Restaurant review: Sorrel, Dorking
PUBLISHED: 15:32 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 December 2017
To many, building a kitchen in a glass box might be considered one of the first signs of madness. When Surrey Life caught up with super chef Steve Drake in January, however, that was exactly what he was planning. He got his wish. Matthew Williams grabs a table at his new restaurant, Sorrel
In January, I stood with chef Steve Drake painting dreams on the walls of a 300-year-old building in Dorking for an exclusive SL interview. The place had an instant charm but was a complete shell and freezing.
Chief among the Michelin man’s dreams was moving the kitchen upstairs into a modernist glass cube that extends from the ancient beams, but he was so worried that planners wouldn’t share his enthusiasm that he didn’t want that plan published.
While the process took much longer than he’d hoped, due to the complexities of the listed building and his team’s meticulous attention to detail, Sorrel eventually came to life in October 2017 – and its open-plan, glass box kitchen is pride of place.
I’ll avoid going into Steve’s story in too much depth but suffice to say he has become known as Mr Surrey around the local fine dining scene thanks to his work at Drakes on the Pond and Drake’s over the years.
Holding a Michelin star for the best part of 14 years, you can only imagine how a full year without a restaurant felt – he must have driven his friends and family crazy, but at least it helped us to persuade him to judge chef of the year (an award he has won twice previously) at the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards.
I met Steve at the soon-to-be Sorrel back in September, when the furniture was still packaged as delivered. You could see the eagerness, hunger and impatience in his eyes. He was in the finishing straight and couldn’t wait to get over the line to showcase his latest creations with head chef Richard Giles and the team, who’d been patiently waiting for the finishing touches to fall into place. Suffice to say that Surrey’s hopes and expectations were high, but then so were his…
Journey into imagination
Having seen Sorrel transform from an idea with no location into a building site and then through to the first ‘finished’ photos, I couldn’t wait to get in to explore the experience. As soon as you arrive, it’s clear they haven’t held anything back in their efforts to build mystique and magic. Romantic candlelight draws you in from the night, up the drive and towards an ethereal cube on the first floor of a building that is otherwise all chocolate-box pretty red brick and wooden frames. Entering the cube, you discover a modernist greenhouse. I’m told that the plants here are tended by Kingfisher Farm Shop in Abinger Hammer, which is just down the road from Steve’s home these days.
Another few steps and you’re suddenly into a cosy reception where you’re greeted not only by a warm welcome but your first glimpse of the open-plan kitchen and a striking fine art photo by Gina Soden, which is aptly entitled Control Room. Out of the cold and straight into the heart of things, then.
While there’s a private dining room and small bar downstairs, the soul of Sorrel is all on this one floor: to the left the modern kitchen in its glass box and to the right its complete juxtaposition of classy fine dining among old English wooden beams.
We settle down at a table with a view through the corridor to the ‘pass’ and enjoy a glass of Nyetimber. A neatly folded green envelope sits on the table and reveals the evening’s menu. The setting is intimate and cosy and, with the kitchen only a few short steps away, there’s an exciting immediacy.
This is further aided by the relaxed manner of the front of house team. It’s still very early days, but they seem to have taken to their surroundings with a knowledgeable flourish and a touch of humour when the moment allows. It suits the place.
A taste of Sorrel
So, the food then. After all, that’s the picture to truly fill this frame, isn’t it? Is there substance to match the style? Well the snacks titillate and the brioche, in particular, almost floats off the table with its light and fluffy texture, but it’s when the pumpkin mousse arrives that things really take off. It’s autumn in a bowl and absolute heaven mixed through with candied nuts and hits of parmesan.
Next up is a humble celebration of the scallop – presented as an island among mushroom milk, which hides a parsley and garlic surprise under its ‘waves’.
It’s always a good sign when I can’t quite work out my favourite dish but one contender is certainly the 21-day aged raw venison with bitter orange, dried watercress and smoked egg yolk. It’s ‘eat the season’ but where venison is usually a warming walk through the woods, this whisks you off on more of a magical mystery tour. I loved it.
I’ve long since got over my childhood distaste for beetroot (think plate staining chunks of vinegary mush) but there’s a delicacy to the next dish that still makes me wonder how I could have ever caused such a fuss when people dared place a jar in my vicinity. Playing off earthy Bosworth Ash cheese from Staffordshire, the salt-baked beetroot stars with subtle accompaniment from Douglas fir (Douglas Fir and The Beets may have been a Scottish skiffle band for all I know – if not, it should have been) and compressed apple.
Sylviane’s eyes had been on the red mullet with turnip, sage and fish bread since she’d unravelled the menu and it didn’t disappoint. Beautiful punchy fish, and I could have spent the rest of the evening wiping plates clean with the fish bread.
I’d seen plenty of social media mentions of Steve’s experiments with Etherley Farm duck and couldn’t wait to see what he’d done for the November menu. Sourced from just six miles down the road, the duck was divine with fragrant Moroccan-inspired mushroom couscous and the addition of a playful liver meringue on the side. Looking a lot like a cherry bakewell, the tartlet of Barkham Blue, rosewater gel and tarragon came and disappeared in one tasty mouthful.
As our journey of discovery draws towards its close, a word on our sommelier, Sazan Aljija. His wine flight selections throughout the evening came with a calm charm and always worked pleasingly in the background rather than wrestling for attention.
Finally, hibiscus ice, cinnamon mousse, pear and Pedro Ximenez syrup and then figs, tea and broken biscuits with Guinness ice cream brought things to a close – the latter inspired by a favourite from Steve’s childhood (the biscuits that is, rather than Guinness).
Star in the making
If it’s not immediately obvious, I left Sorrel even more excited than when I entered. When I’d spoken to Steve for the SL interview he said: “Once we’re up-and-running, hopefully that will mean there’s another great restaurant in Surrey.” It was a humble ambition and, suffice to say, even at this early juncture, it seems he’s on his way to achieving that. As he admits though, he’ll be keeping his feet on the ground as there’s plenty of hard work to come. With The Latymer and The Clock House joining The Tudor Room with Michelin stars this year, Surrey foodies are understandably excited about what the future might hold with Sorrel added to the roster. Fortunately, Steve and his team are pulling no punches.
What we ate
9-course Discovery menu, £90 per person
Wine flight, £75 per person
Note: A three-course lunch costs from £35