Michelin-starred chef Adam Bennett can't resist creating little bits of magic with his menus, says Neil Gerrard
It has been a rollercoaster year for Adam Bennett and his team at the Cross at Kenilworth, just outside Birmingham. All was going well at the Michelin-starred eatery, owned by Simpsons proprietor Andreas Antona, with Bennett just back from cooking with French culinary icon Régis Marcon at the Bocuse d'Or finals in Lyon, when a minor disaster struck.
Environmental health officers who visited the pub in January 2017 gave it just one out of five stars after a misunderstanding over paperwork and a broken vacuum-packing machine.
It has been a frustrating six-month wait for Antona and Bennett for a reinspection to take place, but the restaurant has since bounced back to five stars.
Bennett, 50, has been chef-director of the Cross since Antona took it over in 2013 and offered the then Simpsons head chef the chance to run it. Bennett was determined to land with a splash. "When we first came here, we tried to offer a lot," he says. "We were doing a lunch menu that was five starters, four mains, four choices on the dessert. It was a new business and we wanted to attract attention. But I think as we became more confident in ourselves and our clientele, it trimmed down."
"All these little bits of experience are quite motivational," he says of doing stages. "They give you a different angle that you wouldn't see if you didn't go. Travel is vital if you are a chef. It comes out on the menu."
The lunch menu has now been pared down to two dishes on each course, and the Á la carte is five starters, six mains and five desserts.
"It means we are not killing the staff any more," Bennett says. "It is more reasonable, and attention to detail is easier to achieve. The lads have invested so much time and effort in this place, and they have all progressed from being peelers and choppers to the backbone of the kitchen."
The most popular dish is the Cornish crab soup with saffron mayonnaise and crab on toast (£12), which Bennett admits is not groundbreaking but one the team does in a "particularly nice way" and is difficult to take off the menu.
He's also proud of the wood-smoked eel with potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, sorrel, capers and sultanas (£15), which uses Dutch Eel Company eels. "It is a lovely product - nice, big stuff with a negligible amount of bone in it and a lovely flavour."
Accompanied by a Robuchon-style mash, the eel, which is heated in a beurre blanc with capers and sultanas, goes over the potatoes, with a crispy potato net going over the lot. "We get three different flavours of potato and different textures, and then the lovely richness from the smoked eel and the acidity from the capers and lemon, and a little bit of sweetness with the sultanas. It has gone down really well," he says.
On the main course when The Caterer visited was a venison fillet cooked with haggis (£32). "With haggis you have this massive savoury, spicy, umami taste, which goes great with venison. We have separated the haggis from the plate and done a braise with the trimmings from the venison; we fry that and mix it all together, and you get a kind of haggisy venison compote. We top it with a potato espuma, so it's like a glorified venison shepherd's pie. It's a dish in its own right, but we serve a small portion on the side; on the plate you get the pink venison with lingonberries and kale."
There is also a tasting menu at £65 per person drawn from the Á la carte, as well as two choices of wine flight at £35 and £60 per head.
Bennett hopes to keep refining the dishes. He says: "Earlier this year, we did a homage to Régis Marcon. At one of our wine evenings, we did veal loin baked in bread and hay as Marcon does with lamb, and the response from people was great. Little touches like that seem to turn people on in a big way. We have got to be practical, you can't drop yourself in it doing things like this, but there is a little bit of magic there."
From the menu
•Gin-cured sea trout tartar, cucumber, fennel, borage, caraway toasts, oyster dressing £10
•Chicken liver parfait, orchard chutney, sourdough toast £12
•Fillet of Cornish lamb, Ratte potatoes, smoked aubergine, courgette, tomato and Nocellara olive sauce £28
•Wiltshire pork belly, black pudding, pig's head croquette, Roscoff onions, salted gooseberry, lovage, mash £25
•Turbot roasted on the bone, Jersey royals, grelots, sea vegetables, garlic, thyme chicken jus £28
•Orange and gingerbread soufflé, chocolate and cardamom ice-cream £10.50
•Floating island, caramel, vanilla, almonds £9
The Cross, Kenilworth, 16 New Street,
Kenilworth CV8 2EZ
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