Monday, 4 October 2021

The Loch and the Tyne, Old Windsor

Driving through the pouring rain to the latest addition to Adam Handling's fast-growing restaurant empire, it occurred to me how much previous positive experience of the same chef's food has the ability to lift spirits far in advance of sitting down to your meal. I'm always optimistic about restaurants, don't get me wrong - and although it's sometimes hard to believe, I never visit anywhere I know I'm going to have a bad time, outside of the yearly public vote horrors that is - but despite the weather, despite the untested location and despite a slightly scary final leg of the journey by petrol power in a part of the country still plagued by "No Fuel" signs in petrol forecourts, I knew, as much as I knew anything, that this would be a good meal.

The reason for my confidence was The Frog by Adam Handling, a place in Covent Garden I'd visited in 2017 (oh so long ago) and which presented a series of stunning, theatrical dishes with a bewildering command of technique, climaxing in something called "chicken butter" which bordered on life-changing. The meal overall wasn't perfect, but as ever it's the odd missteps you forget and the highlights you remember, and the flavour of that "chicken butter" burned itself into my soul. It's still on the menu. You should try it.

It's also on the menu at Loch and the Tyne, a tastefully relaunched boozer at a place called Old Windsor, which as far as I can tell isn't that old, and isn't really Windsor. But that doesn't matter, because sheltered from the rain in this cosy spot, plied with a lovely citrussy tequila-based drink called a Pulp Fiction, all the worries of the world seemed to fade away. A desire to try all new dishes prevented me from ordering the chicken butter this time, but perhaps things like that are best left to the memories anyway - I've never much been one for nostalgia.

What we did order were these, bitesize doughnuts sprinkled with an umami-bomb of grated parmesan, and containing an unbelievably rich and moreish cheese/bechamel filling which burst on the tongue. Sometimes I like to scare myself by playing a thought experiment whenever I come across something so tasty and easy to eat - how many of these could I finish off in one sitting? I think when it comes to Handling's cheese doughnuts the number may realistically reach into the dozens. I'm not proud of that.

Equally impressive in a different way were these rice crackers topped with tomato and corn bound with a silky-smooth guacamole, which had the balance of all the different elements just right as well as boasting an eye-opening (if not watering) kick of chilli. Again, distressingly easy to eat and packed full of flavour, I could have finished off a whole bucket of these too, which would probably be a better idea health-wise than the doughnuts.

£18 for a macaroni cheese main and £20 for the same with truffle seemed like a bit of a bargain, and there was certainly no denying they went full-on with the truffle, coating the bowl with a good, thick layer. Unfortunately, the two of us somehow read the £20 supplement as the total price for the dish (it was written as "Mac & Cheese 'our way' £18 - add truffle +£20" which although not exactly wrong is perhaps a little ambiguous) and so this bowl of cheese, pasta and truffle cost £38. However, that all said, it was really nice, right up there with the best versions from places like Goodman or Hawksmoor. As you might expect, in fact, for £38.

"That comes baked inside haggis, is that OK?" they asked when I ordered the Balmoral chicken. Yes, my friends, yes that's more than OK. And not only does the combination of chicken and haggis, as it turns out, make complete sense and taste wonderful, especially when served with a glossy chicken jus and a baked onion with onion purée, girolles and various leaves and herbs, the geometric precision of the chicken/haggis and the way they'd turned the onion and girolles into a kind of miniature forest, was breathtaking to behold. I realise presentation isn't everything, and yes this dish would have been nothing had it not also tasted brilliant, but the visuals just took it all to another level.

While we can quibble about the description of the truffle supplement (and I'm prepared to admit I'm completely wrong on that too), I definitely only have myself to blame for not noticing the tart tatin had a 35 min lead time, and by the time lunch service was in full swing that had stretched to over an hour. And while I would have perhaps entertained myself happily for the half if not the full hour, one of our party was 4 months old and ran the risk of being a little less forgiving, and so on this occasion sadly we passed. Soft serve banana ice cream was lovely though, with chunks of dried banana and something called "spiced ricotta" which I think may have included cinnamon.

The bill for two came to £128 with two glasses of wine and the aformentioned cocktail, as well as a coffee, and though nowhere near unreasonable in itself would me more like £50/head if you didn't go so heavy on the truffle. Also, although for some reason I forgot to take the photo of them we got garlic and thyme chips, great big crunchy things all creamy inside, which were gorgeous, so there really was plenty of food.

And anyway, good food costs money, as it should, and the food at the Loch and the Tyne is better than most. It's one of life's great pleasures (as far as I'm concerned) to discover a chef who seems to know all your favourite things and how to present them at their absolute best. And being a slightly more relaxed (though no less enjoyable I'm sure) operation than the 5-star Chelsea hotel the Cadogan, or indeed his £125 tasting menu joint in St Ives (though obviously I really, really want to go to those too), you get to enjoy this spectacularly inventive and rewarding grub for a little bit less. And even less than that, if you can read a menu properly - but hey, truffle or no truffle, there's an awful lot to love about the Loch and the Tyne.


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