As many of you will know, I have a real disdain for cooking shows like Masterchef. They take enthusiastic amateurs and put them in scenarios they are never likely to meet, for what? Entertainment. Then there is the professional off shoot, it does a similar sort of thing to X-Factor where there are the ill educated glory hunters, who just want to be on TV & the path to culinary celebrity. They’re ridiculed, and rightly so in my opinion, on the social media, as they’re so often full of the two B’s – Bravado & Bullsh!t.
Anton Piotrowski was one of the joint winners of Masterchef the Professionals in 2012; his background is a smattering of places in the South Hams, Devon, & seven years in London, where the highlight seems to have been working under 2Michelin starred chef Phil Howard, at The Square. Now he’s the chef proprietor of The Treby Arms, just outside Plymouth.
Our meal was booked at short notice (in the afternoon), en route to Plymouth after our mini road trip, which took in the delights of Blunos & Sienna. It was to be a celebratory affair, Mummy A ( my mother-in-law) had received some great news concerning her job, and has mentioned on more than one occasion about The Treby Arms, so we thought it an ideal destination.
Arriving for our table, it was a dank & dark night, the welcome by the young staff was enthusiastic yet somewhat hurried. It became obvious that with the expansion of the upstairs restaurant in recent times, was stretching staff. We were shown to a large wooden table in the corner of the bar, which would easily have sat four, with plenty of space to boot, a complaint I hear oh too often that diners haven’t got enough room (Yes, Fat Duck, I’m looking at you).
The menu at The Treby Arms runs both lunch & dinner, and adopts an evolving style; meaning, one or two dishes will change rather than the entire menu. There is a wealth of choice with fish and meat choice well represented. There is also a six course tasting menu available, again both lunch & dinner, for £60 or £100 including a drinks flight.
There are some incredibly intriguing dishes, which makes picking a choice extremely difficult. Mummy A went for the suckling pig & black pudding terrine with toasted brioche; Mrs Hermes opted for pork cheek bolognaise, sage pasta, cheese foam & parmesan crisp and I chose the fried duck egg, girolles, tomato foam, fried bread & hash brown aka ‘Treby’s all day breakfast’.
The undoubted winner in the starters course was the pig’s head terrine, a beautiful balance of flavours & textures coupled with a drop of theater, which just put the other dishes in the shade.The pork cheek bolognaise was posh comfort food, but just failed to deliver in the flavour stakes, the normally bold sage (the pasta really didn’t taste of much) was nowhere to be seen, with the ragoût just about overpowering everything else. More over, the ‘All day breakfast’ was also pretty poor; texturally imbalanced with lots of soft, with nothing to provide an opposing crunch. The tomato foam wasn’t the colour or flavour of any tomato I’ve ever seen, but instead more the colour of a baby’s nappy. The richness of the duck egg was just lost & wasted, in fact this dish could have been so good, but wasn’t.
Having struggled to make a decision on which main course to have, I instead went for a large portion of the blow torched scallops. Mummy A again made an excellent choice with the sirloin of beef & Mrs Hermes opted for the cajun lamb.
Mummy A’s beef was rich and unctuous, again great comfort food and a nice use of props. Yes there were little niggles, such as the bone marrow really wasn’t that evident in terms of flavour, but all in all a success. Mrs Hermes is a sucker for lamb, often her first choice when we dine out, and she wasn’t disappointed. Lovely, succulent, tender eyes of meat; a decent mash and the last of the summer’s broad beans, with a celeriac purée and sweetbreads. It was seasonal and fresh, yet so moorish.
My scallops however were a different proposition. Yet again I felt I’d made a poor choice, but the dish intrigued me so. The two different styles of scallop alternated on top of the black pudding risotto, casually drizzled with a quickly collapsing milk based foam tasting of nothing. Blow torching scallops, WHY? what’s the point? And as for the panko versions, they were soggy & sullen. Panko breadcrumbs come in flakes & are famed for their resistance to absorbing oil when deep fried. So why would you grind them up to make a fine powder to coat the scallops? Again the modern classic flavour combination had gone awry with a relatively poorly executed dish.
We also added two side orders of runner beans with suckling pig & some triple cooked chips, both were very good, although the sucking pig really could have been just crisp chunks of bacon.
There is a choice of six desserts (ranging in price from £7.95 to £9.95) including the Masterchef award wining dish of ‘Treby’s gone carrots’. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, then worry not, for £9.95 you can choose five cheeses from a selection of ten, with a heavy influence from the South West of England.
The desserts chosen were: Mummy A – Treby’s gone carrots; Mrs Hermes – Chocolate caramel center; & myself – Blackcurrant parfait.
Mummy A was quite taken with her carrot cake dessert, lots of different layers and flavours, but did admit it was a touch on the filling/large side for her. Mrs Hermes was now starting to drift into the slightly disappointed camp; what was the chocolate the center of? The plate, possibly? Compared to stages of the meal her dessert seemed very ham fisted & clumsy. if you paired up any two of the component parts on the plate then they’d work together: Banana & chocolate; Yuzu & chocolate and so the list goes on. But since when does yuzu & salted caramel work together? The caramel was far too salty to work with anything, making it agressive to taste & dominating proceedings.
My dessert of blackcurrant parfait really was poor. The only part which remotely came close was the actual parfait itself; the sorbet hadn’t been churned properly, leaving it to be some kind of wretched cross between a freezer burnt sorbet & granita. The maceroon lacked flavour and technical proficiency and the brown butter powder was only there to say ‘look at what I can do’. It really was a pastry car crash.
Coffee & Petit four
It’s worth mentioning the coffee & petit fours, because it does actually demonstrate that when The Treby Arms actually get it right, it’s very good. A waiter approached the table with what can only be described as a retro looking wooden box filled with post meal goodies. There were sweets, lollipops & various macaroons. Both macaroons were very good, nice distinct flavours, so why was the one on my dessert so bad?
In conclusion – The nuts & bolts of it
A meal for three (3courses each), including pre meal drinks & £29 bottle of wine comes in at £182.25
It is good value for what you get, but, and it is quite a large but, it could be so much better. There is no doubting that the team at The Treby Arms would like a coveted Michelin star, as they display all the stereotypically touches; the swipes & smears of purées, foams & espumas, the eclectic catalog of different crockery for each dish and the burning desire to do something different for the sake of it. Amazingly, this week Michelin decided to award The Treby Arms a gong, adding it to such illustrious company as Gidleigh Park, The Elephant & Mason’s Arms in Devon.
My advice is to leave the magic white powders behind and just concentrate on the food, not every dish needs to have a foam on it, and if you’re really considering trying a new technique, ask yourself this:
Does it enhance the produce?
Maybe over time The Treby Arms will mature & be more relaxed about its food offering. Michelin have been pressing the line this week, that stars are all about the food. On the basis of this meal, it’s hard to see how they could justify that stance when talking about The Treby Arms.