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Nick Bennett

Summer Seasonality: Nick Bennett

As the newly appointed head of the brigade at Faringdon’s Restaurant 56, Nick Bennett is one of West Oxfordshire’s most highly regarded chefs
"The chorizo jam has a base like a chutney, and then we just pulse up some chorizo and add it to the base of vinegar, sugar and shallots. That’s then cooked down for hours – it’s that sweet-sour thing"

Nick Bennett’s cooking has been a favourite of OX Magazine’s since Restaurant 56’s inception three years ago, so at the turn of the summer season we only thought it right to send down our resident food fanatic Jack Rayner to see what Nick has in store for his new summer menu.

Hi Nick! You’ve just launched a new tasting menu for summer at Restaurant 56. Would you mind talking me through the first course?

Sure. The first course is an amusebouche, which is a salad of pattypan, which is like a baby squash, which we char, roast and then confit in oil. I was inspired to create this dish during my trip to Alba in Italy with ‘MasterChef ’. There, they treat vegetables in a similar way to how we treat meat, so a lot of care goes into it. We pair the pattypan with lardo, which is cured pork fat, as well as hazelnuts and three preparations of courgette: pickled, roasted and raw. The dish is then finished with Dorset truffle.

Stunning! Where do you go from there?

Then, it’s time for the fish course. At the moment, the fish is Cornish mackerel because it’s bang in season at the moment. We serve it with marinated tomatoes and a black olive caramel and chorizo jam.

Black olive caramel?

Yeah! It’s as simple as draining your black olives off, making a really dark caramel, then just throwing in the olives and cooking and blending the mixture down. It gives the dish this gorgeous salty and sweet contrast. The chorizo jam, on the other hand, has a base like a chutney, and then we just pulse up some chorizo and add it to the base of vinegar, sugar and shallots. That’s then cooked down for hours – it’s that sweet-sour thing again.

The tomatoes are from the Isle of Wight, and they’re marinated with basil and balsamic.

The main course you’re serving on the new set menu is spring lamb. Presumably it isn’t served in the normal way?

Well, we do just roast the loin in a pan, in the traditional way, but we also have lamb belly which is rolled and confited in its own fat. Those are served with lamb boulangère potatoes – layers of potato and onion with lamb fat and stock. It’s the best potato you’ll ever taste. We then add pea and mint purée and broad beans, which are both perfectly in season. The dish is then finished with pickled ewe’s cheese to add a nice acidity that cuts through the fat.

So this is the summer menu – what are your favourite ingredients that you’ll only find at this time of year?

The heritage heirloom tomatoes, for sure – all the different varieties. The peas and broad beans are at their absolute best, and you’re just coming to the end of the asparagus season as well. Now, once we’ve run down the mackerel we’ll change over to mullet, which we’ll serve as a ceviche, cured in elderflower and salt. That’s then marinated in oil and vinegar and served with elderflower mayonnaise and gooseberries.

I’ve heard about your lemon thyme sorbet. Why lemon thyme?

It’s a raspberry and lemon thyme sorbet. So we do a white chocolate cheesecake wrapped in raspberry jelly, and to lighten it up, and add a bit of fragrance, we add some lemon thyme into our sorbet – we have masses of lemon thyme in our garden so it makes perfect sense. That’s another sign that we’re getting into the summer season: that we’re using fresh herbs from our own garden. We made some lavender fudge the other day, and we use anise hyssop as well.

What comes next, as the year progresses?

We’re just constantly in conversation with our suppliers so we know what’s going to be the best ingredient to use next. For example, we have summer plums in at the moment, but when the plums are autumnal they fit better with different dishes.

Because the autumnal plums are sweeter?

Exactly. The summer plums are lovely paired with duck and chicory, but with the autumnal ones, we’re more likely to use them in a dessert. For us, it’s all about working with the seasons, and the process has now become completely natural. That’s the difficulty with supermarket produce – they sell strawberries 12 months of the year and they sell asparagus all year round. Customers come to us and say, “Wow, these strawberries taste amazing.” That’s because we use them for the months that they’re in season, then that’s it.

Fantastic. Cheers Nick.


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