Thomas Carr @ the Olive Room
Dine and snooze at this Michelin starred beauty in the heart of Ilfracombe
At Muddy, we’ve been getting rather giddy at the news that Michelin starred Ilfracombe chef Thomas Carr opens the doors to his new restaurant venture soon. But, as a distraction from our impatience and excitement, we thought it high time that we checked out the restaurant that won him a big shiny star in the first place.
Since she lives practically on the doorstep, Muddy’s Emma Gibbons recently booked in for dinner…and ended up staying the night. Because that’s just how she rolls.
This little Michelin starred seafood-specialising beauty with rooms, from Thomas and his brother Kevin, is the culmination of years of grafting alongside top culinary talent in the Westcountry. Having worked under Nathan Outlaw at his Cornish restaurants (when two Michelin stars happened to sparkle their way in) and Michael Caines’ Kentisbury Grange, Thomas Carr @ The Olive Room arrived to brighten up Ilfracombe’s culinary scene in 2014. Its location by the sea has helped this destination to grab headlines for its experimental seafood dishes and, in 2016, Team Michelin awarded him his very own star. As Thomas’ new restaurant, The Thomas Carr Seafood & Grill will be a more casual – and meaty – affair, this one will move exclusively to the tasting menu experience.
Located half-way up Ilfracombe’s Fore street, it’s a small, very unassuming and yet rather inviting little restaurant, with rooms next door; one of those places where you’re intrigued to stop, look at the menu and peer through the window (sorry to the diners if you’ve ever seen my nose pressed against the panes). It’s a weeny stroll downhill to the harbour if you’re looking for a blast of fresh air after your meal.
The layout of the restaurant is kept simple, unfussy and cosy, because, let’s face it, the food, which comes either as a 6 or 8 course tasting menu, is the real star here. It’s a small venue, capable of up to 20 covers tops and you can’t fail to be charmed by the family-run vibe. When we dined it was a case of Thomas in the kitchen (on his own!) with his super-affable brother Kevin front of house. And some of the dishes are served up on gorgeous blue Spanish ceramic plates that Tom’s Mum picked up when she was in Barcelona; you really do feel a bit like a family friend invited in for dinner.
SCOFF & QUAFF
I may be some time, since we’ve 6 courses to get through; 7 if you count the pre-starter (not on the menu, just a little extra).
It was goats cheese risotto in a cauliflower velouté with truffle-infused oil, since you asked and it was pure comfort food without the post-gorge bloat. This cauliflower cheese-inspired recipe, we later learned from Thomas is in the running to be adapted into a ‘tapas’ style dish when his new gaff opens; in which case, that’s my local lunch and dinner options for the foreseeable covered, well, forever? Cauliflower velouté counts as one of your 5-a-day, right?
Next, the actual starter, fennel cured salmon, smoked mackerel pate, crispy salmon skin (salty), apple sauce (sweet) and oyster leaves. Pretty, isn’t it? And a strong contender for the best smoked mackerel pate in the world, I believe. Smooth, creamy and flavoursome, with tiny little leaves to garnish that somehow tasted of oysters… how, exactly?!
Taking centre stage next, bream, curried mussel, brown shrimp, leek and potato. The delicate curry flavouring worked oh so well here, but I guess you’ll have to take my word for it. Soz, devoured this and the next dish before I even thought to take a pic!
Sliding under my nose next was hake, prawn tortellini and shellfish bisque. At this point I became fairly sure that Thomas knows his way around the kitchen. His knowledge of seafood and fish pairings is, quite frankly, amazing and each dish resembled tiny little sculptures on the plate. The prawn tortellini was incredible – dyed black with squid ink, encasing a mahoosive prawn inside and served with samphire.
Are you still with me? Good, because Course 4 and we’re onto meat with venison, oxtail fritter, beetroot tart, charred shallots with burnt onion ketchup. Frankly, he had me at venison; to be specific, the best piece of venison I’ve ever eaten in my life. Pink and melt-in-the-mouth, but seared, with a little oxtail fritter. The charred shallots with burnt onion ketchup are made to taste like ‘the smell of hotdogs at the fair’ – and they really do! Once again, ask no questions, just devour.
Still TWO PUDDINGS to come! *air-punch*
And the first? Frozen passion fruit parfait, meringue, crumble, yoghurt sorbet. Passion fruits are my favourite thing, admittedly, but seriously, this was up there and then some. A frozen passion fruit parfait rolled in meringue; yoghurt sorbet on top of crumble, a LITTLE TINY HOT DOUGHNUT, among little tiny pockets of passionfruit and meringue. These are all my favourite things on one plate and I’ve already eaten 5 courses and I never want it to end. Ever.
Unless of course you put this in front of me.
Chocolate, honeycomb, caramel raisin, sesame, pistachio. Come to momma. Rum and raisin ice cream, that’s apparently made with ‘enough rum that a litre of it would get you very drunk’ (good with us!) Perfect honeycomb perched atop a gorgeous little brownie; little bubbles that look like a raisin and taste like a thousand raisins all at once. At this point, I’m struggling to get my head around how Tom actually creates all these incredible components, let alone makes them taste good, but I can’t actually stop eating it for long enough to work it out. No mortal human could do any of this *reassuring myself that I still can cook, a bit, jut not like Tom, and that’s ok…*
Remarkably, after 7 courses it’s possible to walk, even hold a conversation, which is fortunate because we met the man himself (once he’d finished doing the washing up on his own). Still full of energy and as relaxed as his restaurant would suggest, this a chef who’s super-excited for all the new plans this year. Go Thomas, we’re right behind you! *with forks at the ready*.
And so finally to bed, after the enormous 1 minute commute. We stayed in room 5, which was a nice big, simply styled, duel aspect room, offering sea views of the beach and Capstone Hill to the front, and Ilfracombe Harbour and Damien Hirst’s sculpture Verity from the bathroom, which featured a jacuzzi bath, by the way (other rooms have roll top baths and all have sea views).
The bed was enormous, with crisp linen and super comfy. The fireplace and candles in the room were lovely touches, as were the iPhone chargers and coffee machine. It’s definitely a restful room for recharging the appetite before breakfast.
So, how do you follow dinner the next morning? Well, you might be perfectly happy with a full-English (let’s face it, we’re a notch or ten above the greasy spoon here), or you could be more adventurous and go for the home-smoked line-caught grilled mackerel with eggs. The choice is yours, enjoy making it!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: (but not exclusively for) seafood lovers and foodies who appreciate the culinary wizardry. There is a definite emphasis on fish and if you’re fan of this cuisine you will be super-happy with the menu.
Not for: Erm…..non-seafood lovers? And if you’d prefer a more casual menu this one’s not for you either, as the options are limited to tasting menu’s (the menu at Thomas’ new place will be more relaxed).
££: When you visit a Michelin starred restaurant you go with an expectation to pay prices to reflect that. It’s £75 for a 6 course and £95 for an 8 course tasting menu. We stayed on a Dine & Stay package, which includes a 6-course tasting menu and B&B for £275.
Thomas Carr @ The Olive Room, 56 Fore Street, Ilfracombe, EX34 9DJ. Tel: 01271 867831. thomascarrchef.co.uk