Five Fields restaurant was mentioned to me in the way one might introduce a swingers’ party.
“You should go. It’s… Well, I’m not sure how to say it really. It’s… Erm… Well, put it like this… It’s… Oh, come on, you know. It’s… It’s… Don’t make me say it. Please… It’s… For the love of God, it’s… Don’t make me spell it out. … It’s… It’s… It’s fine dining.”
Fine dining is about as fashionable on the London restaurant scene as cholera (in fact, I have it on good authority that cholera may be having a moment some time in 2016, probably in the form of a pop-up in a newly gentrified Dagenham). And, make no mistake, The Five fields is fine dining. It has tablecloths and everything. I know: tablecloths. In this day and age. You may as well stick a portcullis over the front door and pour molten lead over anyone who asks to remove the service charge. Don’t panic, though: some of the food is still served on slates instead of regular plates. It isn’t the stone age.
The Five Fields, a moniker taken from the name of the area on some old map or other, is pleasantly compact; 40 covers a night – I counted 14 tables but I also consumed a bottle and a half of very nice wine, so don’t quote me – and it’s only open five nights a week. To make the sums work, it would have to be expensive. It is. And not reassuringly expensive, either. It’s more “will we have to re-mortgage the country pile, dear?” expensive. The tasting menu – eight courses plus extras – is £115 per person with matched wine. Sans wine it will still set you back £65 per person and even the table plonk costs the best part of £30.
It also looks expensive: it has sculptures along the walls and uses a colour palate consisting almost exclusively of shades of beige. I loved it. I rejoiced at the dearth of exposed brickwork. I was bowled over by the absence of chairs that look like they have been fashioned out of driftwood and twine. I marvelled at the lack of a live herb garden growing out of the middle of my table (although the restaurant does own a herb and vegetable garden in East Sussex).
It is run by Taylor Bonnyman, who used to work at the two Michelin starred Corton in New York’s Tribeca. Marguerite Keogh (formerly with Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley) is head chef and Chris Underwood (who used to work with Tom Aikens) is pastry chef. Between them, they have worked in kitchens in London, New York, Paris and Copenhagen. The menu at The Five Fields, though, is resolutely British, which is slightly disappointing given the effort made to sail against the prevailing winds of restaurant vogue in almost every other respect.
The crowd is – inevitably, given the combination of locale and price – extremely Sloaney, which is difficult to say without it sounding like an insult, because it is one: this is a part of the world in which it’s okay to wear Ugg Boots while carrying a designer handbag or pair Christian Louboutins with an Amy Winehouse headscarf.
The service is old-school, in that the waiting staff come to your table, ask what you would like to eat and then go away and tell the kitchen. There’s no sidling up to your banquette, putting an arm around you and describing in vivid detail about how they got drunk at the weekend and vomited into their shoe. It was a revelation.
First up was a rather pretentious palate cleanser of apple and sage juice, which tasted like someone had dropped a bit of Sunday roast into a cup of apple juice, but in a good way.
The Cornish crab was great, mixed through with coconut and coriander and topped with a spoonful of Devonshire caviar, which was in turn topped with a flake of gold leaf. This pretty much sums up The Five Fields: caviar isn’t grand enough, you have to give it an expensive hat.
The spring vegetables, from the aforementioned garden, were okay, as plates of fresh vegetables go, but even the addition of duck tongues didn’t make them particularly memorable.
The foie gras with rhubarb, yoghurt and granola was an interesting combination of textures that tasted better than it sounds. The pink shards of poached squab with black olive, though, floundered under the cloying sweetness of the strawberries it was served with: the low-point of the meal.
By this point, the length of time between courses was starting to verge on the unreasonable, especially given the size of the dining room. You don’t want to feel you’re being ushered out of the door if you’re spending a few hundred quid, but I started to suspect Godot was going to show up before the Yorkshire lamb.
When the lamb did arrive, it was just about worth the wait but was overshadowed by the incredible smoky charred aubergine it came with.
The strawberries and cream was only slightly more adventurous than its name suggests. It was served with champagne sabayon, which I had never heard of but turned out to be another way of spelling zabaione (a kind of light, whipped custard). It was nice enough but a bit of an anti-climax after some really outstanding mains.
The Five Fields is an anachronism; a place straight out of a time in which children were allowed to play out until 10pm without their parents worrying about paedophiles or social services. It is worth going for the food, which is as good as I’ve eaten this year, but speak to your accountant first: he may be able to cut you a good deal on that second mortgage.
First published in City A.M.