The phrase `eagerly-awaited’ was much in evidence as Shaun Rankin prepared to open his new signature restaurant in the heart of St Helier recently. Having a dinner reservation at Ormer means a day of eager awaiting – even a dreary lunchtime sandwich is livened up by the hope that one’s next meal might be something special…
The best part of the anticipation probably comes just after arrival at the Don Street site, transformed from its old Bistro Central days into an elegant multi-roomed venue. Pull up a well-upholstered bar stool, take the first sip from a pre-dinner Negroni, and commence the fiendishly difficult task of choosing what to eat.
The à la carte menu has seven choices for each of the three courses, but that doesn’t make it easy to make the final call. The two of us agree not to order the same dish, but this still leaves tinges of regret about the ones that get away.
Rankin has pledged to utilise local ingredients wherever possible, so this makes the Jersey Lobster starter impossible to go past. It’s mixed with crab and scallop in a single, golf-ball sized raviolo, flavoured with ginger and coriander and drizzled with tomato bisque and crispy puffed black rice. It’s an intensely tasty cocktail of flavours and textures.
Most of the starters are fish or seafood, with one asparagus option and one of roasted foie gras. The choice that arrives opposite me is tuna, prepared with a scallop carpaccio, avocado purée, Bloody Mary jelly and cucumber sorbet. This turns out to be a combination of sweet, delicate flavours that go together exquisitely to make a very moreish dish.
The sommelier makes some good recommendations from a range of 15 wines available by the glass, mostly priced at £5-9, allowing something more tailored than just ordering a bottle from the extensive list – should you take this option, foothill prices per bottle start in the low twenties, rising to some lofty peaks for those with suitably grand cru budgets.
The main dining room at Ormer is a convivial chamber, with the weighty furniture, subdued lighting and generous space between tables contributing to the atmosphere. And you don’t have to be in the restaurant business to appreciate that the cutlery, crockery, glassware etc have been carefully sourced at considerable expense. But not as a vanity project, I would say, more in a bid to create an uncompromised dining experience.
One of four meat options among the mains, the beef arrives on a potato galette ring, with
girolle mushrooms, a Madeira sauce and a decadent slab of roasted foie gras on the top (as this is often a point of contention it’s important to mention that they ethically source this from Classic Fine Foods) . “It comes pink,” the waiter warns – nice of him to check although, last I heard, the Pope was still a Catholic. Perfectly rare and highly tasty, the beef is lifted to even greater levels by the supporting cast; it is a dish to savour.
Our other main course is the local turbot, which turns out to be the one dish not to really hit the heights all night – the fish was perfectly, and simply cooked, but not a taste sensation, although it was led in this direction by a lamb shoulder pearl barley and seaweed ragout that was bursting with flavours. We were subsequently told by a waiter that side orders of Jersey Royals or local asparagus had been available, but sadly we weren’t offered these.
The other choice mixes sweet and savoury: Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese forming an unlikely and appealing alliance with raspberries, beetroot salad, malt bread and chickweed. Both desserts are impossible to fault.
The trademark Rankin treacle tart features on the dessert menu, but we demonstrate some self-control in side-stepping it. The chocolate option is a gooey, layered brownie that includes popcorn both inside it and as decoration, alongside salted caramel and a subtle milk ice cream to cut the richness. The other choice mixes sweet and savoury: Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese forming an unlikely and appealing alliance with raspberries, beetroot salad, malt bread and chickweed. Both desserts are impossible to fault.
Our meal finishes with coffee, accompanied by a splendid array of petits four in a dinky miniature wooden potato tray; and there’s also the option for an indulgent postscript – a digestif and smoke on the attractive rear terrace.
In opening Ormer, le patron has determinedly steered away from the phrase ‘fine dining’, but this certainly isn’t an everyday culinary experience, in quality and, for the majority, in price. There is a fixed three-course dinner option at £30; otherwise the à la carte dinner comes in at around £45- £55 for three courses, depending on the choices made, or it’s possible to limit the meal to one or two courses. Personally I’d say Rankin is giving decent value for the prices he is charging.
Aside from the sheer enjoyment of tucking into the imaginative and tasty dishes, there’s also pleasure to be taken from Rankin’s achievement in establishing a destination restaurant in a part of St Helier that could benefit from an epicurean shot in the arm. Bookings for tables at peak times require several weeks’ advance planning – expect that state-of-affairs to continue.