In the latest episode of her grand culinary journey around the city, Emily Priest saw an advert for a special tasting event at Monty’s on Castle Road and knew she had to go.
I couldn’t refuse the offer of seven courses with seven cocktails. It was the perfect opportunity to review this tucked-away restaurant and cocktail bar while, at the same time, treating myself after a long, hard week.
Monty’s has only been open a year and serves English-style cuisine, using local suppliers for both food, drink and décor. But that isn’t what makes Monty’s special. It’s nothing special to have a seasonal menu, but Monty’s have a new one every month. That’s quite impressive.
This ‘A Taste of Monty’s’ event was the first of its kind since the establishment opened, yet it won’t be the last. At £60 per person, it’s great value especially considering how many high-quality courses – and cocktails – you get.
The inside is decadent. The tables are laid with thick cloths and polished cutlery. The chairs have a crushed velvet exterior, the bar is marble effect and the lighting an ambient mix of fairy lights, tea lights and candelabra. It is beautiful but small, very small. Walking in on a busy day you have to push past chairs and people. The seating is limited so make sure to book in advance.
I was called the day before by someone I believe was the manager to confirm our booking. Friendly and helpful, he warned me about the broken card machine. I really appreciated this as it showed care and attention but also saved me the embarrassment of my card getting declined.
‘Please come for 6.30pm for canapes and aperitifs,’ he said, ‘and then we shall start the night at 7pm.’
The next day I did as he asked. There were no canapes or aperitifs so I found myself sat down, waiting for the night to start. I was served a drink early on but I found out that this was the first cocktail listed on the menu, so what was the point of arriving early?
Maybe they said 6.30 to ensure everyone arrived on time and that things would get off to a smooth start. Good idea but punctual people like me were left waiting around, fiddling with the cutlery on the table.
The staff were very polite and formally dressed in smart shirts and grey bow ties. The bartender was helpful and continued to tell me the ingredients of each cocktail. One waiter kept ensuring I had enough to drink throughout the whole night… although I did feel a bit cheeky ordering tap water rather than sparkling or fresh spring.
Soon enough our first course appeared.
I wouldn’t call them sandwiches, more like dainty layered crackers. Three were placed on a slate board in front of me. First up was the goat’s cheese biscuit with homemade pickle, which melted in my mouth. The pickle was sweet, complementing the cheese flavour brilliantly.
Next was a tiny layering of chicken and lettuce, just smaller than a die. I gobbled it up in one and enjoyed it. The last morsel was composed of lamb, bacon, lettuce and tomato. The layers were precise and bursting with taste. The tomato was soaked in tea to accentuate the tang and the lamb was rich and succulent. I regret scoffing them in three swift bites, but each left an imprint on me. I wanted to approach the manager like Oliver Twist and beg, ‘More please sir!’
The cocktail comprised prosecco, gin, syrup and blueberries and was served in a tall, elegant glass. It was a good mix of dry and sweet and gave me a tantalising sense of what was to come.
The presentation of the salad was done with the utmost care and precision. Peas were dotted here and there between slices of asparagus and chunks of feta cheese. Purple flowers were on top to garnish with squirts of the burnt cucumber mayonnaise lining the edges. As someone who has always hated peas, I wasn’t too fond of this course, but I can still say that it gave me a very clear and fresh palate afterwards.
The cocktail, made with cucumber, gin and sparkling water, was the ultimate partner for this spring-themed main. It was fragrant and gave me images of sitting on a freshly cut lawn somewhere with the sun beating down.
The parfait was served in an espresso cup with a single crouton on the side. The drink came in a large patterned tumbler with plenty of ice and a dried apple slice. This was made with cherry brandy, pear vodka, cloudy apple juice and an egg white. The parfait was beautiful. The granola had a slight crunch on top and underneath was creamy and sweet. The flavour grew in intensity with each mouthful. I’d have appreciated more than one crouton as, although the parfait was gorgeous, more substance was required.
Served in a large Martini glass with an orange to garnish, the Violet Supernova was made of Midori lemon liqueur, orange liqueur and prosecco. Unlike the name suggests, the drink was deep green in colour. It was very sweet and syrupy although after a few sips I had to put it down.
Why? I foolishly hadn’t eaten much all day before all this drinking. So when the cod came out, I was relieved. It was a thick, juicy fillet that nonetheless crumbled apart subtly. It worked well with the broccoli puree. The purple potato was also scrumptious. I’ve never eaten one before but it wasn’t too different from the ordinary potatoes in my fridge.
Classiness going out of the window, I ate this course up in a desperate attempt to soak up the alcohol in my stomach.
The pork was tender and abundant with flavour, and was probably the best I have tasted. I ate it with the pickled apple and quickly went onto the ham hock, wrapped in cabbage. It too was devoured in seconds. It was good to finally have some substance in me. I left the tea-bagged prunes as I wasn’t too sure what the chef had done to them. The cocktail, mainly whisky-based, wasn’t to my liking as I’m not too fond of anything over 40% ABV, and I’d started to go dizzy. Even though the cocktails had half the amount of alcohol in them as usual, I still think that maybe a tasting size would have been better, rather than seven large glasses.
Although others didn’t seem to mind so much so maybe it’s my fault for being such a lightweight.
Now time for dessert. Once again the presentation was impeccable with neatly arranged rhubarb, a dollop of panna cotta and pink flowers. But this was one concoction I couldn’t get behind. The courses before were all brilliant, with an explosion of flavours that complemented one another to perfection. It was as if the chef had formed some sort of mathematical equation to make the ultimate taste palette. But this time, sorry Monty’s, I wasn’t won over.
Other people seemed to enjoy it but cheese and rhubarb don’t mix, not in my opinion anyway. I managed a mouthful and another but I couldn’t go on. I tried to wash it down with the martini made of hazelnut liqueur, vodka and syrup but that wasn’t for me either. I can’t stand nuts. I did try. I thanked the waiter anyway and stuck to my glass of ice cold water, excited for the final course.
Now we’re talking. A gooey yellow dome sat in the middle of the plate with three baby meringues stuck on top. Next to it was a pile of salted caramel sprinkles with strawberries, just begging to be eaten. Well how could I refuse? The ‘pie’ or sticky lump had an unbelievable tangy lemon flavour. The meringue and caramel gave a worthwhile texture and sweetness to it – the perfect blend of fluffy, crunchy, sweet and sour. Once again the cocktail finished the course with rhubarb, ginger gin, lime and sugar. It was a drink that mimicked the dessert’s tanginess and sweetness, ending the night on a fantastic, lasting note.
Gourmet food has never been to my liking for obvious reasons. The courses are too small, sometimes the flavours don’t complement one another and there is always one ingredient that doesn’t seem to fit. Yet Monty’s overcame all those issues. Sure, there were a few courses that didn’t take my fancy and there was too much alcohol for food, but it didn’t take away the magic from the evening.
Monty’s is a beautiful place to go and the tasting session was still an experience. The flavours flourished on my tongue like nothing else and the staff made me feel warm and welcome. Next time, I’ll eat a little beforehand, to soak up the booze!
Photography by Emily Priest.