Review: Preston’s town center restaurant does foodie magic
As restaurant 263 in Preston town center recently entered the Michelin Guide, I decided to kill two birds with one stone by taking my 76-year-old mum Yvonne for a Mother’s Day treat while by studying it in an unnatural habitat. of his kitchen, and to report to Preston Blog readers.
The restaurant is located in Camden Place, next to Winckley Square, but we couldn’t find the building. After ten minutes of panicked passing, we phoned the restaurant and the manager had to walk down the street to wave us down. It was embarrassing, but I beat the only other option which was to run Yvonne up each of the walls in hopes that she’ll eventually come across Platform-Nine-and-Three Quarters-it in the magical world of Michelin so I can safely follow her in.
The unfazed manager took our coats and asked if we had any food intolerances before leading us to our table. The understated decor was casual and comfortable, without the tablecloths, crystal glasses, and lines of scrolled cutlery that may be off-putting to some while appealing to others.
The only option available this Friday night was the £70pp seven-course tasting menu or vegan equivalent, which meant diners had to trust the chef completely. In 263, those hands thankfully belong to chef director and MasterChef: The Professionals finalist, Oli Martin.
Read more: Masterchef runner-up to become Winckley Square executive chef’s 263 restaurant
The first course was a new season pea pie. It featured almond cream, lemon balm vinegar gel and what I discovered later was smoked eel. I have never eaten eels as I find them slightly awful and I suppose they would taste like carnivorous swamp, but there was no swamp in the little pile of peas. Just a bite of sweet, metallic spring pea flavor with a smoky, tangy undertone on a thin, crispy batter base. It worked as expected, taking the quilt off sleeping taste buds and handing them a green smoothie and a pair of sneakers.
Next dish was Goosnargh fried chicken with wild garlic emulsion. Dietary restrictions aside, who wouldn’t love the ultimate garlicky chicken nugget dip?
Spelled bread and cultured butter followed. The nutty flavor came from leftover spelled from Rivington Brewery, and the thin, crispy crust contained a surprisingly moist and slightly sweet interior that paired perfectly with the salty taste of the butter.
While we ate the bread we were brought the next course of sea trout tartare with radish, apple, cucumber and horseradish buttermilk and lovage oil.
The soft cubes of raw trout combined with English herbs and crunchy strips of fruit and vegetables were so delicate in taste and texture that they created a welcome break between other courses.
Then we were back in the ring with truffle potato pie, Leagram sheep’s cheese custard, allium jam, winter truffle and sweet onion sauce.
The restaurant manager who brought the pies boldly claimed that it was a butter pie like we had never experienced before. It was a gauntlet thrown down because I lived in Preston for 50 years and have collapsed around so many pie purveyors in Lancashire that I can’t even remember their names they’re just notches on my table.
It was an eerily sexy pie, crowned with truffle locks and a wispy negligee of a crust that immediately made me suspicious, because anyone who’s been offended by a Mr Kipling’s French Fancy knows, that’s what is inside that counts.
We were delighted to discover a dense filling of potatoes covered with a clog of wooden cheese which let us know we were still safe in Lancashire, and we can appreciate that if a young Sophia Loren was possessed by Wallace and Gromit and turned into a pie, that would be it. The sauce was also a relief, as charging £70 for a meal that lacks the lifeblood of the North is an act of aggression.
We are only halfway there. This is followed by North Sea cod, cream of mussels, dill oil and smoked cabbage. The strongest flavor was the cream of mussels, magnified by the scattering of mussels marinated in beer vinegar. It was a bit too mussely for me as I enjoyed the combination of the more subtle ingredients, but Yvonne was happy to eat mine so it all turned out fine.
Crispy lamb breast with anchovy mayonnaise, ramson buds and sea purslane came next. A hot piece on a skewer each. The taste of the lightly charred lamb with the salty taste of the anchovies was wonderfully mellow and set the stage for the next course of salted lamb loin, Wye Valley asparagus, black garlic, basil emulsion and of anchovy relish.
As a double A-side vinyl single from a favorite band, they were both enjoyed but it was a matter of individual taste as to which was preferred. The basil emulsion of the second course of lamb made it the star of the evening for me. I didn’t immediately recognize it as basil because although it was intensely fragrant, it had an almost floral smell. There was only one point, but it was best used in the same ratio as English mustard to beef, as more would overwhelm the perfectly cooked lamb.
The savory dishes were over and we moved on to the Woodruff parfait, forced rhubarb and rhubarb granita. I don’t like the phrase “forced rhubarb” because it always makes me imagine a hopeful young rhubarb stalk who wanted to be a sunflower or an actor before his dreams were dashed by parents who did. join the family accounting firm.
Yvonne explained that forced rhubarb meant the rhubarb was only allowed a few hours of daylight a day, so when it sees the sun it clings to it and tries to grow at the same time, so fast that people can actually hear it pushing. Now I imagine a shed full of rhubarbs, all screeching as they try to scream out into the sunlight. So thank you for that, Yvonne.
There’s nothing about rhubarb that isn’t wonderful; it’s like Tom Hanks. At worst it would be Turner and Hooch, but with the addition of Woodruff it was Forrest Gump. I had to Google Woodruff before going to a restaurant, but as long as the rhubarb was involved, I wouldn’t care if that meant a rare alpine sprite being squashed in the sorbet. Luckily, it’s just a weed that tastes slightly sweet with a hay tint.
Then there was a baked manjari chocolate mousse infused with hogweed seeds, salted yogurt sorbet and yallo rapeseed oil, which was the most magically chocolatey thing I’ve ever had. Sometimes things are so unbelievably good or so horribly bad that all you can do is quietly throw a one-word F-bomb at yourself. 263’s chocolate mousse has one. Avenham Park Pavilion Cafe’s vegetable soup got another one for totally different reasons.
Finally, there was a piece of salted malt fudge each. It was a perfectly good fudge, but it couldn’t keep up with the intensity of the froth, so it tasted mostly sweet. We nibbled but we didn’t eat it all because we wanted to enjoy the taste of the chocolate as long as possible.
£70 per person for a meal without drinks is not the cheapest. However, at 263 you get what you pay for. Everything about the restaurant is perfect and manages to be excellent without any pretense. From the welcoming and knowledgeable manager and staff to the tattooed chef in pristine whites coming out of the kitchen to discuss certain dishes with maximum enthusiasm and minimum pomp, 263 encapsulates the best of modern Lancashire food culture.
Read more: A food historian explores the rich culinary heritage of Preston and Lancashire in a new book
Wear your jeans or a tuxedo. Scoop out your Chicken Nugget and Garlic Dip with your fingers or switch to your Goosnargh Chicken and Garlic Emulsion with your fork. Buy the wine flight or ask for tap water. Mispronounce lectures, ask questions, and give feedback good or bad. This restaurant is all about the joy of food, and if that means the chef, manager and staff go after wild garlic and giant hogweed in Avenham Park, then that’s what they’ll do .
All reviews by Karen are made without the knowledge of the restaurant unless otherwise stated
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