Food 2011 – Halibut, Eat at 23, Buckingham, Brackley

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Saturday, 5th February 2011 – Halibut, Eat at 23, Buckingham, Brackley

It started out normally enough in that I went running first thing (4 miles at a gentle pace), but it got away from us a bit after that. We had always planned to head for Buckingham and a trip to Halibut to stock up on fish (once I’d established that we only had a solitary kipper occupying the piscine side of the freezer), and once there it seemed churlish not to stop for lunch, because they do provide an excellent lunch (£15.00 for three courses). We got there early and found parking was not an issue, as the formerly free car park now costs £1.50 for 4 hours. You wouldn’t think that would be enough to put people off, but it seems to have done. We wandered into Halibut and reserved a table, then ordered our fish (scallops, tuna, salmon, fish cakes, bream, mackerel) and had them bag it up and shove it in the fridge while we wandered round trying to complete a couple of minor errands. It was while we were doing this that we wandered into the new cookshop and wine stockists opposite Halibut, Fine Wines of Buckingham. They did indeed seem to stock some very fine wines, and although we didn’t buy anything, we did have quite a long chat with the very charming Katie, who informed us that the owner was opening a new restaurant in Brackley later in the day. Now as Brackley can best be described as a culinary desert (and that’s if we’re being kind) we were interested to hear more. When it turned out the executive chef had done stints with both Heston Blumenthal and Pierre Koffman, interested became intrigued. We took some details, eyed up a sample menu and decided we’d pop across to Brackley and take a look at the place after we’d had lunch.

We started as we meant to continue at Halibut, with a Kir Royale while we studied the lunch menu:

The four tiny cheese straws that arrived, with a small dish of olive oil and balasamico, were brilliantly executed, just crunchy enough to be interesting without becoming shrapnel when you bit them, they melted in the mouth and were incredibly moreish:

We moved on eventually to starters, with Lynne opting for an unctuous cullen skink soup with garlic toasts…

I attempted to take a healthy slant on it by opting for the prawn and squid ceviche, though the lemon oil probably wasn’t helpful in that respect!

It was delicately complimentary to the seafood though, and as the portion was sensibly small, it probably didn’t do too much damage on top of a 4 mile run…

Next up was a langoustine and crab ravioli for Lynne, with a delicious crab bisque sauce (which I know is partly my fault – Zakima and I discussed this in detail after I went to Le Manoir for my cookery school day and I know she was keen to introduce something similar to their menu) – and very good it was too if less rich than Mr. Blanc’s take on it.

Meanwhile it was salmon kedgeree for me, again beautifully done with subtle but lively spicing, and again not too enormous a portion.

The result was that I was able to manage a dessert, the sublime “tea and biscuits” which consists of two tiny but incredibly rich fingers of millionaire’s shortbread, and a scoop of bergamot, orange zest and honey ice cream. I love this and it’s interesting to see how it has developed, as I ate it the first time they put it on the menu to test it.

Anyway, from there we headed home via Brackley, where we looked in the window of the new restaurant, and then stuck our heads inside to take a look round. The owner showed us the space – which really didn’t look ready to open at that point – and persuaded us that we should come back in the evening and at least have a glass of Champagne.

We decided it seemed like a good idea and around 8pm we wandered over to Brackley one last time and settled in with a glass of the promised fizzy stuff.

It’s fair to say the space was looking far better by this point, although some of the little details still needed attending to. The dining area looked really nice:

Menus were proffered and studied, and we perhaps sensibly decided that we couldn’t possibly eat a full meal and would instead settle for a cheeseboard between us – when it arrived it looked like it was just as well we’d only ordered one. It was huge… and the cheese was very well-kept, and was wonderful, especially the Epoisses, which was developing a personality of its own by the time it hit our plates.

The bread that we were offered with it was pretty damn impressive too, some sort of poilane sourdough affair, with a wonderfully crunchy crust and a chewy centre. We slowly worked our way through it, with another glass of Champagne, and booked to go for lunch next Sunday before we left. It has the potential to be excellent so it’ll be interesting to see how it develops. Tuesday nights sound especially good, where apparently there will be a no choice three course menu for £12.00, which could well be the bargain of the year, food-wise.


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