This week my working lunches reached a new height at John’s House. I enjoyed the seven course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant in Mountsorrel.
True to it’s name, John’s House is very homely. Upon entering, the comfortable lounge was the first place we sat. Whilst perusing the menus we enjoyed a pre-meal gin and tonic. The list of cocktail specials sounded nice but did not take my fancy. So Monkey 47 and Mediterranean tonic it was. A fine appetiser.
Our server led us through the narrow halls of the converted 17th century farmhouse. It is a charming building, decorated with the unusual motif of alcoholic animals. The team of owners, sommelier and waiting staff was competent, friendly and attentive throughout.
Let the menu begin!
While we finished our gin, the first course came out. This truffle custard and toastie sounds simple. But POW – the flavour hit you right between the eyes. I am a massive truffle fan and this managed to be earthy, savoury, sweet and textured. On reflection, I think this was my favourite course of the meal. So well balanced. A full crescendo right at the opening of the meal. I hoped that the volume would hold that level throughout.
Along with the first course, we had fresh bread, baked that morning. Neither of us were great fans of the dark rolls. The rustic char was a tad too far on the burnt spectrum for our taste, but the other bread was light and delicious. Teamed with John’s House butter which is fresh and as light as air this was incredibly moreish. So we had some more!
The next course was another triumph. Fresh scallops, served raw, from the Orkney Islands. Served sliced and nestled against a duo of delicious sauces and what I assumed was an oyster crisp. This dish was again bursting with complementary flavours. The flavours were incredible. But I realised it was sometimes difficult to identify what each element actually was.
I’m not sure if that is a widespread trend in fine dining at the moment. The quality of the ingredients speaks for itself, but with creams and oils and powders does the customer always know what they’re eating. I’ll confess I didn’t, although I loved it all!
The next course was the absolute embodiment of this dining predicament. According to the menu, we were enjoying beetroot dumplings, smoked egg yolk, ox tongue and marigold. I could not have repeated that back to you while I was eating it. But it had a little theatrical sauce pour at the beginning. The dish was so attractive, full of colour and the most fun glassware ever. There was a lovely mixture of texture and temperature in the eating. But I didn’t really know what was what. Maybe I’m a bit of a low grade taster after all?
This is a big meal, isn’t it?
To go with the meal I selected a bottle of Grüner Veltliner by Bründlmayer. I hoped that it’s crisp fruit flavours would go well with the majority of the summery courses. Thankfully, the wine had enough fruit and structured acidity that this was the case. It was delicious and rounded in the mouth too which meant it would have drank well on its own! John’s House’s sommelier Pedro graced us with his company often throughout the meal. He is a wonderful character, and intensely knowledgeable.
Next up was the most amazing cod fillet. The fish was cooked to absolute perfection. It had a gorgeous crisp from the pan. The centre was sweet and moist. Simpy incredible. The only fly in the ointment was the passionfruit element which I found to be overpowering of the rest of the dish. There were delicate curry spices and of course the flavour of the fish to consider. So for me the tangy, acidic passionfruit – while tasty on its own! – was out of place here.
The main meat dish was Leicestershire Long Wool lamb from the farm with vegetable accompaniments. Again, the meat was perfection embodied. This dish married well particularly beautifully. However it was also the one that went least well with my choice of wine. Can’t win them all!
On to the desserts and we started with sweet peas, coconut, chocolate and water mint. This was BEAUTIFUL! The combination of pea, coconut and mint was an absolute winner for me. Forceful yet delicate. My only complaint (and bear in mind I am REALLY nit picking with criticisms here) was that they were a little too strong for the chocolate crumb element. While the crumb added welcome texture to the dish I was expecting a bitter, earthy note from the cocoa which I did not get.
The next course introduced me to my new flavour combo de jour. Cherry and liquorice. I know! What? It’s awesome! Nom nom nom just remembering this dish is making my mouth water. And we still had coffee and petit fours to go as well!
We went back down to the lounge to enjoy those, as we had finished our meeting and had been sat at the table for about 3 hours at that point. No doubt the staff were glad to see the back of us, with our notepads and our diaries and our never ending chitchat! I’ll be honest, the coffee was by far the worst bit of the meal. But I am a bit spoiled with good Italian coffee.
You will note that our sweets included a homemade jelly. Just as when we dined at The Olive Branch, I still don’t think this makes a good match with coffee at the end of the meal. But the truffle was dark and rich with the bitterness that you hoped for. I would have preferred two of those to be honest. Or three.
So, should you believe the hype? Is our local Michelin-recognised offering all it’s cracked up to be? The answer is a resounding yes. I’ve thought for years that while Michelin stars are all about the food, without a staff that is up to scratch the food will lose its charm. John’s House has it all – warm, witty, unpretentious staff. Staff with amazing knowledge about the food they are serving. This includes every detail of where it is from and how it is made. Team members who take a genuine interest in how you are enjoying your meal. People who ask your opinion and listen to your response. I loved it, and have rarely felt so at home on my first visit somewhere.
The tasting menu was like a beautifully crafted symphony. Course after course of thoughtful food. Delicious highlights and interesting accents. Oh, and just enough to leave you not wanting any tea that night, but not so much as you get painfully full. Those wanting a slightly less time consuming lunch can enjoy the set menu for £30, which represents fantastic value in view of the quality. Bargain.
And the food. Oh the food. Trust me, every complaint I have made here can be called picky to the point of being obtuse because the meal was stunning. A real theatrical journey. I love their devotion to the seasonal products of the farm. I’d love to see how this translates to the winter menu. I’d love to eat there for any reason really. I wonder if they’d mind if I moved in?
John’s House did not know I would be writing about my visit (although I imagine restaurant GM Martyn probably guessed!)