The other day I was watching Rick Stein, who I have a weird kind of crush on. He's the only man I know who can recite Hemmingway while talking about sardines and make it seem perfectly normal. Anyway, he was talking about how great food was — "complex in the kitchen, effortless on the table" — which only cemented my crush a little further. What a great statement.
I think he'd like Ross Lusted, who perfectly encapsulates his sentiment. Words like 'mature,' 'refined', and 'restrained' all come to mind when describing his food.
The Bridge Room is difficult to talk about without getting a bit gushy and deep about what food can do, and about a chef who has really found his voice. See? I did warn you.
The truth is Lusted has a way with flavours and ingredients that is exciting to even read on the menu. Like: calamari in its ink, garlic puree, chorizo, mint salad, paprika butter, and preserved lemon ($28). You just don't see these kinds of dishes very often and ingredients put together so comfortably. It also previews his many years of working in Asia with dishes such as snapper with tofu, black vinegar, mushrooms, ginger, and chilli ($44).
Similarly the ash grilled duck with grilled blueberries, dry spiced black figs, and blood plum vinegar ($44). It's a harmonious dish with each element adding a level of sweetness or acidity and texture but never overwhelming the other. This is quite simply brilliant cooking. Complex, intricate, inventive, and yet it just seems natural and easy — probable even — on the table.
Equally brilliant is the burnt caramel cream, that has its rich caramel sweetness cut by a fresh and crunchy Packham pear salad, with pistachio crumb, mint, and purple basil.
Looking into the open kitchen Lusted looks confident, and he should be. His food is the food of a chef who has waited a long time to open his perfect restaurant. Who has decades of recipes, techniques, and notebooks bursting with inspiration and finally a place to bring all his ideas to life. And they are delicious.
There are occasions when you want to go somewhere that you feel a bit spoilt. A place that gives you a few deep, inhaling moments of pleasure. A place that you're happy to splash a bit of cash on. The Bridge Room is that place. It's not 'cool', but nor is it trying to be. It's sophisticated and understated, with earthy honey wood colours and soft cream and grey accents.
Lusted and his partner, Sunny, have had a close hand in everything from the design of the tables, fabric of the chairs, and hand-crafted crockery. It's a restaurant designed to make each table feel private, never having to raise your voice or bump elbows with the stranger next to you. The service, too, facilitates without ever intruding.
You can tell a lot of hard work and attention to detail has gone into every element of this restaurant, not least in the food. But as my boy Rick put it so eloquently, dining here truly is an effortless experience.