I was surprised to taste food this extraordinary in Cheltenham, a small town on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds. In fact, there are actually two amazing restaurants, Le Champignon Sauvage with two Michelin stars and the relatively new Lumiere (2009). Although I didn’t get the opportunity to try out Le Champignon Sauvage, Lumiere was already worth the wait to come and drive all the way from London.
I first came across Lumiere on the Critical Couple, who described everything so beautifully they convinced me to include Cheltenham in my Cotswold trip. Disappointingly, there wasn’t much to see at Cheltenham and we still had 3 hours to kill till our dinner reservation. My mum was getting increasingly anxious for us to return back to Bath - a very tempting offer at the time! Instead, I convinced her to stay in a coffee shop for the next 3 hours and play Sudoku to kill time.. Thank God it was worth the wait.
Lumiere was located in the city centre, yes, but it was completely missable as it looked more like a ordinary house than a restaurant. This turned out to be rather true, as partner Helen welcomed us into the 10 table space with the sweetest voice and all the warmth in the world. She was the only front of house with chef Jon Howe working his mastery at the back. As the evening got increasingly busy, she still walked with grace, smile and delivered every dish on perfect timing. What a great service from only one person!
Food wise, I was suffering from fine dining fatigue, especially tasting menus’ long lists of complex dishes. However, the tasting menu was quite tempting this time. On a no menu basis, head chef Jon would prepare dishes with the freshest ingredients of the day to create a 7 course menu taking into account of your likes/dislikes. Helen mentioned that cooking fish was a real mystery for them as it depended purely on fisherman’s caught of the day. After a mind battle, the 3 course a la carte still won at £47 each - I just couldn’t eat another 7 course meal.
Everything mentioned in the Critical Couple’s review was true. Food was delicious with the most beautiful dessert I’ve ever seen. Although cooking style wasn’t as mature and flavoursome as Ledbury, I have no doubt it’ll be one of the best restaurants in the near future with Michelin stars and many more awards to come.
Canape: Scone with truffle cream cheese, avocado puree and squid crackers.
The scone mini bite was delicious and the truffle cream cheese was a brilliant savoury twist to the classic cream filling. Squid crackers were unexpectly strong, similar to dried up squid ink made into crackers, but in a nice way.
Pre-starter: Chicken soup with popcorn, popcorn chicken in a bag
This dish made every table smile with awe. The only popcorn chicken I’ve had before was from KFC, obviously this was nothing like it. It had an ultra fine chicken mince, more like mashy potatos than the stripy chicken texture. Though delicate, it didn’t lose any distinctive chicken taste. Popcorn in chicken soup was odd, but surprising likable with the added crunch in a creamy soup. Overall, a very appertising pre-starter that certainly set our expectations high.
Starter 1: Diver caught Oban scallops, pork belly, cumin caramel, carrot, orange & anise puree
I loved this starter - what a shame it wasn’t mine! Pork belly didn’t have a full on taste, which otherwise would have overpowered the fresh scallops. The odd yet innovative mix brought a palate opening texture that I’d never imagined would work. Separately, nothing could be faulted, Pork belly was perfectly cooked with fat and meaty layer running in perfect parallel, scallop was well seasoned and extra fresh with a golden top layer.
Starter 2: Lock Durat salmon, mi-cuit, avocado, olive oil, apple, crab cake
Salmon was average till I mixed it with the sauce underneath. Similar to coleslaw, but so much milder and delicately cooked to ensure the salmon wasn’t overpowered. The crab cakes were spot on and crispy with mashy crab meat.
Main 1: day boat Cornish cod, brown shrimps, kale, leeks, sweetcorn & lobster chowder
First thing I noticed was the large glass plate, it did make a difference to the overall look of the dish. Especially the sweetcorn, which stood out against the glass background. It wasn’t as good as my halibut as the meat was cooked on the tougher side. Lobsters dotted around in the vegtable mix had a strange yet tasty sweetcorn crunch. The combination of all was a refreshing and definitely an innovative twist to the classic fish dish.
Main 2: Gigha halibut, parmesan crust, cauliflower, salsify, Israli couscous, vermouth foam
Two things about this dish made it one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had. First, the halibut’s thin crispy layer added a touch of smokiness to the slippy tender fish underneath. Secondly, the sauce was perfect from every angle. Imagine clotted cream infused with extra strong truffle then spread this on crispy yet moist tender halibut. There was quite a lot going on at the same time but definitely a winner! However, it was a shame that the foam didn’t add much apart from the look. Overall, what an amazing combination of distinctedly genius flavours.
Similar glass bowl to the previous fish dish, it apparently makes dessert look beautiful too! I loved the thin layer of apple at the top, it wasn’t dried completely to create a moist apple crisp which was freshing after my main course. White chocolate mousse was interesting, not quite super sweet like white chocolate, it only had a hint of white chocolate flavour.
Dessert: pistachio & olive oil cake, raspberry curd, peach, lavender honey
Undoubtly the most beautiful dessert I’ve ever come across. Just count how many colours this one dish had, green cake, red rasberries, purple lavender, orange peach and more. Perfect demonstration of food styling mastery and the taste was insanely good too. The cake was best mixed with lavender cream and was wonderfully intense and creamy. Imagine clotted cream infused with a heavy dose of lavender & honey then spread it on a spongy pistachio cake, yum! It was funny to have a fresh peach, then to taste the equal freshness in the peach ice cream. On the downside, peach ice cream didn’t match anything else apart from the fresh peach. Still, one of the best desserts I’ve come across!
Lumiere had a great selection of teas sourced from JingTea. We really loved the white tea.
Overall, I loved this restaurant to pieces. Every dish was original with unexpected modern twists. It is difficult to make original dishes all the time, but making modern twists to the crowded food industry is even harder. Jon was the shining knight in this case with heavenly tasty food, especially the sauces behind each of the dishes, including the lavender honey cream in the dessert. These touches were the ones that made every dish stand out and memorable. Apart from the food, Helen’s service was the warmest I’ve received. Compared to the extremely professional service at the Bath Priory, it was like a breathe of fresh air to be welcomed like a friend to their house. Lumiere has just taken off, and I’m eagerly waiting for greatness from this Cheltenham based boutique restaurant. Actually, if I’m wishing something, I’d really hope they can move to London so I can try their amazing food all the time!