London restaurant namers have seemingly succumbed to a dose of religion. We've recently written about our very satisfying trip to Magdalen (Ever since that meal I've said 'satisfying' every time I've mentioned the place). Then there's St Alban, which I'll hopefully be visiting shortly. One the way home this evening I passed (the terrible looking) Worship and The Prophet. And, if you're classical inclined, there's Bacchus. Now, there's Adam Byatt's new place, Trinity.
The ponytail-swishing, rugby shirt-wearing denizens of Clapham will surely be mightily delighted to have Mr Byatt back in their, um, village. He opened Thyme, his first restaurant, there in 2001 to such plaudits that by 2004 it had migrated North to the bright lights of the West End. Thyme did not scale up well, however, and the new Thyme became Origin. Trinity is a return to a smaller venue but a more ambitious style of cookery than Thyme offered previously.
I'd invited Harry, Melissa and Nick to try out the place with me on a Thursday night. When I arrived they were already tucking into cocktails at the bar. I'd been salivating over the menu all afternoon so swiftly cajoled them to our table. The menu reads beautifully and is themed around the notion of each dish having three ingredients . . . this would later turn out to be something of a simplification.
To start, Melissa had Cauliflower/Truffle Oil/Lemon. This was a cauliflower soup with truffle oil and a hint of lemon with parsley flakes as an additional adornment. Simple, satisfying, right. Nick had duck's hearts on brioche with rillete, green beans and some salad. This also came with a fried quails egg in the centre. Not so simple . . . I couldn't even decide where to focus my camera:
And look . . . that's salad and a green sauce of some kind and a sprig of thyme and some cornichons. On the complicated side. Nick found it highly satisfying nevertheless. Harry had a ham hock terrine that also raised a happy smile. I had a rather unusual mix - shredded oxtail with gnocchi and girolles covered with a rich oxtail broth and topped with a spoonful of truffled whipped cream. The individual components were delicious, but the best bit really came when there was only broth left. Evidence of imaginative, skillful cooking but, unusually for me I felt that less would have been more.
With the arrival of the main courses the style of the cooking became more apparent. Start with ambitious French bistro cooking and then add some earthy British influence. Relevant reference points here are St John (for sourcing, offal-friendliness and ur-Britishness). Add a fondness for decentralisation and complexity on the plate (see Tom Aikens for this). Add an infusion of modernist signifiers - foams, smears and unconventional ingredient juxtapositions (though here it's more the way they're put together). At this point you might also be thinking of the Champignon Sauvage . . . and if there's one restaurant I think Trinity wishes it could be, it would be there. Finally add some pomo deconstruction - dishes assembled so that individual components are exposed. I'll get on with describing the next course and maybe you'll see what I mean . . .
Harry had a boeuf bourguignon (beef/mushroom/red wine), but not as we know it. The beef did not come in small pieces as part of a stew, but rather as a large fillet. Alongside this were the ingredients that would normally make up the traditional dish, but presented separately. A nice touch was a piece of bone marrow topped with a dollop of parsley mousseline. The execution of the dish was beyond competent and Harry professed himself highly pleased. But can one surpass a traditional boeuf bourguigon for satisfaction? Melissa's dish did not have a traditional antecedent and, again, had quite a complex presentation on the plate. There was a fillet of seabass, seared skin-side. There was an oyster risotto sheltering under some kind of leaf and then some red onion confit. The risotto tasted startlingly aquatic and the onion was very sweet. So, the bass, at best, could only provide a textural background for these. Melissa was slightly unsettled and unable to balance the flavours in a convincing way as she ate the dish. Nick thought his dish represented honest, unpretentious cooking. Here it is, below:
The thing in the front is a fondant leek and this together with some morels and a cream sauce as accompanying a chicken breast. As you can see, there's probably more going on here than that. I had duckling/artichoke/hazelnut. The duckling was roasted and then presented in two separate ways: the breasts cleaved down the middle and looking like chops, the leg meat hidden under a fold of skin. An artichoke, split in two, nestled against the side of the duck breast. At the back of the plate, behind the duck, was some roasted foie gras - absolutely delicious. Embellishing the plate were some drizzles of duck jus, smears of parsnip foam and shavings of hazelnut. Phew! Now I like all that stuff. And all that kind of stuff. But really it was a bit overwhelming, like trying to have your duck and eat it.
As a pre-dessert, there was yoghurt with white chocolate with a spoonful of jam like strawberry puree, served in small kilner jars (Another Aikens signifier?). Good.
By dessert I was flagging and failed to finish my apple and blackberry trifle, I wasn't really at home with some unidentified chewy bits in the bottom of my dish. Nick and Melissa were very pleased with their desserts though. For him, a caramelised pear with tonka bean ice cream and for her, a chocolate pannacotta with blood oranges. With this last dish, there were fine slices of orange that had been dried with Grand Marnier, Melissa loved them and the kitchen was happy to provide extra.
The staff at this restaurant are good. They appear genuinely keen to help, they're enthusiastic and they're on the way to becoming completely competent. This is still early days for the restaurant and, for example, at some points our waiter had to go back and check with the kitchen what was on our plate (we really had to ask!). The sommelier, was approachable and knowledgeable.
In in all this came to about £70 a head and this included, pre-dinner drinks, a carafe of viognier, a bottle of our old friend Chateau du Cedre 2004 (some distributor in London is on to a winner here) and three glasses of dessert wine. They also do a tasting menu including drinks for £55.
So, all in all, I'd say it's too early to make a final decision about this place and I think it's certain to improve. The dishes need to calm down a bit and maybe look a bit less effortful. The fundamental techniques and the culinary ambition are there, maybe the cooking just needs a bit of time to reduce?
Trinity, 4 The Polygon, Clapham SW4 020 762 21199