I was not intending to review Root, I promise. I just visited as a normal punter, on a sunny day, with family. Yet I was so impressed, that I wanted to encourage others to visit. Go both to eat Root’s delicious food and to share in their ethos: to give vegetables the star billing and serve meat on the side in recognition of the health and environmental benefits.
It’s quite a transformation from its previous incarnation as Chicken Shed. Root shows that one or two vegetables can be the whole, bold centrepiece, rather than just the side to a slab of protein. There are three meat additions, but they are presented at the bottom of the menu as, typically, a side salad would be. On this occassion, we are not tempted by meat and share five-six veggie small plates between two.
We are immediately won over by the first dish, gnocchi. Four pillowy, parmesan-streaked little dumplings spring a little in the mouth before softly falling apart. They are robed in fresh green - a pool of herby oil beneath, and a tangled curl of raw courgette strips above. I could have eaten a huge plateful of these alone and left very happy, but there is more to come.
If anything could out-summer the courgettes, it would be the next dish of Isle of Wight tomatoes. They speak of sunshine. There are firm slices of large, deep-red tomatoes; small yellow cherries that burst in the mouth; and crimson tomatoes, skin peeled, that slide more sleekly on the tongue. They are the star players, with the delicate, tangy ewe’s curd and salty breadcrumbs in dripping there only to intensify the vegetable’s sweetness.
Another favourite is cauliflower steak, which has been blistered to bring out its sweet, nutty flavour - a flavour heightened further by the smattering of caramelised cashews. A rich pool of cashew cream and, by contrast, fresh cauliflower shavings, bring this together into a complete dish.
There are also thick, rectangular corn chips that are crispy on the outside and satisfyingly stodgy in the centre, paired with romesco. I like my romesco a little thicker, crunchier, punchier, but it was perky enough. Across the table a cider rarebit and onion croquettes both ooze cheese.
And, finally, a striking barley risotto proves the adage that one eats with the eyes. An orb of golden yolk is surrounded by a galaxy of brown-flecked green risotto. It is less of a smooth, sticky whole than its rice cousin, more of a thin sauce binding together chewy barley. Yet it is no less rich and it grows richer still when the confit yolk is pierced to streak through the grains. We are grateful for the fresh parsley flavour and the crisp puffed rice to cut through the richness.
It’s all pretty delicious. If I was being picky, I’d point out that the service was slow - we waited a long time to order and to pay the bill - but the waitress was very friendly. She tells us the restaurant is no busier than Chicken Shed, but the style of service is different. Whilst previously she worried about manning queues out the door, she’s enjoying spending more time with customers as part of the new table service.
We didn’t stay for puddings this time, but I’ll definitely be returning for the eton mess with cherry and the treacle sponge topped with fudge and crème fraîche ice cream. This food is flavoured with the summer season and I can’t wait to visit again throughout the year to taste what they do with autumn, winter and spring.