Night at the museum: The Box Kitchen & Bar
Will Friday night dinner at Plymouth's most exciting cultural hub, The Box, tick all the right Muddy, er, boxes? Grab your napkin - we're going in!
You’ll have heard about the multi-million revamp of Plymouth’s former museum into The Box, now a gallery, archive, cafe and basically, a love letter to the Ocean City, past and present.
But did you know you can now wine, dine and quaff a cocktail under the watchful eyes of their floating flotilla of naval figureheads in The Box Kitchen & Bar, every Friday and Saturday night?
Head chef Ben Mack – who previously cooked up a storm at River Cottage, Mark Hix and Exeter’s much-missed Royal Clarence to name but a few – has just launched a brand-new two-course menu that changes every month and it’s incredible value at only £20pp, including a bottle of wine.
We’re talking slap-bang in the city-centre, on Tavistock Place, opposite Drake Circus, so handy for parking. Opposite is the newly launched Little Box, a Tuesday-Sunday daytime cafe nestled behind some trees, serving sandwiches, cake, hot and cold drinks and a bijou range of booze.
Pretty cool by museum standards, with floor-to-ceiling glass and a triple-height ceiling. It’s cosmopolitan, a bit Sex in the City, and with a mix of couples and the post-work crowd in for a snifter – somewhere worthy of popping on the heels (or not) to chill with a cocktail.
The wow-factor is delivered by fourteen huge ship figureheads – the carvings that once sat proud on a ship’s prow – hung over your head. Dating back to the 1830s, this aerial art installation is tres instagrammable, although I did nearly spill my gin on my head trying to get it all in the same shot (just warning you.)
Weighing in at four tonnes or more, you can’t help marvel at the engineering it must have taken to get them up there (while hoping it was a good engineer). When you see their heft up close you can only wonder at how huge the ships must have been.
SCOFF & QUAFF
No rush to the table, first a pre-dinner cocktail on the sofa (I went for Plymouth Mule, made with local Plymouth Gin, natch) in a lovely heavy tumbler. Time to Google the figureheads and grill the friendly waiter…
..and be brought a very welcome surprise – poppadom canapés by chef Ben. Yum.
I’m here with the other half to road-test the September menu – a choice of three each of starters, mains and dessert, with a side option on nibbles. It all looks very appealing and curated, with skate wing, ham hock and mackerel rillette on offer, plus vegan options.
I start with sweetcorn risotto – total comfort food and so more’ish. I feel like the cat who got the cream (and have to stop myself licking the bowl like one.) And the popcorn is a bit of fun too.
The ham hock was kimchi fresh and surprisingly hearty, layered with loads of unexpected savouriness and served at perfect room temperature, so you can really get all the flavours.
My roasted skate wing came rolled, and infused with herby tarragon and caper flavours. Wonderfully fresh, creamy and melt in the mouth.
Mr M’s pork schnitzel was better than anything he’d had in Bavaria, with a handmade sauerkraut and truffled parmesan fries. Delicate yet hearty at the same time.
The divine passion fruit tart came with a shot of Porn star martini shooter for added naughtiness.
My chocolate flower pot had the neighbouring table commenting, “We weren’t going to order dessert but…”. Talk about edible sculpture – intense chocolatey mouthfuls from the artfully spilt ‘soil’, mousse and ‘terracotta’ pot.
Head chef Ben, who is a total love and very talented, pops out to chat with the diners from time to time, which we liked, as you can winkle out classified chef secrets. His is to pack in flavour wherever possible, whether you start with a marinade or finish with a squeeze of lemon. But even if I did I couldn’t come close to his cooking, it’s brilliant.
OUT & ABOUT
By day you’ve got three floors of museum and galleries to explore. I really recommend you go, if you haven’t already. You really get an understanding of Plymouth, its geography, its commerce and the dockyard, the city in wartime and its connection with the Mayflower, plus there’s a life-size replica of a woolly mammoth, and a green screen, where you can have a go at being a presenter which kids love.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Ten-ten for Ben-ben! Those figureheads are worth a trip on their own and the exquisite food is guaranteed to transport you somewhere just as exciting as the places they once travelled. Here is destined to be a word-of-mouth go-to, so book NOW!
Good for: supper in the city with the gals; a pre-theatre or club bite; romantic date night; a significant date like a birthday or anniversary; gannets (the portions are big); a big do, you can hire out event space here.
Not for: tiddlers – by night here morphs into a properly grown-up space.
The damage: sensational value, each course is £6 so nice and simple, or £20pp for two courses with wine and Marlborough Sauvignon I tried was up there with Villa Maria.
Hungry for more? Book in for the Sole-Food Evening on Saturday 17 September, for a menu of dressed crab, chargrilled squid, megrim sole meuniere and many more delicious dishes.