I had the chance to go recently for a nice week end for a bday with a big group in Torquay (Devon). What a nice opportunity, alongside wandering on the “marina” and catching the sun, to go and try the “Elephant” of Chef Simon Hulstone, no-one could have resisted.
The room on the 1st floor (akak THE ROOM) is really welcoming and large. Maybe the high ceiling would have deserved some noise reverb material (curtains, carpet) as to contain the echoes in the room. I would say that I’m glad we were on the big table as I can’t imagine the nightmare suffered by the couple on the alongside table. Somewhat it can be very embarrassing if you would enjoy a really romantic diner for two. But it was fortunaly not the case for us….we were the “stars”.
When we arrived on our big table I’ve to say, the view was really stunning, high ceiling windows with the view on the harbour. Superb, and especially as the sunset was slowly transforming the cute port of Torqay into almost a nice Turner painting frame. Sitting down in front of such a wonderful stage was a real treat I have to confess.
After taking seats around the huge table for 18 people, I started to feel the Michelin starred appeal. Nice table dressed up in a perfect style with nice candles. The series of glasses, the cutlery…all was nicely dressed up and I would say normal for this kind of level.
But let’s concentrate on the dishes and the overall quality of this restaurant. Among the long tasting menu consisting in five courses I would only develop seriously three of them, and mention briefly the two other ones for I think legitimate reason clarified below.
Let’s start by the first starter (or more to consider as a “mise en bouche”) which was impressive by the design and the colours. Mainly composed of beetroots cylinders dropped randomly on the plate, aside two mini square ravioli (or samosa) filled with nice goat foam. One of the ravioli was light and had the really strong flavour of goat cheese, certainly strong but not strong enough to get a real “wake up” call. On the other side, the yellow ravioli was unexpected and simply gorgeous. What a nice balance of softness from the goat cheese and the really strong flavour of truffle. On top of that, the curd was lightly perfume with elderflower adding some sweetness to balance the truffle. I have to say this dishes was somewhat perfectly balanced, however I would have expected more from the first samosa. But overall a nice success.
The second starter was the one I was waiting the most. Indeed I’ve to say Ham Hock is one of my “besting sin”, so I was already imagining something really ”high class” for this one. From the description as well, I would have imagine a nice ravioli “almost soft as a “dumpling” maybe and so soft at the same time that it would have melted in the mouth.
I’m afraid to say that, beside the fact that the flavour were quite enjoyable, I didn’t had any chance to found real “artistic” elegance in this dish. I would have imagined a kind of dumpling ravioli, stuffed with a “deconstructed” ham hock. Maybe some cream as well inside, or maybe pushing further by using some bone marrow. I would have enjoyed seeing the green cream from the pea velouté flooding into the ravioli forming a kind of painting in front of your eyes, the green and the white and the pink all mixed together in a kind of Opera. Maybe I was expecting too much. Reality is that the ham hock was dry when I’ve cut the ravioli (use your knife), hence the feeling on the palate, gravelly and dry. I think Simon would have more space to polish this dish in the future.
The two following dishes were overall well executed and I’ve to say, bizarrely, were for me part of the same kind of flavour group. This was mainly due to the fact that both purées were executed with parsnip and celeriac. Part of same family, with very subtle flavour, it can be easily be confusing, and even more when the purée is very rich in cream and butter. But the fish (halibut) and the duck were very well executed.
The Fish maybe was bit dry, but the verjuice (very young grape white vine vinegar) was helping in this particular case to moist the whole dish. I loved the lardo idea to balance the fishy taste. Great idea.
On the meat dish, the duck was perfectly cooked “rosé” and the sweet and sour combination worked perfectly with the “pain d’epice” (ginger bread). This was complex and subtle and really leveraged by the “duck reduction” (i.e. gravy) perfectly seasoned and rich. Garlic on the background and strong duck caramelised fat. Really nice.
To end up these food carnival, our host decided to swap (in advance) the regular tasting menu dessert (i.e. Passion fruit Cheesecake, vanilla, honeycomb, citrus) for a Chocolate experience, should I call that a kind of diversion on the theme of the “banana and chocolate” tart. Very risky temptation I would say here as if almost every one is usually a chocolate lover (except maybe me!!), not everyone like banana (it’s a fact). On the top of that, the dish was served with a nice scoop of Salted Butter ice cream, this is even more risky.
For me, not being even a cocoa lover, the chocolate was mounted literally as ganache (soft and solid at the same time, sitting on a layer of nice biscuit). The banana was double represented here, once with a very clever “lace” of banana, and at same time a banana purée (not really thin and beautiful I have to say) amazingly flavoury (almost like a dark rotten banana – but very tasty), and on top of that the “pacojet” ice cream, salty and creamy. Stunning mix, but some people where really “torn” by this sweet and sour union.
After a long and nice diner at the Elephant I would say that if I’m impressed by some really good idea, I’m somehow struggling to confirm if “yes or no” this place falls into the very special and private list of Michelin starred restaurant. Shall I compare the service, which we didn’t talked as yet? Here I would say is the downfall. The staff was young and inattentive. Some simple request took really long time (ask for butter!!??). and if I compare to numerous other restaurant of this level, this is just unacceptable.
From the pure appreciation from a foodie lover, I can’t say that it was a bad experience at all, just sometime the impression of having an “unachieved” powerful creator in the kitchen but somewhat not going to the maximum of his creativity.
I would recommend the Elephant overall as despite the negative point, I would say that it may remain the only good address within the “English Riviera”. So if you want to enjoy good food for reasonable price, I would recommend it.
But don’t go there with the expectation of reaching the level of one star of our big cities, this will not be the same.
The Room in the Elephant
3-4 Beacon Terrace
Torbay TQ1 2BH
01803 200 044