Situated in leafy Petersham and facing the magnificent green spaces of Richmond Park, the Dysart Arms is far from your typical public house, as Amanda Afiya discovers
Built in 1904 as part of the Arts and Crafts movement, the Dysart Arms has become something of a passion for Jackie, Nicholas and Barny Taylor, who acquired the property in 2005 and set about lovingly restoring it after its "design and integrity had been obscured by successive makeovers".
They oversaw the works inside and out, creating the gardens that today supply produce to the kitchen all year round. Last year customers were served asparagus picked just 30 minutes before service.
The Taylors are an extremely artistic family, whose influence can be felt throughout the building. Jackie, a former president of the Petersham Horticultural Society, supplies and arranges the flowers, Nicholas, a City lawyer, is a keen photographer, and Barny, who has a music and performance degree in clarinet, is manager of the 50-seat restaurant, which plays host to monthly music recitals.
However, the talent doesn't stop there. Last July the Taylors shrewdly appointed 2010 Roux Scholar Kenneth Culhane as head chef. The Irish-born chef, who spent his three-month stage at Jean-Georges in New York, joined the Dysart Arms from Level 31, the former BaxterStorey contract at Barclays in Canary Wharf.
Culhane's years in the private sector mean the 31-year-old chef is not necessarily on the guidebooks' radars yet. But he is a seriously intelligent cook with an acute understanding of produce.
With a BA Hons in culinary arts from the Dublin Institute of Technology, Culhane's first formal foray into the world of hospitality was at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. "Three years spent with Guillaume Lebrun had a profound impact on my cooking," explains Culhane. This learning was enhanced with periods at Brett Graham's Ledbury, during its formative years, and a stage with Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney.
While customers can simply have a drink at the bar or a glass of wine and one course if they wish, the Dysart Arms offers something for everyone, with a tasting menu from £49.50 per person, two- and three-course set menus (£16.95 and £19.95 respectively) and an à la carte with starters from £7.50, mains from £16 and puddings from £6.50.
Culhane's greatest challenge has been to transform the restaurant from a gastropub into a relaxed fine-dining experience. Among the dishes to have evolved in the past eight months is current bestseller Wiltshire beef, braised shin, liver with lime persillade, white miso mustard sauce (£24.95). "It's a dish that I love to eat and embodies my passion for French and Japanese traditions.
"We braise the shin, leaving the meat moist, tender and full of flavour, then pair it with roasted tenderloin, a more luxurious cut, and the liver. Then a miso mustard sauce gives the dish a heightened sense of umami, while the fresh citrus of the lime persillade gives texture and freshness."
Further dishes that showcase both influences are charred mackerel, kombu-braised daikon, ginger and Champagne marinade (on the tasting menu), or foie gras terrine, appelstroop, smoked eel, crapaudine beetroot and toasted pain d'épice (£13.50), which comes with a suggested pairing of plum-infused sake.
Not surprisingly, the use of locally grown produce is a key influence on the menus. "Richmond remained mostly open land until the 19th century, so it offers a wealth of wild food," explains Culhane. "Wild garlic, nettles and yarrow are just a few of the products we'll be using on our menu soon." He currently uses lovage in a starter of Orkney hand-dived scallops, garlic and semolina dumplings (£12.50).
While few make the move from contract catering back into restaurants, given the inevitable increase in hours, Culhane says the opportunity to work at the Dysart Arms was just too alluring to pass up. "It's a remarkable building from a time that celebrated handmade quality and craftsmanship. The bright dining space and thoughtful restoration give it a calm style and a sense of occasion in the evening, a perfect foil for the presentation of traditionally crafted food."
Sample dishes from the menu
Organic Scottish salmon sashimi, crisp sushi rice, smoked lime vanilla £8.50
Veal sweetbreads, black truffle vinaigrette, chestnuts £12.50
Local winter pumpkin salad, quail's egg, muscovado yogurt £8.95
Wild seabass, tender celeriac, spiced herbal kaffir lime and green chilli sauce £24.95
English woodcock, chanterelles grises, pancetta, jus £26.95
Tortellini of hay-baked Jerusalem artichoke, Cevennes onion and pear £15.95
Valrhona Jivara chocolate and praline bar, miso-salted caramel ice-cream, grué de cacao £9.50
Spiced pineapple tarte tatin, guava sorbet, chilli salt (to share) £14.50
Burnt honey custard, Chablis apple £6.50
The Dysart Arms
135 Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 7AA
020 8940 8005www.thedysartarms.co.uk