Andrew Scott of Restaurant 56
"The beer-fed Dexter is just amazing. It comes from Yorkshire, and the cows drink eight pints of beer a day."
If I asked you to picture which flavours a top-flight chef would take his inspiration from, what would you imagine? Perhaps black truffles from the Périgord region of Western France? Fragrant, cold-pressed olive oil from Puglia, maybe, or authentic kimchi from a sojourn around the Far East?
“Bird’s custard powder,” Andrew Scott enthuses. “Dandelion and burdock, Shandy Bass, parma violets.” As Executive Chef at Restaurant 56 in Faringdon, Andrew knows a thing or two about lofty haute cuisine, but his arsenal of flavours extends from the simple to the insane.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia that runs through my menus,” he explains. “We've been inspected by Michelin a couple of times, and during their last visit the inspector had a full walk around. When he got to the dry stores he saw a bag of Bird's custard powder, and he said ‘Andrew, why have you got Bird's custard powder?’” A fair question, perhaps, for a high-end restaurant chef, but rest assured that Andrew isn’t serving up readymade custard in Restaurant 56’s dining rooms.
“It's because I make Bird's custard ice cream. Ice cream is very similar in preparation to custard, but if you put Bird's powder into a custard that you've made from scratch, it gives it that comforting, nostalgic flavour. My mum's house in Banbury was next door to the custard factory, and you could smell all the products being made – I often reference my childhood experiences in the dishes I prepare.”
The concept of nostalgia in Andrew’s repertoire isn’t limited to sweet treats, either.
“There's a dish on the menu at the moment called Dawn's Cauliflower Cheese,” he continues. “Dawn is my mum. We had an idea to cook a piece of cauliflower in a cheese water – you grate and melt the cheese, add water and when you let the cheese set you're left with a layer of water on top which tastes of cheese. We then cook the cauliflower in the water and add cheese custard, some crispy bacon and breadcrumbs – all the stuff that you'd add at home – and then top with grated black truffle. When my chef first prepared all the elements for me, I tried it and it instantly took me back to being at home, sat next to my little brother, eating cauliflower cheese.”
This interest in early culinary memories serves a further purpose than just sentimentality – it acts as an edible warm welcome to the grandiose surroundings of Restaurant 56. Andrew explains:
"When you walk in, you think ‘wow, what a lovely, grand building’. Now, when most people come to Restaurant 56 it's a special occasion like a birthday or a get together with old friends, so they dress up smart and it can come across as a little stiff, particularly if you're not used to it. As soon as you come in, though, the way the menu reads, the way the wine list reads, and the way the front of house walk you through the dishes are all very simple, straightforward and anyone can understand it. It's not written specifically for a connoisseur or a wine expert."
Andrew possesses a rare interest in the conceptual side of food – the idea that you can tell a story or perform a function with a dish or series of dishes, rather than just exhibit his skill as a chef without further reasoning. If you dine at Restaurant 56, he’ll put you on a temporary diet, and perhaps even improve your mental health:
“Your stomach's health is linked to mood, depression, immune system, and is a huge part of your general health. Obviously, being a head chef is a very tiring job, and a while back I ended up feeling quite run down. I went to the doctor's and they told me to take two weeks off and lie in bed – I simply cannot do that, so I started to look into my diet and probiotics. I started to drink a probiotic every day, and I haven't been ill since, my skin is better and I have more energy. At Restaurant 56 we serve what we call the London Street Detox, which is based on kombucha – a fermented tea that contains probiotics. Our thinking is that, as you're eating such a rich menu here, we'll give you a probiotic just before your main course to aid with digestion. It's flavoured with plants foraged from around the area – nettles, brambles, herbs – and then we add some seasonal fruit as well. That's why it's called London Street Detox: we're on London Street and it's a detox! The whole thing here is about the experience, rather than just coming and eating a meal.”
It’s not all probiotics and conceptual theory, though. The same evening as our chat I had the good fortune to experience one of Andrew’s spectacular tasting menus – alongside the Detox and superlative cauliflower cheese, he constructs an impressive variety of courses, from hors d’oeuvres of cured pork and celeriac mousse on duck-infused crackers to pigeon and foie gras terrine with madeira jelly and crushed hazelnuts. A particular highlight is the exquisite beer-fed Dexter beef, which has a remarkable texture and uniquely rounded, malty flavour. Andrew explains the process:
“The beer-fed Dexter is just amazing. It comes from Yorkshire, and the cows drink eight pints of beer a day.” The happiest cows in the world, surely?
“Because of that, they're tipsy, so their muscles are totally relaxed all the time. After one year of the beer they get put onto molasses and all the products that they actually brew the beer with, so the beef tastes vaguely of beer. The sugars in their feed also makes them fatter, so you have lovely marbling as well. I serve the beef with a dijon mustard croquette, sweet potato purée and Coca-Cola sauce.”
If it sounds bizarre and unlikely, then give Restaurant 56 a try for yourself, or catch Andrew together with his sous-chef Nick Bennett showing off their skills at Didcot Food Festival on Sunday 27th November at 1.15pm and 2.15pm .
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