Cooked to perfection
PUBLISHED: 21:34 05 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:50 20 February 2013
Carol Evans waxes lyrical over fresh food and flavours at The Forbury Restaurant and Wine Bar in Reading...
I never thought I would sing the praises of a humble pig's trotter but, in the hands of a master chef, that unassuming little appendage transforms into a succulent delicacy.
Slow-braised with caramelised calves' sweetbreads, its skin burnished to a rich mahogany and served on a bed of morel mushrooms in a Madeira jus, it is one of Forbury's most popular dishes.
The intense flavours are out of this world, but then this is true of all the dishes on the menu of this French fine dining restaurant located in the heart of Reading's historic quarter.
Owner Xavier Le-Bellego's philosophy is simple but very effective: that food should taste of what it is. And that is the secret behind the success of this very stylish restaurant which has helped turn Reading from culinary wilderness to diner's dream.
"Food has to be simply and carefully executed without a lot of fuss on the plate. That's what a good restaurant is all about," says Xavier who worked alongside Michelin-starred masters including Raymond Blanc, John Burton Race and Albert Roux before opening Forbury's in 2003. "Some chefs spend too much time on the decoration than on the food itself."
Xavier came to England from his native France in 1991 to learn English and liked it so much he decided to stay. With his expertise and that of head chef Joseph Cau (whose pedigree also includes stints with Roux and Blanc), it is not surprising that Forbury's is such a popular haunt.
Its location on a very contemporary piazza combines both ancient and modern - 21st century chrome and glass twinkling on two sides juxtaposed against an elegant 18th century townhouse hotel on the other. Across the road are the town's pretty Victorian Forbury Gardens.
Inside, Forbury's oozes sophisticated chic but the atmosphere is informal and relaxed. The efficient staff are unobtrusive shadows hovering in the background, seemingly materialising out of nowhere whenever needed.
And of course the food is superb, cooked to order, with a regularly changing menu that always contains the aforementioned pig's trotter and other staples such as Angus beef fillet and line-caught fish. Bread is home made and delicious and an amuse-bouche is served before each meal - for us, a crispy cod ball.
The menu is compact with around seven dishes in each section. Starters included quail supreme and foie gras, confit of salmon and Scottish langoustine, scallops with fennel, rabbit with foie gras and truffle jelly. Similarly imaginative, main courses included grilled turbot with foie gras ravioli, Anjou pigeon with celeriac fondant and cherry compote, Welsh lamb with pickled aubergine, tarragon and goat's cheese gnocci.
To start, my husband chose a flavoursome ravioli of wild mushroom and Whitelake goat cheese with an artichoke and cèpe foam which he loved. But the pièce de résistance was the main course chicken-stuffed pig's trotter, which was a veritable work of art on the plate. Previously used to trotters that were fatty and flabby, this really opened his eyes to what haute cuisine can achieve - and I was similarly entranced when I tried some too.
My own starter, a trio of Périgord duck foie gras, was inspired. It was composed of a dinky mini-skillet of crème brûlée, piece of terrine and dollop of ice cream - all made with foie gras - served with a slice of toasted brioche.
For a main course I chose roasted Cornish halibut with smoked salt on a casserole of Jerusalem artichokes, girolle mushrooms and herbs, a lovely light dish after the rich starter.
Dessert was, perhaps, an indulgence, but we decided to have one anyway: my husband a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate fondant and pistachio ice cream and, for me, a lovely strawberry charlotte with elderflower sorbet which tasted as if the blossom had just been picked.
Forbury's already holds several prestigious awards including entries in the Good Food Guide and is one of the Top Five Restaurants in the 2007 Harden's Guide. Its 'carefully selected wine list' is lauded in the AA's 2008 Guide, only one of four Berkshire restaurants to receive the accolade.
The superb food, plus a selection of wines from the 350 varieties in the restaurant's 'cellar,' made this a memorable occasion for us.
Forbury's Restaurant and Wine Bar, 1 Forbury Square, The Forbury, Reading, tel: 0118 957 4044, www.forburys.com.