The duo behind this Oxfordshire modern British restaurant are relishing their first venture together, says Katie Pathiaki
From the moment diners step through the door at Restaurant 56 in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, they are made to feel at home. Restaurant manager Sergio Martinez leads the way into a warm, elegant room for Champagne and canapés, although I half expect him to offer me a pair of slippers and a cup of tea.
The venture by Andrew Scott, formerly of the Michelin-starred Curlew in Bodiam, East Sussex, opened in 2014 as part of a refurbishment project at the 50-bedroom, four-AA-silver-starred Sudbury House hotel.
Scott is on a mission to win his own Michelin star. To help him on his way is newly appointed head chef Nick Bennett, who worked with Scott at both Mallory Court in Leamington Spa and the Curlew before they opened the 26-cover Restaurant 56 together three years ago.
In 2015, Bennett left a lasting impression on the public with his nostalgic dishes and cheerful demeanour on the BBC Two show MasterChef: The Professionals - and it's pleasing to see it wasn't just a faÁ§ade for the cameras. "I'm always cooking with a smile on my face because I'm doing what I love to do. People come to the restaurant on the back of MasterChef but they come back for the food," Bennett says.
nett formed his style of nostalgic flavours and clever twists on classic recipes at Mallory Court. "I'm classically trained, but I love to modernise," he says. "Fortunately, Andrew is the same, so when we come up with dishes we are very much on the same page."
This style is something that Bennett has carried with him through to his current head chef position, and can be seen in his blood orange mousse with Valrhona manjari chocolate dessert, which Bennett says resembles the classic Jaffa Cake. His dessert is a set fruit mousse dipped in a chocolate glaze topped with a brandy snap circle and served with a dark chocolate sorbet. "It's chocolate without making you feel like you want to go and lie down at the end of eight courses," he chuckles.
As many other chefs do, Bennett cooks seasonally, so it's no surprise in January to see duck taking pride of place on the menu. Said duck dish is a carve of the breast, which has been lightly cured, roasted and finished in maple syrup. The confit legs are pressed and turned into a potato terrine, flavoured with coffee, maple and butternut squash."Before Christmas I said to Andrew that I wanted to make a hare dish, but I realised that not everyone would go for it," Bennett says. "We played around with duck instead and added a bit of coffee on the side. It's very subtle. I like this dish because it's brand new to us - we created it on a whim." Restaurant 56 offers two tasting menus: Prime and Progressive, which are eight courses each (£70), or the Choice menu, which allows diners to choose between two (£45) or three courses (£55). The two tasting menus give Scott and Bennett the creative freedom to create innovative dishes using unusual flavour combinations, such as surf and turf - a tartare of beef fillet garnished with bisque jelly and tarragon alongside a sashimi tuna tartare seasoned with beef fat cream and grapefruit. "We recently reduced the amount of dishes we had from 24 to 14 because we wanted to focus on perfecting the food we had," Bennett says. "The Prime menu is definitely the most popular. It has the duck and the chocolate and my favourite dish - John Dory with smoked eel, scallop ravioli and vermouth sauce. The vermouth sauce is a recipe which has come from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons \in Great Milton, Oxfordshire\] through to Mallory Court to us, so you know it's a good recipe!" e restaurant turns a steady 60 to 70 covers a week, which the brigade of five chefs hope will increase. In the past year, the hotel has been refurbished and Suite 57, a bedroom above the restaurant, was launched. But the icing on the cake would be achieving Michelin-star status. "The star would make us a destination," Bennett says. "However, I'm happy with the food we're cooking and our customers love it. Personally, I think it stands up to one-star food. Now I want to focus on building up the relationship with the community, keep on winning local awards, pushing for another rosette and keep on evolving." From the menu - Heritage beetroot with charcoal, crème fraÁ®che and granola - Wooley Park quail with spiced date and cauliflower - Cornish red mullet with pineapple and golden cross - Creedy Carver duck with coffee, squash and maple - Tunworth with pear chutney - London street detox - Rhubarb with sherbet and ginger - Blood orange mousse with Valrhona manjari chocolate Prime menu, eight courses, £70Restaurant 5656 London Street, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 7AA [www.restaurant56.co.uk