Did you know Dan’s Kitchen in St Helens had closed? No? You’d been trying to get a table at that popular restaurant for ages, hadn’t you? And you didn’t, did you? Well, now you can’t. And nor can we, which is a shame, because it was good. But hold on, it seems there might be hope. In the same venue another restaurant has opened, the cautiously-named 33 St Helens. We’d heard positive murmurs about it. Could an appropriate successor have arrived at St Helens so quickly?
The venue was clean and bright with newness, and we were soon comfortably seated, grazing on some complimentary bread and looking at the commendably short and simple menu. Doing a few things very well is always preferable to a whole encyclopaedia of indifferent food, and this was looking strongly like the former.
Pork belly, apple puree and slaw – it couldn’t get much more uncomplicated. And nor did it need to. Matt’s starter was an exquisite slice of porky pleasure. The tender, tasty meat fell apart in the mouth, topped by a salty crackling crust that was exactly crispy enough to be easily crunched without the fear of cracked enamel. A technical tour de force that delivered all it promised.
Like an Isle of Wight cheeseboard, Arreton Valley heritage tomatoes are an easy win with which a venue can bang the local food drum. And with good reason; the Island is home to the Tomato Stall, which grows around forty varieties of these sweet fruits a year. Cat’s salad included a traffic light selection of red cherry, yellow golden classic and show-stopping green tiger, with its distinctive striped skin. The tomatoes were piled on a mild basil pesto and interspersed with the silkiest mozzarella which let the flavour of the tomatoes take centre stage.
The attentive and informal service was particularly impressive, and when our waitress smoothly upsold Matt a carafe of wine that he really liked, we knew we were in good hands. Matt probed her views on whether he’d need to order a side dish to complement his lamb rump with baby turnips, pea puree and herb polenta. She thought not, but when the dish arrived Matt had to demur, and asked for some gremolata potatoes which came out from the kitchen impressively quickly – fast enough in fact to complement the morsels of melt-in-the-mouth lamb. Stars of this dish were the tiny quartered baby turnips. Matt exclaimed that they were the most delicate turnips he’d ever eaten, with a surprising crunch and flavour in them – again, a remarkable bit of skilled chef-work to get those to the plate in just exactly the right state.
Cat went maritime with the cod fillet and prosciutto and a new potato salad. A surprising wedge of fish arrived; its skin well-seasoned. There’s probably some fancy cuisine-speak for the process the fish skin had been through; if salt could be caramelised, this would be it. You might think that with a garnish of samphire, plus slivers of ham this would be a dish over-burdened with saltiness but, as is the magic with this simple compound, it gave the dish a flavour boost. With firm new potatoes and tasty broad beans – which are having a moment in the food trend spotlight – this summery dish had everything going for it.
IW heritage tomatoes starter £8
Pork belly starter £7
Cod fillet £18
Lamb rump £20
Gremolata potatoes £4
Lemon cheesecake £7
Chocolate mousse £8
500ml Nero D’Avola wine £13
Virgin ginger mojito £4
For desserts, we both had sparse, but delicious plates. A little disc of the richest chocolate mousse undersold itself when it said it came with raspberry. There were in fact two raspberries. A tease of salted caramel peeked out from under a morsel of vanilla ice-cream. Cat’s lemon cheesecake was surprisingly light and fluffy. This was a trick which fooled Cat into thinking this pudding would be of no consequence; however it had a satisfying citrus kick, matched by sweet honeycomb which tasted of actual honey. A strikingly flavourful raspberry sorbet held up its end too.
33 St Helens is a great successor to Dan’s Kitchen and indeed to the St Helens Restaurant before that. The little venue’s intimate, informal feel is retained and 33 St Helens sets standards in both food and service that are as high, if not higher than its worthy predecessors. We recommend you put on your best smart-casual clobber, raid your piggy-bank and spoil yourself.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Great, understated cooking
- Very good service
- Informal, comfortable atmosphere
- It's not cheap