Please note: our meal at The Curious Kitchen was received free of charge, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.
When your server greets your 17-month old and gets them grinning within seconds of getting into the room, you know a restaurant’s family-friendly credentials are legit.
And that’s exactly what happened at The Curious Kitchen at the Aztec Hotel and Spa this weekend when we headed over there for Sunday lunch. It was honestly up there with the best service we’ve had recently, the lady assigned to our table not only interacting with the boy throughout (it’s amazing how many places just ignore the baby’s presence), but incredibly helpful and attentive, too.
The Curious Kitchen opened in mid-May this year, marking a new approach for head chef Marc Payne and his team. The aim? To create as much of what they serve as possible from scratch. Behind the scenes, they’re pickling, curing, smoking, infusing their own mayonnaise with smoked jalapeños, preserving their own lemons, making their own bread…which has been a steep learning curve for some of the team. As Marc says, “It has been so interesting being able to find great flavour combinations and adapting some of the more traditional techniques to create our own styles. The pickling or bread making methods that our great-grandparents used are still the basis of the techniques we are using now, and it shows that these skills are just as important today as they have been for centuries to create good, wholesome and delicious food. The team has been enthusiastic at embracing my vision and have relished learning and developing these new skills.”
While the outside of the hotel – and its industrial estate surroundings – might not look like much, The Curious Kitchen is beautiful: decorated in a contemporary style, with balloon murals and other artwork that pay tribute to the local area.
But it was a beautiful day, so we didn’t want to sit inside, instead heading out to the covered terraced area, surrounded by greenery and ponds, complete with ducks.
It’s also great to see somewhere with a pretty varied Sunday lunch offering. At The Curious Kitchen, you can order a la carte or choose two courses plus a glass of English fizz for £19.95, or three and a glass of fizz for £24.95. There’s the chef’s table, for a start – a help yourself option which features salads, home-cured fish, seafood and meats, and various pickles, which you can choose either as a starter or a main course. There are two traditional roast options. There’s a fish of the day, there are sandwiches, there’s fish and chips, there’s a risotto…it’s not just a case of “roast or nothing”.
And it was that chef’s table (£8.95 as a starter, £15.95 as a main) that appealed to both of us to start. There was a hell of a lot of choice, and it was all beautifully presented, too.
I’m well aware that my plate (below) looks massive as a starter, but I had a feeling the small person would end up eating half of it (and I predicted correctly!) There were only a couple of negatives in what I chose – the fennel salad was a bit mushy and the potatoes, while nice and smoky, were a bit too solid. The rest was delicious and varied, the real winners being the flaky cured ham and the sweet and sour chickpea and tomato dish pictured top left in the picture below.
With the sun blazing and no need for a coat, I wasn’t in Sunday roast mood. Instead, I was swayed by the day’s fish dish, which was described as pan-fried salmon with parsley new potatoes, garlic spinach and a lemon beurre blanc.
Again, the presentation was great. It was disappointing to see plain new potatoes instead of the parsley-seasoned variety I was expecting, and in all honesty, they were a little boring and could have been cooked for a bit longer. The salmon more than made up for it, though: it flaked nicely under the fork but was still lovely and juicy…if I had one criticism, it would be that I like my salmon skin nice and crispy.
The spinach was silky, nicely wilted and oozing with a fragrant garlic flavour, while that lemon beurre blanc (which I had a separate small jug of on the side in case I wanted more) was everything I was expecting and more: tangy, creamy, downright decadent.
Chris, on the other hand? He’s always up for a roast dinner, and the rare roast beef with duck fat potatoes, red wine jus, a Yorkshire pudding and a variety of veg (£16.95) wasn’t something he was going to pass up.
It was a towering plate of food – and a huge amount of veg which the three of us shared. The Yorkie and the beef were faultless, the former with a crisp shell and fluffy in the middle, the latter seriously tender and cooked lovely and pink. The potatoes, though, weren’t particularly crispy – they could’ve done with a bit longer in the oven. No complaints about the veg, though: that cauliflower and broccoli cheese in particular may not have had a great deal of sauce, but was nestled under a thick, gooey blanket of mustardy melted cheese…delicious.
Somehow, we managed dessert too. It was the ice cream and sorbet selection for Chris (£6.95), the day’s flavours being blackberry, elderflower and pistachio. Lovely presentation once again, with the pistachio (complete with tiny nutty chunks) the star of the show, the flavours of the other two pretty delicate but authentic.
My lemon posset (£7.25)? Outstanding. Just look at that presentation, for a start! It may be a fairly simple dessert to make but if it’s done well – and served in the right way – it’s pretty damn elegant.
The posset itself was perfectly set, smooth and creamy…but it was that scoop of violet sorbet perched on top that really elevated it to something special. The flavour was as vibrant as its incredible colour, incredibly perfumed but also quite tart, and not too sweet. It was a flavour that paired well with the lemon, and it was great to have the crunch of the pistachios and the powdery crumble of the mini meringues for a different texture.
All in all, our meal at The Curious Kitchen was pretty damn positive. Of the three lots of potatoes we tried, none of them were great. One of the salads on the chef’s table was a bit mushy. But apart from that, we were impressed. Great choice if you’re looking for somewhere a little different for a Sunday lunch where you don’t necessarily need to choose a traditional Sunday roast option, fantastic service, and the excitement of the chef’s table…we’d definitely go back.