• Hilary Scott

L'ortolan love

I've not visited l'ortolan for some time so with one half of H&D having a birthday we decided their spring lunch offer (£89 for two) would be a good time to revisit.

It has not changed - still the beautiful wisteria-covered building, the cool dining room and the sumptuous bar area and conservatory.

Heart shaped scrapings from a lovely l'ortolan dessert

And, yes - the food is just as good as it ever was.

Stand-out dish in this 6-course menu for me was the sea bream - a large slab with the crispiest of skin on top of a silken potato puree with a preserved lemon sauce, fennel chargrilled so it was sweet and sticky, samphire and tomatoes with a hint of smoke. Sweetness, smokiness, silkiness - superb.

Sea bream with crispy skin, potato puree, a lemony sauce and smoked tomatoes

The attention to detail had started with our canapes - a ceviche of fish on top of a tortilla-chip like base, pork belly cubes with a crunchy outside and a wasabi flavoured puff with cheese.

Canapes served in a box filled with wild rice

Then our chef's appetiser of a sea-green leek and potato veloute, the grassy colour miles away from the usual pale pallor and the taste was rich.

A thick slab of ham hock was flavoursome and salty and set off by carmelised pineapple cubes and beer jelly, pineapple gel and crispy crumbly popcorn-like morsels.

Ham hock terrine with carmelised pineapple and beer jelly

Then came the aforementioned sea bream before our cheese course - slicks of goat's cheese with assorted beetroots coked in different ways or raw, beetroot gel, truffle shavings and a shiny cheesy wafer. The picture you see is Camembert and not goat's cheese as the kitchen took into account Dijana's dislike of goat's products.

A cheese course with beetroot

A pre dessert took me back to childhood and I wanted more than this dinky dish of pineapple foam with a slice of a Caramac-like bar and a coconut ice cream.

Then the strawberry dessert which popped with summer flavour - a strawberry parfait smothered in crunchy dehydrated fruit with gariguette strawberries, a basil and strawberry sorbet, meringue sticks and Italian meringue smears, strawberry gel and jelly which is probably where the champagne came in.

Strawberry parfait with meringue and sorbet

Oh and we had a slate which said happy Birthday, written in what looked like icing or condensed milk - I was told it was bad form to try to eat it so we struggled from our chairs and went to the conservatory and instead of coffee treated ourselves to espresso martinis.

Espresso martini

As others had coffee around us with plates of gorgeous looking petit fours, we asked the waiter if they only came with the coffee. He said this was so but within minutes manager Sylvain arrived to say we could have a takeaway little bag of salted caramel truffles.

It's the little details that stand out isn't it? And that is precisely what l'ortolan and head chef Tom Clarke are decidedly good at.

* The spring offer menu is on until April 30. Call 0118 9888 500 or see

#lortolan #review #Shinfield #TomClarke #seabream #birthday


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