Review: Gloucester Studio
"The four hours you spend in Kathryn Minchew’s back garden feel like a holiday"
Writing up my recent visit to Gloucester Studio presents me with quite a dilemma: how to write a ‘restaurant review’ of a place that could only be defined as a restaurant in the loosest possible sense. Food is served; wine is poured. That, however, is where the similarities end between this remarkable venture and anywhere else you’ve ever paid to have someone cook for you.
Tucked away, in the purest sense of the phrase, behind Kathryn Minchew’s family home in a neat row of houses a mile and half south of the station, the spirit of an evening at Gloucester Studio sits somewhere between a traditional tasting menu, a lavish dinner party, and an extensive cookery demonstration.
The Finnish-style Kota hut in which Kathryn cooks, hosts, serves and entertains accommodates no more than eight at a time, seated on reindeer hides and centred around an open fire pit. The pit serves not only as the kitchen, but also as the multi-sensory centrepoint to this dining experience, which makes every usage of the phrase ‘hidden gem’ to come before it seem laughably overdramatic.
The atmosphere is glorious. Kathryn is one hell of a host; this is the logical conclusion of the ‘chef ’s table’ concept, and whilst socialising is usually the main part of what makes eating out so enjoyable, here it’s almost impossible to avoid being silently captivated by the aromas, flavours, and background stories of each course.
The 10-course menu itself is magnificently coherent, with the flickering embers bringing out the best of ingredients sourced exclusively from local markets and suppliers, whilst taking cues from Kathryn’s extensive knowledge of international cuisines. Take the apéritif and canapé: a cocktail of bourbon and cherry and beetroot cordial is infused with cinnamon smoke in front of your eyes and finished with cider from round the corner in Malven, and a Turkish-style flatbread reasserts the apple theme, filled with a local, scrumpy-laced cheese and tender chunks of lamb.
Throughout the evening, essences of various international cuisines are disassembled and reconstructed with Gloucester-centric ingredient combinations. A simple yet intoxicatingly robust fondue is kept warm over the coals – Gruyère and wine replaced with delicate Single Gloucester and more of that local cider; gravadlax-style salmon cured with Kathryn’s bathtub gin is gently warmed through and served with salted cucumber, on wooden plates – which you then throw into the fire pit.
This is not a cheap dinner. The same sort of money involved could buy the same group of eight people a similar number of courses and wine pairings at a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, with enough change for next morning’s Alka Seltzers and Gaviscon. But to compare the two experiences would be to wildly and sorely miss the point: what you are paying for at Gloucester Studio is not a barrage of worthy ingredients and deconstructed menu items whipped into veloutés and spherified with Périgord truffles and sous-vide Malossol caviar, or whatever. The four hours you spend in Kathryn Minchew’s back garden feel like a holiday; you depart feeling like you’re in on a secret, that you’ve discovered a new style of sensory pleasure that’s forward-thinking and innovative yet primal and intrinsic, and most of all, like you’ve been catered for by a passionate, witty, consummate culinary adventurist. And if that isn’t one of life’s greatest pleasures, feel free to write in to OX Magazine with your alternative suggestions, where they will be promptly ridiculed and ignored.