The Looking Glass
The Looking Glass Local Organic Free Range
The Looking Glass
If you live in Cheltenham, the chances are you have already driven past The Looking Glass. It’s in Charlton Kings, Balcarras territory. The restaurant is named in honour of the house nearby, where Alice Liddell’s grandparents lived. Lewis Carroll and Alice visited and the house has the mirror said to have inspired Through The Looking Glass. The Looking Glass is owned by the same team behind the wine bar, a few doors up.
The restaurant’s mission is very much up front on the website. Themes are “always fresh. Always free range…organic. Never imported… mass produced. Never ‘bought in.’ Everything is made in house… traditional sourcing, meets modern cooking…”. It’s an admirable manifesto.
There’s a trend towards this approach, largely inspired by Simon Rogan (L’Enclume) and the Nordics. The chef at Looking Glass wears the farm-to-table movements’ influences pretty much on his/her sleeve. Recent Instagram posts include a penne lookalike made from courgette stalks. It’s such a unique and creative idea that we thought it was a little bit naughty not to credit Dan Barber (or maybe Tommy Banks who, in turn credited Dan Barber). If a chef decides to follow Rogan’s principles, farm-to-table sounds simple enough, but in reality it’s a very tough option to deliver on. For example, Simon Rogan ending up setting up his own farm to really crack it.
Sunday Lunch at The Looking Glass
We happened to visit for Sunday lunch. Sunday is a thing apart in most restaurants. Traditional lunches tend not to be what ambitious restaurants are really about. And to be honest, restaurateurs usually think of it as a bit of a moneymaker. They’ll crank out some Yorkshire puddings and put the margins up. It is rarely the favourite service of the week for chef or waiting staff. As one hotelier cheekily put it to me, Sunday can attract some punters who rarely hold a knife and fork at the same time and don’t tip well.
The first surprise at The Looking Glass, therefore was the price. Three courses for £15. Really? Admittedly roast beef carried a £3 supplement, but still. Get this right, we thought, and Sunday lunch here at The Looking Glass will be the hottest tip in town for a long time to come.
Starters included a Beetroot & Goats Curd Salad; Pickled and Wilted Local Marrow with Poached Sea Trout and Bean Dressing or a Crispy Oxtail Fritter with Green Tomato Chutney and Micro Salad. Oddly, bread (which was good) with herb oil was down as a starter option. Bear in mind that many restaurants use “Shall I bring some bread for the table?” to bring in a few extra quid while people wait for starters.
The Looking Glass Main Courses
Mains were Roasted Striploin of Longhorn Beef; roasted Corn-fed Chicken Breast with Mushrooms and Squash; Potato, Cheese and Herb Dumplings with Mushrooms and Local Squash or Roasted Ling with Potato Risotto and Pickled Squash.
The Beetroot and Goats Curd Salad starter was tasty. Served with Magnus Nillson style crackers (also nabbed by Tommy Banks)). The marrow and sea trout starter looked pretty on the plate and was a perfectly fresh tasting dish. The pickling and wilting hadn’t added much to the flavour. There was (necessarily at this price) not much sea trout included. The oxtail fritter was too oily.
The main of potato, cheese and herb dumplings was a really good vegetarian option. Roast beef was a little overcooked. It had been cooked in a water bath and then some direct heat applied (roasted? grilled?), presumably for colour. Cooking in a water bath is a perfectly acceptable way to cook beef but then finishing with direct heat in this way takes away the original point of the water bath. Bit odd really. Roast potatoes looked the part but some had been ready in the kitchen for too long. Vegetables were crisp and cooked well, but a little salty.
Looking Glass Puddings
These read well: Allotment Fruit Cheesecake; Plum Cake with Toffee Sauce or Burnt Chocolate Cambridge Cream (Trinity College reckon they invented crème brûlée in the 17th century). Cheeseboard (£3 supplement) had the usual local suspects.
Puddings were pleasant – a little over sweet. The plum cheesecake had a flavour that we couldn’t quite pin down, perhaps down to the mystery ‘wild leaf’ mentioned in the description.
Wines include an organic Cotes du Rhone (Domaine St Jacques) 2016 at a fair £24. Entry level on reds is a Kudu Plains Pinotage (£18).
Clearly lunch in what is a pleasant setting with willing service is a bargain at this price and we’d go back. Having said that evening dining prices are higher (obviously). There is, for example, a tasting menu at £50. A la carte mains go up to £26. At those prices the cooking will need to be rock solid.
That said, they’re setting out on a particular creative path and have only been open for 6 weeks or so. So let’s hope things fall into place even more. Meanwhile, our advice is to head down to The Looking Glass for lunch asap, perhaps urgently (surely these Sunday lunch prices aren’t sustainable?). Then decide for yourself about a dinner visit. To repeat, Sunday lunch at £15 for three courses.
It’s always great to see an independent restaurant opening up in Cheltenham, especially building from the success of the owner’s wine bar. Wishing them lots of luck.