Bucking the current trend of large, brasserie style openings, Five Fields sees a welcome return to a more modest scale of sophisticated dining. The restaurant takes its name from that part of Chelsea and Belgravia recorded in the 18th century by cartographer John Rocque. Despite its affluent SW3 postcode, in an area replete with ladies who lunch, it is, strangely enough, only open for dinner.
Discretely located in Blacklands Terrace, just off the Sloane Square end of the King’s Road, its modest canopied entrance belies the sumptuousness of the space within. Considerable outlay by chef-proprietor Taylor Bonnyman, (late of the 2 Michelin starred Corton in New York), has produced another triumph of Robert Angell design. The intimacy of 40 cover dining room is emphasised the low, sunken panelled ceiling which adds structure and visual weight to balance the lime oaked floor. A tiled cocoa plant motif in green and white shares space with hessian covered walls in shades beige, well positioned mirrors and selected pieces of modern painting and sculpture. Cream coloured shutters cover the sash windows. Clever spotlighting and low lit chandeliers shaped like sugar molecules illuminate well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery. The light brown leather chairs, however, have backs which slope back too much, making them slightly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the overall effect is one of classical elegance balanced by contemporary chic.
Those leading the kitchen and front of house teams – up to 11 in each case – have impeccable pedigrees. Head chef Margueritte Keogh refined her shills in the ultra-demanding kitchens of Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley; pastry chef Chris Underwood and head sommelier Nicolas Arthuis have worked with Tom Aikens; and restaurant manager Matthew Widdowson oversaw the celebrated bar at Bluebird in the King’s Road.
Their combined efforts have produced an exceptional dining experience. The professional service in many ways is old school – and there is nothing wrong with that –with smartly suited staff who are well informed, yet friendly and unintimidating.
The cooking is unashamedly complex and multi layered and, although they do not like to use the term, is fine dining in the best sense of the word. Invention – tempered with a clear sense of balance in terms of taste, texture, temperature and presentation characterise the style. Timing is precise and assured in order to maximise flavour. Various labour intensive techniques are employed, both classical and contemporary. Purees, gels, powders, crumbs and granites appear on many dishes , although there is a refreshing lack of (often tasteless) foams. Prime ingredients are mainly British, many coming from the restaurant’s own gardens in East Sussex. Indeed, vegetables and herbs share the limelight equally with meat, fish and even sweet components on a well-judged seasonal menu. Descriptions of the six starters, six mains and five desserts are understated. Flavour combinations such as veal sweetbreads with gooseberries, lemon sole with green apple, beef short rib with cherries and smoked ricotta and cep sponge with blood peach will surprise but not disappoint most diners. Presentation is exquisite, whether on slate, glass or porcelain, in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Fine Dining Guide visited Five Fields on a weekday evening in July and found much to admire in the food and service
An immediate good impression was made by a selection of canapés. These included crudités with houmous which showcased some of the wonderfully sweet young summer vegetables from the restaurant’s Sussex farm. Cucumber filled with curry paste was both refreshing and gently warming. Gougeres were crisp and well flavoured with a soft cheese filling. Finally, rolled salt beef with mustard mayo and walnut pain perdu were both accomplished in their taste and texture.
An amuse bouche of Gazpacho with pickled watermelon and basil oil was an interesting take on the classic but needed more seasoning to bring out its full flavour. This was a slight blemish which did not affect the overall success of the meal.
Wheat germ sourdough, olive and Campaillou breads were all well executed in their firm crumb and crisp crusts.
A suitably light starter of quail exhibited the positive qualities of sous-vide cooking – producing soft, tender meat – before being finished a la plancha to add colour and flavour. Heritage tomatoes, aubergine and celery with a ponzu dressing served not as mere garnishes but added textural substance and temperature balance. (Wine: Marsannay, Echezots, Domaine Jean Fournier, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, France 2008)
A seafood starter – Rock Pool – was served in two stages at different temperatures with two different wines. First came oyster tartare perched on a Bloody Mary granite which together produced a vibrant taste and texture sensation.
Paired with this was a mini tower of herbed Devon crab topped with caviar and served on nashi pear, a savoury and sweet combination that worked surprisingly well. (Wine: Montlouis Sec, Les Dix Arpents, Domaine de la Tailleaux Loups, Loire Valley, France 2009)
The warm elements of this playful, imaginative dish comprised a beautifully fresh langoustine on peach confit and seared squid with chorizo powder and green tomato. Again, these two unusual combinations – perhaps the first going a little too far – excited the palate in what was a tour de force of creativity and visually stunning presentation. (Wine: Joshu Rubaiyat, Marufuji Winery, Katsunama , Japan, 2011)
A main course of roasted Cornish turbot was exactly timed to preserve the delicate flavour and firm texture this luxurious fish. Baby courgettes and pine nut crumb provided texture whilst Green olive jus, fragrant basil and gentle, smoky aubergine puree added intense but not overwhelming adornments.(Wine: Viogner, Cristom Vinyard, Eloa – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA 2009)
Suckling pig five ways included succulent slices of loin and leg, tiny riblets, a well-executed ballotine of shoulder and crisp crackling. The star of the show was undoubtedly the cromesqui of head and neck meat which simply melted in the mouth. Given the sweetness of the pork, the smoked potato and nettle puree accompaniments were a suitable foil to balance the overall richness of the dish. (Wine: Zweigelt, Anton Bauer, Wagram, Austria, 2010)
A trio of artisan cheeses included Waterloo from Berkshire and Gubbeen from Ireland. Sourced from top cheese supplier La Fromagerie, they were all in prime condition. (Wine: Pineau de Charentes Blanc, Chateau de Beaulon, Charentes, 10 year old, France NV)
Given the strength of savoury courses in many restaurants, desserts are often an anti-climax, but not at Five Fields. Indeed, some of the boldest invention and consummate skill are to be seen here.
For instance, cep sponge and yellow blood peach balanced earthy fungal qualities with the sweetness of the fruit and the richness of butterscotch praline ice cream. (Wine: Moscato d’Asti DOCG, G.D Vajra, Piedmont, Italy)
Pea and mint cassonade was sweet and herby, but not excessively so. Chocolate “soil” provided texture and velvety smooth coconut sorbet gave it a refreshing finish. (Wine: Moscato d’Asti DOCG, G.D Vajra, Piedmont, Italy)
Good coffee and petit fours – passion fruit marshmallows, banoffee truffles and macaroons completed a memorable meal, enhanced by a flight of expertly chosen wines. Head sommelier Nicolas Arthuis amply demonstrated his extensive knowledge, skill and passion in pairing wine with a wide selection of dishes. His choice of French and Japanese dry whites for the seafood starter did full justice to the cold and warm elements. Equally impressive were the Austrian red, the smoky nose and cherry notes of which went well with the suckling pig, and the citrus bouquet and crisp minerality of the Viogner that complemented to turbot.
Five Fields has clearly made an impressive start. One can understand why it is not open for lunch, given its limited size and the intensity of operation at dinner. (Lunch is available on Saturdays and only in the Rocque private dining room with a maximum 10 covers.) Nevertheless, there is still a market for this high end cuisine, service and surroundings, as witnessed by a fully booked restaurant on a weekday evening. As the current preference for so called “relaxed” dining with uncomplicated cuisine fades – as do all trends – so the appeal of serious cooking in a fine dining environment, epitomised by Five Fields, will revive. We will watch its progress with interest.