. Forget all the celebrity chefs and Bake-Offs, the countless unread recipe books clogging up bookshelves and so forth. We Brits continue to shop at supermarkets, gorge ourselves on ready-meals and chuck-in-the-oven frozen food, therefore when it comes to fine dining there is less expectation than other countries where culinary excellence stretches from school canteen to rural bistro to destination restaurants.
Still, we live in hope. Recently, I noticed the opening of a new restaurant called The Jetty in the Guildford Harbour Hotel, its wine list indicating that it might be worth investigating. It is attached to a swanky-looking cocktail bar and so we thought a couple of sharpeners were in order, get us in the mood. This was an inspired decision because the cocktails were not only cheap but outstanding, in particular their selection of cocktails that gained fame in bars and hotels in times gone by. I opted for one of my favorites, the "Bramble," invented by mixologist Dick Bradsell at Fred's Club in Soho in the 1980s. A mixture of dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mûre. A twist on the "Gin Fix," it's the kind of cocktail I adore with just the right sweetness without being cloying or too conspicuously alcoholic. In other words, it is a lethal cocktail that can render you a bit "Oliver Reed" if you're not careful. Suitably lubricated, it was time to retire to the restaurant.
We began with some fresh oysters. I asked the waiter where they came from but getting an answer proved difficult. Hmm...not a great start, but the oysters were fresh and unlike in New Zealand (when after devouring a trough of oysters I caught food poisoning and vomited for 20 minutes in front of Nigel Greening at Felton Road), there were no consequences. Bonus. The crab croquettes with a trio of octopus was very good and that's saying something when you have a Japanese wife, always the most critical when it comes to seafood.
For main, the fillet of stone bass with creamy leek and bacon pie was one of those cozy, heartwarming dishes that you want to eat on a cold day. This was well cooked with plenty of creamy sauce that could have done with bread to mop up, since none was forthcoming. Hey ho. We also shared a mixed grill of fish that included skate wing, mackerel, mussels and cockles fished off the South Coast that came with fennel, tomato, lemon, herbs and garlic, and a "Jetty" seaweed mayonnaise. I inquired where the fish was caught, but...err...again, a reply was difficult to come by. Nevertheless the fish was nicely cooked if perhaps lacking a bit of pizzazz.
To finish, a passion fruit soufflé was perhaps the highlight of the meal: light and fluffy, beautifully balanced flavors and hey, when does passion fruit not taste delicious? The chocolate fondant with black cherry gateaux was calorific, but again well made, the tartness of the cherries neatly offsetting the richness of the fondant.
With regard to the wines, the list is satisfactory for this level of provincial restaurant with some well-chosen choices that I considered well-priced at the upper end. The Non-Vintage René Brisset Brut Champagne to start off with was simple but balanced, a pleasant sharpness if missing the complexity of a grower-champagne. The 2014 Albariño from Condes de Albarei was average to be honest. Maybe I am being picky because I tasted so many outstanding examples during my time covering Spain for The Wine Advocate. You don't have to spend much to obtain a top-notch Albariño and this was just a bit too anodyne. At that time they were serving Château d'Yquem by the glass. Why not? The 1999 is a decent vintage, not a top-league Yquem but served its purpose by offering regular punters a chance to experience an icon wine first-hand. It actually felt quite mature on the nose for a 1999, though the palate delivered the complexity you expect with gorgeous honeyed fruit that just exited a little too quickly. I was not about to complain though and it was a perfect way to finish the evening.
Overall, "The Jetty" just about passed the test. The restaurant has a lively ambiance and despite the waiters being a little vague, they were polite and service was punctual. Had I chosen another dish, I have the feeling that the quality might have been better. Still, I had no complaints. Perhaps that biggest impression had been that "Bramble" cocktail. Maybe time for another before the taxi arrived? No, best to walk out of the bar upright.
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