Superlatives are littered everywhere these days. They’re scattered all over social media, blogs, newspapers and magazines with the gay abandon of an over-excited wedding guest with confetti. Or politicians with untruths. Everything is the best – it’s magnificent, glorious, wonderful, banging, epic, iconic. Especially when it comes to food.
I’m guilty of it too. I get over-excited about good meals and pepper my blog posts with these enthusiastic descriptors, eager to show you how happy I am. And then it comes to trying to describe some dishes that really do deserve the superlatives and there’s nothing left in the word larder. They’re all used up, leaving a greater challenge than ever to describe those real knock-out moments.
I’ve looked up superlative. It means: ‘of the highest quality or degree’. And that, my lovelies, is what several of the courses mum and I enjoyed at Number 10 Restaurant & Bar in St Helier during our Jersey jaunt were.
We hadn’t done any research before our trip, but a pleasant planning session in the sunshine in our hotel garden yielded No 10 as a good choice for the first dinner of the trip. Mum had seen chef owner Joe Baker on Great British Menu so it got a thumbs up from her, and a quick look at the menu won me over. I liked the style too – serious about food, but relaxed enough to allow you to choose the format of your own meal, whether that be a three-course extravaganza or a feast of small plates to share.
Set in a lovely old building in the heart of St Helier, No 10 also has a cosy basement bar that I imagine is the perfect place to sup a few cocktails away from prying eyes. Upstairs the lighting is low, the ambience chilled, and the interior a balance of chic and chilled.
We started with homemade sourdough and Jersey butter (because when in Jersey and all that) while we decided how many of the small plates we could realistically squeeze in. They all sounded worthy of a superlative, their descriptions oozing a pride in provenance, an appreciation of quality, ambition when it comes to flavour combinations and a clear passion given the work that must have gone in to some elements.
All were great. But a few really were stand-out. Worthy of superlatives and the kind of quality that makes me want to recalibrate my posts on so many other dishes to be in line with these as the benchmark of really great food.
The first was the octopus. If you think you don’t like octopus, I defy you to eat this and not change your mind. A perfectly cooked tentacle, slightly sweet and as far from rubbery as Jeremy Corbyn is from becoming Prime Minister. Nduja brought heat, a confit tamarillo – kind of similar to a tomato – added sweetness, while the addition of Ossau Iraty – a Basque cheese said to be one of the first cheese ever produced – brought a nutty creaminess.
Having just returned to San Sebastian, this is the kind of dish that you’d expect to find there. Full of ingredients that could each hold their own as the star of the show yet somehow are combined in a way that perfectly complement one another. Kind of like Live Aid on a plate – a load of megastars sharing the same stage for the greater good.
Caseificio La Barona burrata is everything burrata should be, with the clever addition of beetroot, which brings sweetness as well as an explosion of colour across the plate once you attack it. Add that simple delight of olive oil and some tart rhubarb and it’s more than your average burrata dish, though not quite as complex and joyful as the octopus.
Jersey beef shin tortellini was mum’s choice (she can’t resist a pasta dish). Simple, hearty and yet complex in the way that the Italians do so well. Tender, slow cooked beef shin swaddled in perfectly al dente homemade pasta, with a kind of heady, earthy flavour courtesy of roasting juices and shimeji mushrooms and a nod to the country of its origin through the addition of mostarda – an Italian condiment combining candied fruit in a mustardy syrup.
Like the tortellini, the Les Escrebous hand-dived scallops made me smile, though didn’t quite reach the jaw-dropping heights of that octopus tentacle. Another carefully choreographed chorus of ingredients, they were served in a roast chicken dressing reminiscent of that flavour you get when you scrape the roasting pan after cooking a bird on Sunday.
Add slightly citrusy spruce tips and crunchy raw asparagus and you’ve got that Mediterranean vibe of chicken and lemon that’s powerful enough to remind you it’s been a real labour of love and delicate enough for the scallops to sing.
Brookland Farm scrumpet was another superlative. I didn’t even know what a blimin scrumpet was before this night. Contrary to the Urban Dictionary’s definition, it’s not just a ‘ juicy, sexy, round, perfect little butt‘, or a ‘cross between scrump and crumpet, i.e.- Sex Biscuit‘. In food terms, you take slow-cooked meat, shred it or cut it into slices, breadcrumb it and deep fry it. Think a croquette, but just the meat and some epic seasoning.
It really is a winner. That moment where you both simultaneously stop chewing and stare, wild-eyed, like a child would at the Disney castle. The soft meat inside, the crunch of the breadcrumbs. The citrus from a tangy mojo verde and some preserved lemon, a slight bitterness from a pile of emerald bright beach herbs and a salty tang courtesy of a smoked anchovy perched on top like the king of that Disney castle. It’s complex, it’s clearly been laboured over for hours, and it really is a taste sensation.
We’ve had five dishes which is plenty, though the glutton in me could have tried more and had at least two more plates of octopus. Instead we share the 70% guanaja chocolate and salt caramel tart that mum has had her eye on since we walked in. Of course it’s wonderful, what more would you expect. Bitter, top quality chocolate, salt-sweet caramel ice cream, crunchy buckwheat.
It’s indulgence on a plate and the kind of dessert that for me will somehow always beat some of the more crazy sweets that get thrown on menus in places keen to show how ambitious they are. It proves that while Number 10 is all about ambition and experimentation, they haven’t forgotten that classic flavours become classics because they appeal to all of us without fail.
It was around a 30-minute walk from the centre of St Helier back to our hotel and we spent every minute (in between getting slightly breathless up a big hill with a full stomach) going over the meal, dish by dish, waxing lyrical over that jaw-dropping octopus, the saliva inducing chocolate tart, the eye-popping scrumpet and everything else in between.
For me, that’s the sign of a really superlative place. Somewhere you can’t stop talking about, with dishes that haunt your dreams and almost put you off trying similar dishes elsewhere because you know deep-down they probably won’t come anywhere close.
The fact I can write this blog post weeks after the event because I have a phone packed with carefully-taken notes is testament to the plates of food that appeared before us. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – for me food is about memories, about spending time with loved one, sharing experiences and having that wide-eyed moment across the table that the two of you will never forget. For me and my mum, Number 10 provided that in bucketloads, tucking itself into some of my fondest food memories where it’s likely to stay for quite some time. So yes, this post is packed shamelessly with superlatives that I am 100% certain it deserves.
We paid in full for our meal at Number 10. The bill came to around £100 for food and a glass of wine each and coffees. Not just excellent food but good value too in my view.