This little slice of Breville-grilled goodness – cleverly served up on the side of a delicate white onion soup starter – is just one of the many ways head chef Lee Milne uses nostalgia to entice diners into the world of culinary flair and flavour at Room 39 at Pikes, and it’s a tactic that’s proven to be successful in the recently revamped restaurant in summer 2018. Milne and his highly skilled team of professional chefs are all classically trained – many boasting Michelin level backgrounds – and their philosophy is to create hearty, honest food made from local ingredients with a contemporary twist, complemented by that little touch of nostalgia. Think flavour-filled gastro-cooking but without all the unnecessary fuss! Take the 11-spiced cauliflower for example – Milne wanted to create a vegetarian starter that packed a lot of punch and took inspiration from the guilty pleasure of the Colonel’s secret herbs and spices to create these mouth-watering morsels with smoked alioli that are almost too good to share.
The smoked ham hock and foie gras ballotine is a dish that takes more than two weeks in the making – from the moment the chefs begin pickling their very own homemade piccalilli (“We’re in trouble if we suddenly run out,” laughs Milne when explaining the process). As ham hock is not readily available in Spain, the chefs brine, slow-cook and strip the meat themselves, before reforming it around a cylinder of buttery foie gras. There’s a taste of the 1980s in there somewhere, fused with the sweetness of local figs and a port reduction. For Spanish diners, the nostalgia comes via the grilled octopus – a dish that is a nod to the classic Galician dish yet given a modern twist by being served on a pillow of aerated potato instead of the typical waxy boiled slices.
When the time comes to order your main meal, happy childhood memories are evoked through dishes such as the glazed pig cheeks, served with the traditionally British combo of bubble and squeak and instead of apple sauce, crispy chunks of Granny Smith Apple – topped with the kind of crackling you’d fight your siblings for at the dinner table. A selection of classics – the Pikes cheeseburger (which has a veggie cousin, the Beetroot & Quinoa Burger), the melt-in-your-mouth beef fillet served with pressed potato and mini Mediterranean vegetables and pan-fried wild sea bass with prawn butter – sates the appetites of the über-hungry or fussy eaters amongst your group (there’s always one!). Allowing the true flavours of the produce to shine is the sign of a great chef – rather than showing off with garnishes or foams, it’s just about cooking everything until it’s j-u-u-s-t right.
There’s an old wives’ tale that tells of people possessing a separate stomach for dessert – and when you’ve feasted your eyes on the Pikes menu, you’ll be hoping this is indeed true. This season’s hit sweet dish at the restaurant is the Egg Custard Tart – yep, there’s that nostalgia again – but be warned: this is not your average custard tart by any means. Each next-level tart takes more than 24 hours to create, with about as much love poured into the bowl as eggs! Hand-grated fresh nutmeg is the finishing touch before the tart is individually sliced and served with poached rhubarb and a homemade macaroon. One mouthful and you’ll be back in grandma’s kitchen in seconds… and quite possibly ordering seconds at the same time.
In another clever nod to the all-time classics, the coconut and pineapple baked Alaska has been given an upgrade in the Pikes kitchen. Made with pineapple parfait and toasted Italian meringue, it’s then blow-torched until it reaches the perfect hedgehog-like caramelised appearance, and served with coconut ice cream for two. Nothing beats tapping into the crispy shell to discover the sweet and fruity goodness oozing from inside… and if you’re too young to remember the original, never mind! You can still appreciate why the original became a classic in the first place. Taking your tastebuds on a trip down memory lane has never been easier – simply reserve a table at Room 39 and let the dishes do all the talking.