Cheals: set for a starring role

Look beyond Birmingham’s boundaries for the next Michelin stars to be bestowed on restaurants in this area.

Though I wouldn’t rule out the wonderful Two Cats in the Jewellery Quarter getting an accolade from the blubbery tyre manufacturer in this autumn’s guide, the two likeliest local recipients are, I think, both in Warwickshire.
Peel’s Restaurant at Hampton Manor in Hampton in Arden is worthy of a star.
And so is Cheals of Henley, set up eight months ago by former Simpsons head chef Matt Cheal.
His many years working alongside Andreas Antona, Luke Tipping and the other Simpsons heavyweights shines through.
A very long lunch this week was a delight.

The place

The restaurant is housed in the building where Andy Waters – another Simpsons luminary – won a Michelin star when he opened Edmunds a few years back.
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It’s a quaint, slightly rickety sort of place, with white walls and beams.
But there’s no ye olde tea shop chic – it’s a light and airy space that’s got Michelin class stamped all over it.
There’s a cosy area to enjoy a pre-prandial drink before dinner.

The service

The young staff are efficient without being stuffy. They’re chatty without being over-friendly.
More importantly they’re knowledgable and passionate about what they’re serving.
To such an extent that the revelation that I’d spent the previous day in Gloucestershire led to me being given a taste from two bottles of red wine from the Bearley vineyard very close to Cheals. And I have to say they were very pleasant indeed.

The food and drink

An amuse bouche of silky pea soup topped with a delicate coconut foam was a palate-teasing start to a set lunch.
A gorgeously presented plate of heritage tomatoes – all perfectly ripe and bursting with summer favours – came with a goats cheese that was soothing rather than punchy.
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Lightly pickled rings of shallot added zing, fried dots of back quinoa gave crunch and tiny spherified jewels of balsamic vinegar provided bursts of sweet and sour richness.
This was a dish that oozed calm confidence, skill and a honed palate.
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Opposite a sea bream and apple tartar with avocado and avruga caviar brought murmurs of happiness.
An intermediary course of melon with Iberica ham was a matching of perfect ingredients treated with respect and skill.
The pork belly to which I progressed was a glorious chunk of pig and came with crisped slivers of chorizo with a nice hint of offal.
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Courgettes served both as a puree and as al dente slices, confit tomatoes and basil added freshness.
Borlotti beans brought earthy substance and a drizzle of light but flavoursome jus underpinned the whole dish.
Further ecstatic murmurs came opposite course of a precisely cooked chunk of salmon with a seaweed beurre blanc, Israeli cous cous and green and white asparagus.
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The doughnuts, ice cream and elderflower curd with which I finished my meal was a dainty delight.
A raspberry triffle of exquisite lightness looked equally good.
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The wine list is well chosen and combatively priced.
I drank an excellent pink rioja, an interesting bone dry gewürztraminer and a carafe of French malbec.
And those small samples of English reds.
It was that sort of day…

Need to know

A three-course lunch menu is £30.
Choose three courses from the a la carte for £50.
There’s a £75 tasting menu, with £50 for matching wines.
500ml carafes are priced from £13.

Cheals of Henley
64 High Street, Henley-in-Arden B95 5BX. 01564 793856.
www.chealsofhenley.co.uk/home.html#home