Sienna, in the sleepy market town of Dorchester is one of those rare commodities; a labour of love. When I’ve spoke to people in the past about it being one of the World’s smallest Michelin starred restaurants, at 14 covers, they ask me how does it makes any money. The answer is, the hard way. There’s is no doubting that the garnishing of a Michelin star in 2010 almost certainly saved Sienna in its current form, such is the draw of the French tyre maker’s accolade.
As part of our mini road trip, which had seen us eat at Blunos in Bath the previous night. We descended on Dorchester as an overnight stay before heading off to Monkey World the following day and Sienna has been on the dining list for a long time.
Located just behind a bus stop on the main street, Sienna is run by husband & wife team Russell & Elena Brown. I have to say, it really is tiny, something akin to your lounge at home, with a well stocked bar in the corner. But don’t let this deceive you, there are big surprises in small packages.
For dinner there is the choice of the 7course tasting menu (to be taken by the whole table at £65 each) or the 3course a la carte menu at £45 each, which has 5 choices at every turn.
Whilst we were still making our choices, some canapés arrived. There was a traditional hummus, warm leek & blue cheese tarts & goat’s cheese bon-bons which had been rolled in dried morel powder. They were all of the highest calibre, but the bon-bons were the real star of the show the different layers of flavour were sublime. Firstly the earthiness of morels then the freshness of the goat’s cheese, combining to a really unusual combination.
With Elena jotting down our order, the bread duly arrived
In some ways the bread basket typified the evening; technically very good, none of this theatre or pantomime, just flavoursome brown & white breads served with a good slab of what looked like Longman’s butter.
To really kick the meal off we were served a chargrilled sweetcorn soup with a whipped bacon cream. Whilst the cream was really subtle, the soup was sweet & silky smooth with charred kernels nestling in the bottom. As a pre starter it was just the right amount, but as a starter in itself it would have been far too much.
With veal being such a divisive issue at times ( mainly to the ill education of those anti), it’s good to see a chef like Brown bucking the trend, and supporting local businesses to boot. Mrs Hermes loves a good potato salad, and lapped up the veal even more. Commenting on how the lemon gel worked & how many chefs would have played it safe with something like a granny smith purée to achieve the same effect.
Again yet another brave dish by chef Brown, I love panzanella style salads. It’s a great way to use up the previous days bread, without compromising standards. Again, Brown ties together bold flavours effortlessly, creating an absolute classic summer dish.
As is customary when we dine out together, there is the tasting of each other’s food. Usually, whilst we’ll acknowledge that the other made a good choice, we’re generally happy with our own selections. For the first time in a long time chef Brown’s food caused some kind of competition; which was best? The pork cheek lasagne or the rib & red pepper ragoût; yes, the pork cheek had it on looks. It was dainty, defined and with precision a good looking addition. But the ragoût had it on taste, it was so moorish that I’m surprised that Mrs Hermes actually got to taste any.
Although garnishes to the main proteins on the plate, which incidentally were also very good ( the crackling imparticular, so I’m told), they became the stars of the show. Don’t get me wrong, the beef & pork were both excellent, tasty & clearly nurtured during cooking, with the polenta on the beef dish being beautifully smooth, but I’d have been happy with just the polenta & the ragoût.
Being chocolate lovers, we both decided to go for the chocolate delice. This again reinforces the ethos behind chef Brown’s food; it’s indulgent yet balanced. The delice had a slight twist in that the sponge was warm, hence the reason for thickness. Again, you’d want more, but knowing that you’d probably over indulge, such is the addictive nature of the food at Sienna.
As much as I like a cheese course, and love the theatre of the trolley, chef Brown’s selection is an excellent choice, which comes pre cut & appropriately garnished. The reality is Sienna is a small operation & a cheese trolley just isn’t practical. But the Brown’s cut their cloth accordingly and offer a great alternative.
In conclusion – The nuts & bolts of it
Eating at Sienna is a charming experience, service is lead by the delightful Eléna, who really knows her stuff. Where as some chefs are bound by a type of cuisine, Russell clearly cooks food he’d like to eat. Yes, there are leanings towards French & Italian styles, but this is what the Browns are about. Classic, clean flavours with modern touches. If you’re expecting whizz, bang fireworks with a dash of liquid nitrogen because of the French tyre makers gong, then don’t go. Go because you’ll get great food, reasonably priced in an intimate setting. At only seating 14 people reservations are tricky, but not impossible to get. We dined on a Thursday night, because Wednesday was full, surely this shows the demand for the quality that the Brown’s are producing.
Total cost for dinner was £172.70 including an optional tip, a ½ bottle of Chateau Musar, a bottle of Dr Loosen Riesling and an optional extra cheese course. I still feel that this is incredible value for money and at lunch time their offering is even cheaper with 3 courses costing only £28.50