139-141 Loughborough Rd, Mountsorrel
We live in Leicestershire and love fine dining. The disadvantage of this is that if you want the full on Michelin treatment in the county you have to search hard to find it. Normally we end up heading down to London for the countries pick of top rated establishments but in 2016 a Leicestershire restaurant finally won a coveted first Michelin star. That restaurant was John’s House. So naturally, we had to try it.
John’s House coincidentally belongs to a man named John. John Duffin is a chef with an impressive resume, stints at the likes of Hibiscus under Claude Bosi, Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkeley and Simon Rogan’s pop-up Roganic in London. John now is firmly back at home in the village of Mountsorrel on the farm that he grew up on. The restaurant itself is situated in a row of properties just by the farm entrance – a unique setting.
For us, it’s an easy twenty minute drive from down the road but if you are coming from afar the restaurant is conveniently situated within minutes of the M1 and main A6 through road. We pulled up in the rather small car park with the restaurant looking exactly as the name suggests – someone’s house.
Once inside it’s every inch the cosy farmhouse setting that you’ve been looking forward to. We sat in the lounge area in front of the fire with the drinks menu cleverly disguised in old books. Here you can enjoy a drink and a browse over the two menu’s, in our case lunch and tasting on our afternoon visit. The tasting menu really stands out at £70 ($93.66 US) but this time around we opted for the lunch menu at £24 ($32.11 US) for two courses or £28 ($37.46 US) for three.
It’s quite a similar system to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons as sitting down in the lounge while your table and drinks are prepared takes away the awkward waiting at the table and allows the experience to flow more smoothly. Pre-starter nibbles arrived in the shape of marinated olives and truffle popcorn. The popcorn is a revelation and would be my first choice on my next cinema visit for sure! Olive’s aren’t my favourite and quite often I go out of my way to avoid them but these were delicious and full of herb oil marinade flavour.
We chose two Peroni beers at £5 ($6.68 US) each which is pretty standard for most restaurants, the wine list did look attractive with many bottles ranging from £29-£70 ($38-93 US) which again isn’t too extortionate. The dining room is cleverly split across the upstairs rooms of the house which makes it feel more exclusive, in our little ‘room’ there were only three tables with plenty of space between each one.
The service here are a mix of locals and further afield from the range of accents, all of them were friendly and good at their job. The bread arrived accompanied by a skilful quenelle of that acidulated butter everyone’s using at the moment. The rosemary rolls were light and delicious but the stout rolls came with quite a bitter crust.
Soon after we had wiped the crumbs from our faces, the starter arrived. Lightly Smoked Loch Duart Salmon with Oyster Emulsion, Cucumber and Dill. The description got us hooked but the dish itself was a knockout in terms of presentation, following a similar theme to Raymond Blanc’s Confit Trout at Le Manoir.
The salmon was beautifully done and just melted into pink flakes at the touch of a fork, the slightly salty hit of the emulsion paired superbly with the pickled and fresh cucumbers with a dusting of what must be lettuce or leek ash over the top. The dish actually tasted a lot stronger and far less acidic than Blanc’s which is a massive plus point for those of you who love big flavours.
Main’s arrived in the shape of Hogget with Turnips, Wood Blewits and Spinach along with Hake with Potato Risotto, Brown Shrimps and Shellfish Bisque. Both dishes in similar form to the starter looked immaculate with real care going into the presentation. It felt weird that we were sitting just down the road and not in busy London enjoying our lunch.
I have never tried Hogget and for those of you who haven’t I can confirm that it tastes like lamb but has the texture of beef. In this dish it worked incredibly well in various different parts. The sliced pink shoulder was tender like a sirloin steak, the fillet soft like you expect any cut of fillet to be but the real star was the belly piece done almost like ‘sheep bacon’. The vibrant pink and intense flavour suggested that this could have been brined before cooking, it was so good.
The wood blewit’s I would swerve in future, they tasted like watery button mushrooms, not for me. Turnips and spinach were superb in flavour along with the puree and minty sauce in the centre, a really good dish. I’m still trying to work out how they balance the scorched onions on such small pieces of meat without them falling off. Gravity defying stuff.
Onto the fish and stand by for more excellent fish cookery, whoever was manning the fish section on our visit was having a barn stormer! Hake is a wonderful fish and especially so when you roast the hell out of it, pair that with a generous helping of diced potato ‘risotto’ packing a kick of shrimps, lemon and shellfish flavour then you’ve got a solid dish. The clever way of placing swipes of lemon puree underneath the risotto give that hint of acidity that fish thrives on.
Something that stands out about John’s House is the portion sizes. I really feel for people who go for three courses in a Michelin starred restaurant only to receive canape style servings. Big respect to John and his team for actually providing substantial grub that looks inviting and tastes superb.
There’s an option on the menu for cheese before your dessert with three cheeses for £8 ($8.03 US) and six for £14 ($18.73 US). We didn’t take them up on the offer but those that did got a cracking selection with the likes of Reblochon and Jura cheeses being served. We would certainly consider going for that next time around.
As it was, we ended up ordering dessert. Slow Baked Quince, Brown Sugar Cream, Sherry Jelly and Cardamom Ice Cream along with Rice Pudding, Prunes, Yoghurt Sorbet, Hazelnut and Armagnac. Both desserts arrived in bowls, the rice pudding in a traditional bowl and the quince in a triangular glass bowl – very striking.
The rice pudding came topped with the sorbet and candied hazelnuts but you have to dig down a bit for the prune. Once you get it though the combination of sorbet/prune/booze/nut/sugar/rice pudding is both comforting and delicious. Rice pudding doesn’t really make an appearance on menu’s across the country, respect to John for sticking it on, it was very good indeed.
From comfort to style as across the table sat the quince, a mound of pureed roasted fruit with honeycomb, cardamom sorbet and below that, layers of brown sugar cream and a sherry jelly that nearly put us over the drink drive limit! The strong flavours in this work so well, the honeycomb just adds that extra sweetness to balance everything out, a reoccurring theme in John Duffin’s food.
The final bill was astounding. Just £70.50 ($94.32 US) for the whole lot. Could this be one of the best value lunches in Leicestershire at fine dining level? We think so. That said though John’s House is still a relatively new restaurant and at times it does show – absence of petit fours and no acknowledgment of a birthday despite including it on the details were minor flaws. The positives though are endless, fantastic food in a beautiful setting. They really have a good thing going on here – it may well become our new local.
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 1200-1400, 1900-2100
Nearest Train Station: Loughborough