Chef Tony Rodd and partner Becky Cummings are wooing Blackheath locals with a wine list that is as sparkling as the food. Jennie Milsom pays a visit.
In November 2018, former MasterChef finalist Tony Rodd and specialist baker Becky Cummings took over an old Strada site in Blackheath, south-east London, to launch their first venture, Copper & Ink. From day one Rodd and head chef Rob Parks – his MasterChef cohort – committed to changing the menu every month. It's a rigorous schedule that has produced an ever-growing repertoire of recipes – a cookbook is scheduled for spring.
Five dishes are taken from the à la carte menu to create a £42 taster menu (with petits fours), with pescatarian, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options available too. "It's designed to make our lives easier in the kitchen, to keep the quality of the dishes for guests and minimise stock," Rodd explains.
Cummings oversees the wines (£32 for a flight of five with the Taster menu) and, to showcase a special release, the kitchen will create a bespoke dish. The September menu has been one of Rodd's favourites to date and it has generated "phenomenal" feedback, he says. "Essentially, we like showing off."
A brigade of eight each works three doubles a week across a 45-hour shift pattern that allows for four days off; Rodd, however, clocks up 90 hours. "You live and breathe it," he says. "We're not owners who come in and tell people what to do. I was here at 7am with a chopping board."
We're not owners who come in and tell people what to do
Every month Rodd provides the kitchen with a brief for which they can come up with ideas to be developed and refined – or thrown out. He doesn't deny there's a competitive edge to the process. "Sometimes people get pissed off," he smiles. Chefs rotate around sections so every- one is "constantly skilling up" and, during service, they will see their dish through from start to finish, from peeling spuds to saucing.
Starters include roasted porcini with aged Parmesan gnocchi, Parmesan foam and cep powder (£9), which is packed with earthy flavours. The trickiest component is the foam, says Parks, because it must bear the weight of the deep-fried sage and shaved mushroom garnish. "It comes down to the texture and the shape of it," he says. Another trick is roasting, not boiling, the potatoes for the gnocchi, allowing them to carry enough cream to enrich and loosen the mix.
Prepping the langoustines for another starter is a big job, resulting in "lacerated fingers", says Rodd, but the result is worth it. The tails are glazed in soy and served with razor clams, zesty fennel relish, cucumber ketchup and a shellfish stock reduction (£10).
A highlight from the mains include aged sirloin with braised beef rarebit (£20) for which the meat is braised overnight and topped with a sauce made from Neal's Yard aged Cheddar, a gluten-free Porter and a hit of mustard.
As for desserts, a chocolate and tonka bean tartlet, hazelnut ice-cream and cacao and almond (£9) is vegan and gluten-free. Its rice flour pastry can be "finicky", says Parks, as it's missing its traditional fats and binding gluten. Cummings pairs it with a red Muscat from Corsica. "It's the best thing to have with chocolate tart," she says. There is also a pistachio biscuit with raspberry jelly, raspberry cream and pistachio crémeux (£9), which is dotted with bite-sized meringues made from aquafaba – the juice from canned beans – scoring another tick for vegans.
Wines start from £24 a bottle (Percheron Old Vine Cinsault from South Africa) and those by the glass total five whites, six reds, three rosés and a Champagne and Prosecco. Of note is an orange wine from Georgia's Teliani Valley (£39 a bottle) that Cummings is keen to introduce onto a taster menu. It tastes of toffee apples and candyfloss and, she says, evokes one word: "Fairground".
October's menu already promises warming autumnal dishes, including starters of wood pigeon with puffed wild rice, glazed carrots and pickled carrots (£10), and a potato tarte tatin with Dorstone goats' cheese (£9). There is also a Scottish venison loin with beetroot granola, turnip tops and venison faggots (£20) made from haunch and offal with lardo to up the fat content.
Rodd says although there was some bite-back in the early days about the disappearance of diners' favourite dishes after a month, the regular shake-up has kept customers keen; Blackheath residents are affluent enough to visit twice (or more) a month, opting first for the Taster menu, then to "fill in the blanks" from the à la carte.
Copper & Ink, 5 Lee Road, Blackheath, London SE3 9RQ
From the à la carte
Starters and sides − Beetroot hummus, celeriac crisps £4 − Rabbit terrine, bon bon and ballotine, pistachio crumb, redcurrant gel £10
Mains − Confit duck leg, coco and borlotti bean cassoulet, prunes, kale £19 − Spiced chickpeas, beetroot hummus, celeriac rémoulade, baby beets £18 − Pan-roasted trout, fried oyster, braised cabbage, cauliflower purée £20
Desserts − Whisky baba, orange and bitters ice-cream, candied orange, sherbet £9
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