Menus. Some might say that they’re an essential part of the dining out experience, and, sure, walk into a regular eatery, point to ‘steak & chips’ and you can be fairly sure of what you’re going to get. However, in top-end, Michelin-starred restaurants that trade on innovative ways in which to present original dishes, what you see written in front of you is merely a guideline as to the ingredients that you’ll see on your plate, not an indication as to how it’s going to be served. As long as you’re not a fussy eater – and, let’s face it, if you’re a fussy eater then you should probably stick to steak and chips – why not surrender all autonomy and let the chef cook a selection of his favourites? With this in mind, we blindfold ourselves and jump willingly off the ledge and into head chef Steve Smith’s Surprise Dinner Menu at Bohemia.
Based on the ground floor of The Club Hotel & Spa, the bar area of Bohemia is relaxed and informal, groups of patrons talking amiably over post-work drinks. We have a chat with the friendly manager and perch on stools at the bar, while the bartender mixes a Martinez for me and pours a glass of Champagne for my girlfriend (not simultaneously, but close enough). The cocktail is a potent mix of gin, Cointreau, Martini Rosso and bitters and is served straight-up, the perfect preprandial sharpener for any fan of Old Fashioneds and martinis. We have a peek at the menus, offering Classic, Tasting, Pesactarian, Vegetarian and Prestige as well as the aforementioned The Fantastic Bohemia Surprise Dinner Menu. With a name like that, how could we resist?
After draining our drinks and salivating over the bar food being chowed down by the chap next to us (which is actually a gorgeous-looking, um, steak and chips…), we make our way to our table. The restaurant sits adjacent to the bar area yet offers an entirely different atmosphere, ambience and aesthetic setting, all white table cloths and overhead spotlighting that renders all dishes as if they were under the pass in the kitchen. Willingly placing the food under such visual scrutiny displays Smith’s sheer confidence, something that we find is imbued throughout the meal.
A platter of canapés gets things off to a great start: a chilled onion panna cotta exudes a lingering bone broth-esque taste, whist a duo of fried wild boar bites is pretty much the consummate amuse bouche as it conveyed all of its smoky flavour and crispy consistency in one mouthful without us needing to be convinced by a second. A pair of wafers support dollops of whipped mussel purée that’s so soft that we have to wait until the finish to get the subtle, crustacean tang.
Our friendly waitress brings a miniature potato sack of warm, crusty rolls and two turrets of butter, one seaweed-flecked and the other salted; the temptation to wolf them all down is very high and I would still have been chomping through the sack well after dessert if it hadn’t have been (mercifully) dragged away from my clawing hands before the main course.
A charcoal-black plate is set down containing a plump quail egg that’s soon covered with the yolk-like colour of a butternut and Parmesan velouté, painting a vivid sunrise over the dish. An ice-cold globe of shiitake mushroom parfait serves as a cooling agent and the temperature in our mouths yo-yos with every bite. We’re off to a very good start.
A miniature rose garden of a dish arrives next, the floral colours of a duck salad interspersed with actual edible flowers; the citricity of the bitter kumquat and sea buckthorn jelly offsets the richness of the foie gras cream, with two tiny pistachio crispbreads lending a welcome crunch to the indulgent panoply of flavours. Next up is a bowl containing two oysters soaked in a light green lather of foamy dill reduction, a snake of cured cucumber dividing the two; with flecks of red onion brunoise and blackberry-esque dollops of caviar, this dish is so well-balanced that it’s almost like a fine perfume, except that on the first bite you get all of the flavours at once and then they gently simmer down as opposed to the other way around. Not only my favourite dish of the evening but the best in recent memory.
The charming sommelier has recommended a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé that the restaurant has recently started stocking and it’s a superb tipple that manages to complement all of the varying flavours of the meal without overpowering any of them. It even matches the main course of lamb loin, which is served as a bright pink, ridiculously tender disc that’s scattered in clusters of black garlic and a lacquered wedge of Jerusalem artichoke. With a side dish of piquant curried lamb mince, I’m glad that I wasn’t allowed to fill up on bread before this one.
After a varied and impressive cheese course, our pré-dessert is a real delight, a piña colada-inspired collection of torched pineapple cubes, tropical ice cream and effervescent crushed candy sprinkles. A dessert of brown butter-drizzled roast pear and sticky toffee cake with a smattering of tropical fruit (some dehydrated) and nuts is an excellent way to round off what has been an exquisite meal.
This Surprise Menu at Bohemia clocks in at a very reasonable £49 per head (I’ve had Michelin-starred meals priced at over double this amount that haven’t held a candle to this kind of quality) and I’ll certainly be back to sample Smith’s cooking again soon…even if it’s just to see how he does his steak and chips.
Bohemia Bar and Restaurant, Green Street, St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, JE2 4UH.
Tel: +44 (0)1534 880588
The restaurant is located in The Club Hotel & Spa in the capital St Helier and is a short walk from the centre of town and a twenty-minute taxi ride from Jersey airport. easyJet flies from London Gatwick to Jersey with prices starting from £29.49 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking).
Type of Restaurant: Michelin Star and 5AA Rosettes Fine Dining Restaurant
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: Try and get a table at the booth for extra comfort.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of The Club Hotel and Spa