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Drake's Restaurant, Ripley

Surrey standards are at last looking up

You'd have thought Surrey would be a great place to open a quality restaurant: affluent clientele, sophisticated patrons, close enough to London for a saunter out into the country for a good lunch and a gentle walk in the bluebell woods afterwards. It seems that very proximity to the metropolis could be problem: serious foodies might as well stay in town to dine and avoid the crowded rush hour trains home. But there have always been oases in the desert, and Ripley has long been one of them. Indeed, Stephen Drake has taken over Erik Michel's eponymous and well regarded restaurant at the The Clock House, and has renamed it after himself.  It's a lovely old Queen Anne townhouse with variegated brickwork and a very attractive garden which will be an asset for al fresco dining if the weather ever improves. Given the character of the house itself, the dining room is a little disappointing, but it's sober and comfortable and the Drakes are right to focus their initial efforts on the kitchen and the food. So successful have they been in this regard that it was some time before we could get a table for four at the weekend, and we went back again as a twosome last Wednesday evening when there were only a few spare tables.

Stephen Drake is a young chef with an impeccable pedigree. At his last restaurant,  Drake's on the Pond, he won a Michelin Star. Before that, he worked for Landenis, Marco Pierre White, Aikens and Drabble, as well as a stage at the 3M Starred L'Auberge in Annecy under Marc Veyrat. His current menu is commendably brief, but interesting enough to make choices quite hard - more a case of what can I bear to miss? 

On both occasions we were offered pre-starters - soups that were light, silky smooth and whose flavours were subtle yet assertive. The menu had changed a little in the two intervening weeks. Langoustines were served separately the first time, set in a sharp red pepper coulis topped with micro thin sesame seed biscuits. This time they were in a stuffed into a fine raviolo, too thin for my liking, the pasta could have been bolder. The frothy sauce was intensely flavoured, perhaps too salty for some.  There's a neatly made terrine of foie gras, whose texture is livened with confit rabbit. For me the star of starters is the veal sweetbreads, which had been lightly caramelised, partnered with the most perfectly poached egg, (an ultra-fresh duck egg), lubricated with an equally frothy sweetcorn veloute.  If this isn't already Drake's signature starter dish, it jolly soon will be!

It's quite apparent that Stephen Drake really cares about where he gets his raw ingredients from. Take the beef - on the first occasion I had a really tasty fillet steak which came from Connisbee's, a local butcher based in East Horsley who produce their own prize winning herd of Sussex beefstock at their farm in nearby Fetcham. The excellent lamb - pink slices of breast contrasted with slow braised contre-fillet - comes from Bockett's Farm just outside Leatherhead. I love the way Drake serves differently cut and cooked parts of the same animal as an integrated plate. Not only was the lamb given this successful treatment, but also the duck, which appeared in no less than four incarnations: pink slices of breast, a little sausage of soft braised thigh, crispy confit drumstick and seared foie gras. This dish is a tour de force and not to be missed. Fish lovers will appreciate the pan fried John Dory and the roasted sea bass, which I tried and enjoyed, especially a very intense vermouth sauce which paired off well with a garnish of globe artichoke hearts. Each dish has its own carefully executed vegetable garnishes and they come served on beautiful and varied plates.

Flavours are certainly vibrant; this is food to consume slowly while you think about it. Wolf it down and you'll reach the end too quickly as portions are not large. Personally I prefer this, though it has to be said that my guests on both occasions mentioned this point. But then they later had to agree that often they don't have room for the puddings. Here, that would be a tragedy because they are very good indeed. While you think about what to have, a pre starter home made ice is offered.

Creem renverse - a light custard turned out (renverse) onto the plate with a delightfully sharp granny smith sorbet will please the sophisticated palate. The chocolate fondant was as wicked as it gets, with masses of molten dark stuff to satisfy the most depraved chochoholic. The banana parfait rolled in praline was light yet assertive and its pineapple sorbet was just another example of the kitchen's ice making skills.  Here's a restaurant that takes its patisserie seriously - why else would they bother to serve such delicious petits fours with the coffee?

One very important aspect of this restaurant that has improved beyond all recognition since Erik's time is the service. Led by Serina Drake, the staff glide unobtrusively, unhurriedly yet efficiently - seen but not heard like exemplary Victorian children. I think I persuaded them to serve wines by the glass from the bottle at the table so that diners can see for themselves what they are drinking. And what an interesting and reasonably priced selection  there is. Don't miss the marvellous Jurancon Sec made from  100% Gros Mensang (£19), or the tangy Picpoul de Pinet (£15), just two from a brilliant choice of SW French wines from really challenging estates, and mostly priced at under £20. 

This is not just a welcome addition to the Surrey scene, but worth a trip out of town. It's only a half hour's drive back to Fulham!
Three course dinner: £36.00, Lunch from £16.00. Wines from £14.00 Closed Sunday and Monday.

Clifford Mould, May 2004

Drake's Restaurant, The Clock House, Ripley Surrey, GU23 6AQ
Tel: 01483 224777


Drake's on the Pond was where Stephen Drake won his Michelin Star last year. Our 2003 review featured Stephen at the stoves, we have yet to see how his successor is getting on.

For a bit of a laugh, read a scathing old review of a former Ripley restaurant hopeful - the Mad Hatter - now mercifully extinct.
Fans of Erik Michel's cooking can drool over our 1996 review of Michel's as it was, or catch up with Erik's current re-incarnation at the excellent La Luna in Godalming

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