On a dark night, it was bit tricky to find Steve Barringers’ new restaurant, Eileen’s. We were looking for a quaint Ampthill-esque shopfront, but were led round the back, behind the shops, and past the housing offices.
Once through the gated entrance, glowing lanterns warm the path, alongside a fair-weather terrace with on-trend viewing window onto the kitchen to showcase the team at work.
Steve is remembered as the local boy who made the finals of MasterChef 2011, and many diners will have followed his progress since. Working at Flitwick Manor, St Helena’s in Elstow, taking over The Anchor at Tilsworth and now this brand new venture. The restaurant is in the premises of an old coffee shop, so it’s been created from scratch with a modern, intimate dining area. And in his own words he admits he’s so much better now than he was back then – with the benefit of a few years and experience.
I was secretly delighted to be shown to Table One , closest to the kitchen, for sneaky peeks into the service.
The menu is set: 5 or 7 courses (priced £55 / £75) and an accompanying wine flight if you’ve got a lift home booked. The wine list is simple but interesting – and plenty of options for buying by the glass if you want to try something different.
There’s the usual crowd-pleasing Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz but don’t ignore the Pinot Gris from Alsace and the Sicilian whites looked good too.
The bread arrived first on beautiful plates: a perfectly rounded dome of buttery onion bread. The dough was so enriched, it was almost cake-like, and delights – with a pleasing amount of whipped oniony butter to accompany it.
The first course of ‘Swede’ sounded unobtrusive, and was anything but. As a show opener, a circle of swede, confited in lamb fat (special diets are considered) topped with chive pesto and frozen goats cheese crumb, that melted instantly on the tongue to a creamy smoothness. There was a crunch there too: some breadcrumbs through the pesto for extra texture. It wasn’t the first outing for breadcrumbs that night, but who doesn’t like a bit of toast?
Next was the Torched Mackerel with paper thin beetroot and radish slices. Extra serving staff arrived with the horseradish and buttermilk sauce to pour at the table, which had the prettiest of green spheres of dill oil floating on top.
Course ‘Quail’ with beery pickled turnip, English mustard and apple, was truly a celebration of English autumnal seasonality.
The ‘Duck’ was beautifully cooked with a rich thick black garlic ketchup, parsnip purée and roasted parsnip (coated in breadcrumbs), sliced salted pear and a little blue cheese, which leads nicely into a wine switch and a glass of red.
And for pud: the Chocolate cremeux. For those who live for the dessert, this didn’t disappoint: generously sized with plenty of chocolate, hazelnuts, salted caramel ice cream: sounds like a Cadbury’s focus group on overdrive.
As service wound down I couldn’t help peek in the kitchen again: peace and calm reigned and the surfaces and brass overhead lamps sparkled, worthy of any interiors magazine.
Other diners were giving their feedback to front of house staff about toilet handles and email response times, but I couldn’t fault them. Steve’s food is exciting and memorable: what he does so well is assembling the dish as a whole, considering all the flavours and textures ; the hot/the cold, the smooth/the bite, as well as the minute attention to detail on the plate.
With all the pressures of opening a new business and a young family, resources have been sensibly focused on the important elements of food, staff and interior. There’s no flashy website (yet), just a Facebook page and booking deets. I wish them every success and look forward to more from this talented team.