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Food By John Lawson – Sunday Lunch Review
I first reviewed John Lawson during their first week of opening. Yeah, I know, risky strategy. New openings often need a little time to bed in and get settled. No such worry here, it was excellent. John has created a concept, unique to not only Leigh, but I dare say the whole county. When you sit down there’s no menu. You are not presented with a list of starters and main dishes, oh no, John does something we can all learn from. He cooks what is seasonal with the freshest ingredients he can lay his hands on each day. You shouldn’t go to the market knowing what you want to cook. You should always go to the market, see what’s available, lap up some inspiration, and just follow your foodie instincts. That’s what John does, it’s that simple. Yep, that first visit to ‘Food by John Lawson’ was certainly a memorable one.
I’d recently noticed they’re now serving up Sunday lunch. But not only that, its free-flowing bubbles too! To be honest, I’ve always been wary of a restaurant offering ‘free flowing bubbles’. Why? Normally the ‘bubbles’ are pretty crap. More often than not they’ll fill your glass with rather un-inspiring, cheap, Prosecco. What is the fascination with Prosecco anyway? I really don’t like it. Maybe I’ve always tasted lesser examples of this Italian fizz. It doesn’t have anything to it; it tastes rather thin in my view? I’m sure my sommelier friends could change my mind, as like with any wine there’s good and bad, but in general, its not my fizz of choice. John doesn’t follow the crowd. Nope, he has free flowing Cava. Now we’re talking. I like Cava. I’ve fond memories of sipping this whilst sitting at rustic tapas bars throughout Palma’s old town. Added to which, John sources his wine through Vino Vero. These guys know a thing or two about wine, so you know it’s gonna be good.
Four of us sat down and got stuck straight into the Cava. We had 2 hours to glug as much of this organic fizz as possible; sounds like a challenge to me! Sunday lunch here is like no other. You don’t get a prawn cocktail starter, roast beef, Yorkshire pud finishing with apple crumble. As nice as that can be, this is Sunday lunch John Lawson stylee! Our first plate arrived, and we were presented with Guinea Fowl and Chicken Wings with Chorizo mayonnaise. Forget everything you know about chicken wings. This was a delicate deboned chicken and guinea fowl wing topped with lovely Chorizo mayonnaise. It looked great and tasted even better. A superb little starter. Next up, sautéed spring greens with turmeric, chickpea and squash curry. Now, let me add something at this point. The glorious thing about no menu is, you eat what is put in front of you. So, you’ll taste dishes which maybe you wouldn’t normally order from a conventional menu. And that sums up our two starters. if I had to choose the wings over the curry, it would be wings all day. But to my surprise I enjoyed the curry more than the wings! Yeah, I rated a veggie dish over meat! The wings were great, but that curry was just more interesting. Seriously guys, this way of eating is educational; you’ll discover so much about your own tastes.
Next up we had roast chicken. A Norfolk slow grown chicken no less, with duck fat spuds, bread sauce, leeks with coco beans, miso cabbage, salt baked beetroot and rosemary jus. The chook was cooked to a ‘T’ and the veggies were, again unusual, but superb. The potatoes were as a good roast spud should be; crispy on the outside, and perfectly fluffy on the inside. Oh, and that bread sauce was a winner too! So that’s three courses down, two more to go. Ginger poached rhubarb followed served alongside coconut yoghurt and Szechuan pepper ice cream. What I loved about this dish was the rhubarb. My experience with rhubarb, I’ve got to say has been pretty limited. Rhubarb is naturally tart. To counteract that, most cooks throw a load of sugar at it, and whack it in a crumble. There’s nowt wrong with that. I’ve fond memories of those homemade rhubarb crumbles. It’s a classic English pud. John However, treats rhubarb with a little more finesse. The rhubarb had been poached, but with precision; it still had a little bite, and not too sweet either. With the yoghurt and ice cream, this pudding ate very well indeed. Our final course of this epic Sunday lunch was peanut butter fudge with maple buckwheat. Served like petit fours, this little ball of fudgy goodness was the perfect finale! Sweet, crunchy, peanutty and a hint of salt, I loved it.
By this point, I think we’d all had our fill of Cava. We’d certainly filled our boots, and I’ve got to say, that Cava was rather nice. I could’ve downed more, but we decided to finish with a plate of cheese and a bottle of red. In the wonderful surroundings of this intimate, stylish and modern restaurant we nibbled on cheese, slurped red wine and chatted. What a wonderful way to end our lunch.
Mr Lawson, I salute you sir. You’ve taken something which many restaurants struggle to do. Make the humble Sunday lunch in to something uber special. You haven’t just grabbed a job lot of Prosecco from the local cash and carry to fill our glasses. You’ve taken care to source a wonderful organic Cava. The food is plated in your unique, modern and elegantly rustic style. As each dish arrives at the table, your enthusiastic staff explain each element with knowledge and passion. When I wrote my first review, I commented how you arrived on the Essex food scene quietly. Unlike others you didn’t scream and shout about how you are the greatest thing in gastronomy to arrive in Leigh. You opened your doors with no fan fair, you just bought great food, passion and a concept to Leigh which has succeeded, and rightly so. During your time in Leigh, others have come and gone but you’ve remained. What you’re doing works, and as a result ‘Food by John Lawson’ is now a firm fixture in Leigh. You practice your craft at the highest level, using ingredients found on our very own doorstep and that’s it. John and his talented team have got it spot on. You cook the food I want to eat and serve the wine I want to drink. Please don’t change a thing, just keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll come back, as I’m sure others will, time and time again.
Food By John Lawson can be found at 92 Leigh Road
Sunday Lunch costs £38 per head with free flowing Cava
Although no menu is presented at the table, the food you’ll be served will be posted on social media prior. Just let the restaurant know if you have any dietary requirements.