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Two to Four Restaurant, Dorking Surrey

We were really excited by this Surrey newcomer!

I'm really beginning to think that eating out in Surrey is at last improving, having previously thought that its close proximity to London ruled it out of the gastronomic stakes.  Perhaps the only uninspiring thing about this particular restaurant is its name -  yes, it's located at numbers 2-4, West Street in Dorking, that's the street with all the antique shops. Once upon a time it was called Partner's which was good but lost its way a bit, then it had a brief reincarnation as an Italian restaurant. It is now headed up by Paul Montalto, who was the owner of the well known Reigate restaurant The Dining Room, not to be confused with another good Surrey restaurant of the same name in Hersham. Head Chef Rob Gathercole was Tobin's head chef for five years, and his colleague Luca Belenchia looks after front of house most ably.  There are two menus, the printed one, with starters at £7.50 and mains at £17.95, and also the daily blackboard, similarly priced . We've been several times now, and each time we've dipped and dived between the two alternatives.

The cooking is robust modern Euro-Brit, with emphasis on local and seasonal produce, attractively but not over fussily presented. When we first visited it was a hot evening, so black board starters like slow roast pork belly and confit onions (yes, a starter!) or ham hock terrine were ruled out of order, and two of us went for the shell fish bisque with lots of chunky fish lurking below the surface. Flavours were intense, and plates went back mopped clean with excellent bread. The other two, including myself went for the posh menu's starter of coconut risotto - a triumph of perfectly cooked rice and creamy texture. 

Most recently we were particularly struck by the roasted scallops, standing up proudly like top hats and served with two purées, one of comforting cauliflower, the other intriguingly piquant and made from raisins. The gnocchi were a bit doughy, overshadowed by their accompaniment of mozzarella and oven baked tomatoes. Home cured salmon was spot on as was a tian of crab and shrimp that had both texture and fresh sea flavours. All the garnishes were well thought out and executed - though absolutely no short cuts were possibly putting the kitchen under strain -  it was clearly Saturday night fever at the stoves!

Main courses that hit the spot included an excellent rib of beef, greatly enjoyed by two of our six-some, while a round cylinder of tender filet steak was equally impressive in terms of flavour and timing.  A Nicoise salad had all the correct ingredients except that  the more usual tuna had been replaced with baby monkfish, a substitution that found favour with my wife. The stuffed chicken breast was tender but wanted some sauce as the entire ensemble was insufficiently moistened by a pesto dressing. I had the seared seabass fillets, a generous portion accompanied by a delicious stew of roasted peppers and some fine mash that had clearly cost some effort in the back kitchen! Whatever you do don't miss the side order of courgettes, crisply fried in a delicious light tempura -but don't order too much!

Desserts (£6.50) are quite a work of art ranging from a light lemongrass and palm sugar pannacotta with candied chilli and orange and a berry jelly, to a more robust hot chocolate fondant with sharply contrasting pistachio ice cream. The dessert sampler assiettes (£7.50) brought yet more variety to the table and they made good sharing dishes. The wine list is OK, and could do with a more inspiring revamp.

We've recommended this restaurant to a number of friends who have all enjoyed it very much. The only  criticism has been that service is sometimes a bit slow. Looking around the restaurant last week I was impressed with the waiting staff, both in terms of efficiency and in manpower, so I concluded that the kitchen must be struggling a bit at the weekends. But, so what, the food is great, the room comfortable and it's a night out for heaven's sake!

Clifford Mould August 2006

Two to Four Restaurant
2.4 West Street, Dorking, Surrey RH4 1BL
T: 01306 889923

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