Review: Drake’s, Ripley

Ripley is one of the amiably well-to-do villages of Surrey, surrounded by farmland and replete with boutique homeware shops, cosy deli/cafes and red-brick dining pubs. Yet even though Surrey is the most cushy and well-to-do county in all of Englandshire, for the longest time

there was a desert of good places to eat twixt the Thames and the Downs. Drake’s has been in Ripley a few years now, and is definitely an oasis of fine dining.

Some have criticised the ambience at Drake’s, but as we were a table of seven for lunch we rather brought our own ambience with us, making it hard to comment objectively. The dining room is light and airy, with exposed beams and minimal decoration. I liked it. Our little corner had a feature wall with moo-cow wallpaper. Service was friendly and courteous.

The lunchtime tasting menu is reasonably good value at £45. Frankly I might have paid that to sit there and stuff myself with the scrumptious bite-sized roast red pepper brioches that were one of the breads. I could have too; the more of them we ate, the more they brought out. The amuse was a little biscuit of curry meringue with a dollop of chicken liver parfait atop. I am always delighted when I get given something that is both delicious and entirely new to me and this scored on both counts.

First course was a little beignet of onion with crab apple puree, delicious although the almost fluid texture of the onion was a tad unexpected inside the crispy crumb. This was followed a scallop with

chorizo and sweet potato, all very neat and perfectly executed albeit hardly stirring the blood. The fish course was a tasty little piece of turbot with a trio of roast beetroot and fennel, best described as “nice” and not really the strongest course. Beetroot is always going to be earthy, making it a difficult partner in a dish that was otherwise all about subtlety. At this stage I was starting to think we’d fallen into into a fairly humdrum tasting menu, so it was a pleasure to find our main course much braver. A slow-cooked piece of beef was made bitter with the addition of coffee and then paired with sweet carrots and orange. An interesting and genuinely successful attempt to freshen up what is usually cosy fireside meat, the meal felt back on track.

Pre-dessert: beetroot and orange milkshake. This was a lovely palate-cleanser, an appropriate use of beetroot in a sweet situation, and very thoughtful to bring together two ingredients that had featured in earlier dishes. Dessert was a light and moreish pistachio cake topped

with slivers of caramelised banana and paired with a black olive ice cream. This was a stunner, and the only truly successful use of olives in dessert that I’ve ever found. The bits of olive were somehow crystallised and/or roasted; crunchy, chewy and sweet but retaining a pronounced olive taste. Yum.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the best set of petit fours I’ve had in a long while. Granted, it helped that I wasn’t exactly stuffed; portions at Drake’s are small, so at the end of the meal I was content rather than full. Nothing spoils petit fours more than having to make a dutiful attempt to wedge them in like the last few items into an already bursting suitcase. Nevertheless, these were delicious and with oddities like a red pepper macaroon Steve Drake is clearly keen to break out from the obvious right to the very end.

Drake’s is good. Our meal was faultless in execution and scattered with enough challenging combinations and surprising successes that it sits comfortably above the more predictable tasting menus. I’d say this makes it worth the less than bargain lunchtime price, although the same menu is only ten pounds more in the evening. Certainly worth dragging yourself out of the metropolis and down the A3 for.

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