Continuing the eclectic blend of influences, we are offered the House rose – le Cazelou Pays d’Oc (£4.25 for a 175ml glass) – and Crouch Vale Brewery’s equally refined Essex Boys bitter (£4.25 per bottle). Water is attentively brought to the table too, served in a shapely, blue jug. However, the best is yet to come: the Rainbow Garden of Southend (£7.95) is an allotment of vegetables – carrot, fennel, asparagus, radish, onion, beetroot, courgette flower – all either raw, candied, or marinated in brandy, garnished with pansies and artistically presented for exhibition. At first glance, a carnivore’s nightmare. At first taste, a magical mystery tour of Mother Nature’s finest that could turn even the hardiest meat-eater veggie, each bite cracking with different and exciting flavours.
At the end, the pot doesn’t contain gold, but a veloute vine tomato Bloody Mary dip, infused with lavender. It is clear that a great deal of thought, effort and passion has gone into producing this nutritous dish.
Next, we are presented with a biscuit of crushed, roasted flax seed, chia seeds, cashew nuts, walnuts, pine nuts and herbs, stacked with red onion jam, candied beetroot and marinated goat’s cheese coated with toasted chia seed, surrounded by sweet and sour strawberries marinated in red wine and reduced syrup, and dressed with leaves, edible flowers and a balsamic raspberry vinaigrette. We ask Raoul what it’s called. ‘Er … Goat’s Cheese and Strawberries,’ he offers, unpretentiously.
Again, each mouthful has been lovingly crafted. The strawberries, soaked with flavour, burst in the mouth and are a treat unlike anything we have tasted before and, despite the wine, sugar and cheese content, it all feels so natural and healthy that the only guilt we feel is paying just £8.95 for such a complex creation.