It’s not that long since we last blathered on about this place, but the smart shirt from M&S bought for the last visit needs a few airings if one’s to get one’s money’s worth, so the Box Tree beckoned.
The full-mashings, fancy-pants a la carte’s still available through the day if you’re feeling all Rockefeller, but tight bastard-itis dictates that we stick to the 3 course, smudge-over-30-quid-a-head job on this occasion, which is erring on the ‘very reasonable, don’t mind if I do,’ in Michelin territory.
And while the a la carters on the next table were making all the right noises over what appeared, to our craned neck and snooping eye, to be precise, refined and elegant plates of food, the set-lunch options – though limited to a couple of choices per course – are heartier, faff-free affairs. Think high-end bistro simplicity, combined with Michelin level execution.
A boldly flavoured confit duck leg – rich, hefty and fibrous – does the job on what appears to be the first day of Autumn proper, helped along with some
mash pomme puree that’s as much butter and cream as it is spud, which can never be a bad thing. Braised red cabbage – a wodge of – adds a tart smack of crunch.
The other main – a crisp-skinned, cooked-on-point fillet of gilt head bream – just about fits on the plate, and does that weird fish thing of managing to be light but filling at the same time. The piperade beneath, (sauteed onion and pepper, innit,) is well lubed in glossy, grassy olive oil. If the duck was about embracing the autumn chill, this was a sojourn to sunnier climes.
Course there were starters, too; a warm salad of herby sausage with an egg whose yolk yielded oozily when scythed open for the money-shot; and an unctuous celeriac veloute, studded with smoked haddock, which sounds a bit old-school and probably is, but was tasty as frig, so long may it remain.
Souffle – raspberry, this ‘un – is a reminder of the classic techniques this place is renowned for. But sack that, it’s bloody moreish, more importantly, and had us scraping the ramekin bare.
Front of house are the eagly-of-eye pros you might expect, and amenably good-humoured with it, too.
The wine list is serious but contains, thank God, plenty of pronounceable bottles sub £30. Might be nice to see a half-bottle “sommalier’s choice” offer on the set menu, as per some other starry places. But, then again, who are we kidding? Bottle please.
Tip: the free tap water arrives looking fancier than the bottled stuff, so get amongst it and save some coin. You’re welcome. Everything else, though, is likely to be money very well spent.