I NEED some night vision goggles. Maybe it’s old age, but I’m finding it hard to see in the dark. I first noticed this as I stumbled along Drumsheugh Gardens.
I’m not sure if they’re using energy-saving bulbs in the streetlamps along here, but it’s murky. I tripped over a food composting bin, before mistaking my partner for a traffic meter and attempting to post a 50p coin into his slot.
There is, however, a reassuringly warm glow of light from the Georgian townhouse that is The Bonham hotel, at the inner crook of this street. It’s cosy inside too, though we weren’t sure about the spotlights in the otherwise elegant, walnut-clad dining room, as they illuminate one’s frownlines a treat.
But maybe this is the sort of place where you go to be seen. There were, after all, women in fur, heels and gold, not to mention an elderly man boasting a David Gest hair-dye job and a full-length leather coat.
The new head chef here is Maciej Szymik, whose CV includes the Marine Macdonald Hotel in North Berwick. His menu features lots of seasonal goodies, and is experimental enough to make you go “ooh”. Pre-starters were a slightly revolting-sounding brown onion soup with cottage cheese foam, presented in mini-cups. It was pleasant though – chutney sweet, with crispy croutons and a creamy bitterness from the snowy froth.
For my next course, I opted for wood pigeon breast (£8.95), artfully assembled on a large slate. Sadly, this was a sinewy piece of meat, and 78 per cent of it ended up being decanted into my napkin – a shame, as the non-gristly bits were dreamy, alongside a silky celeriac purée and a few fig segments.
Our other starter – crab and salmon cannelloni (£8.95) – was a sunshiney dish. The cannelloni tube had been created from cucumber, as opposed to pasta, and was packed with a pale pink frothy-light fishy mixture that had a hit of high-kicking horseradish. It was topped with transparent discs of radish, and fringed by a pool of basil oil and demi-frozen cottage cheese. We likey.
Planets aligned when it came to our mains. My roasted venison loin with chestnut and truffle purée and game jus (£22) lacked the middle, Christmassy-sounding addition. Instead, the deer was presented on top of a burly mixture of chopped cabbage and lardons. Fab, and I was also rather smitten by the surprise cameo of an earthy sweet beetroot pave, which was like a mille feuille, with razor thin leaves of this magenta root vegetable. Mind, if you’re not in the beetroot fan club, you might be cheesed-off by its appearance.
I get the impression, considering that the menus outside, inside and online are all slightly different, that Szymik is experimenting as he settles into his job. Either that, or he likes to tweak the food list with the best of the produce his suppliers give him that day. Whatever, it’s probably best to let customers know in advance what they’re going to be eating.
The fillet of cod (£18) was pretty much as billed, although, happily, it also featured a huge stack of samphire, with that zingy green flavour that’s somewhere between asparagus and caper. This was doused with a Kermit-coloured parsley foam, and a risotto made from tiny potato cubes that were blackened with squid ink. Smashing.
My pudding – fig roll (£7) – was slightly different from its billing. The “almond and fig macaron” addition seemed to have gone walkies. I did, however, love the fig rolls, which were upended onto the plate and featured that nostalgia- inducing combo of jammy fruit wrapped in buttery crisp pastry, while, the accompanying almond gingerbread ice-cream had a luxe texture, with a slightly medicinal all-spice taste.
I’m not sure about the white gluey squelch that was spread onto the plate, I think it was there to add a visual backdrop to the black slate. “Leave it out,” as EastEnders’ Frank Butcher would say.
The pumpkin oil cake (£7) consisted of a nutty-tasting financier, with a piped-on roof of orange icing and toasted seeds. Gorgeous. On the side was a scoop of satisfying dark chocolate and pumpkin ice-cream, as well as a wobbly green and orange pannacotta, which resembled a Zippo’s Circus tent.
I wasn’t sure about the TCP-esque tarragon and pumpkin flavours of the latter, but it was fun anyway. I think that, with a bit more refinement, the food here could be rather illuminating.
Head to Drumsheugh Gardens and, if you’re not wearing your night vision goggles, just follow the light.