Fine dining in the heart of Lincoln
Caroline Bingham visited The Jews House Restaurant, Lincoln located in one of the city’s most iconic locations, where chef Gavin Aitkenhead serves dishes reflecting his classical training but also inspired by his worldwide travels.
The beautiful, historic twelfth-century building in which The Jews House Restaurant is located is charming and Gavin and fellow proprietor Samantha Tomkins have created an intimate and welcoming restaurant in this prime Cathedral Quarter location.
I visited on a Wednesday evening with my daughter, thinking this might be a quieter evening for what I know is a popular venue. Don’t be intimidated by that word ‘intimate’, there is no need for hushed reverence here and we were seated in the downstairs dining room along with several tables already enjoying their evening. Samantha runs service and front of house and has an engaging charm as well as passion and knowledge about the food and wine on offer, which she shares readily with guests. There was gentle background music playing and some walls are stripped back to stone, but there are plenty of soft fabrics to cushion your seating, shield the windows and absorb the buzz of conversation. There is skilful mood lighting too – still enough to ensure, though, that you can appreciate the food and presentation as it is served.
I began with a Gordon Castle Gin infused with lavender and Fentimans tonic on Samantha’s recommendation, served with lemon and mint while my daughter chose a soft drink. We had chance to look through the menus and wine list while enjoying some freshly baked dried tomato focaccia and walnut and raisin bread. The Tasting Menus devised by Gavin have become a signature of the restaurant especially when they feature his 48-hour pork belly, miso glaze, tiger prawn and melon sorbet. Gavin wanted us to experience elements of these menus along with dishes from the À La Carte so we were being treated to five especially chosen highlight dishes.
The wine list is extensive and offers a knowledgeably chosen mix of fine producers from across the globe. The wine list alone will be enough to bring me back here again very soon. The food and the wine reflect Gavin and Samantha’s passion for produce and travel. A trip to vineyards in Australia and New Zealand is not far off and Samantha is readily on hand to recommend vintages which will complement each dish.
We were firstly served an appetiser of ginger and soy marinated tuna with pickled vegetables and sesame; a tastily teasing introduction to our two starters. Firstly fillets of seabass served with crab tortellini, coriander pesto and Laksa sauce. The Jews House is often described as a European restaurant, which does do justice to Gavin’s classical training, most notably under 2 Michelin Star chef Germain Schwab.
The word ‘fusion’ has been overused but Gavin has taken his worldwide culinary influences and created dishes which reflect his evolution as an award-winning chef. It is what chefs who have confidence in their own abilities and the ambition to be masters of their own fate must do to make that leap to a higher level, and restaurant ownership.
I loved this dish. The very fresh seabass was perfectly cooked. The tortellini was stuffed with a delicately balanced crab mousse and the Laksa sauce offered a touch of warmth and depth of Asian flavours which brought the whole dish together. Our second starter was pan fried pheasant egg, asparagus, Morel mushroom stuffed with chicken mousse served with wild garlic sabayon. The elements revolved around the delicious egg yolk and the skilfully judged balance of the wild garlic.
Our main course was roast local Lavinton lamb fillet served with goat’s curd, beetroot relish and Ibérico ham crumbs. This was a spring dish which still had a depth of autumnal flavours. The generous lamb portions were accompanied by an especially delicious jus.
Tasting Menus take you by surprise when you start to feel full quite quickly and at this point we did take a breather. Samantha was being assisted by a server who was equally efficient and friendly. This may be a fine dining restaurant but the team here exude a passion and ease which makes the experience so relaxed and unpretentious. I was marvelling at how efficiently they were producing so many dishes from what I know is a very compact kitchen and pass – one of the challenges of being located in a Grade I listed building. There are three chefs including Gavin who must have a well-choreographed routine when they are in full service mode.
Our two desserts began with a dark chocolate layered torte served with whipped espresso cream and passion fruit sorbet. Strong, rich flavours here which the sorbet spliced wonderfully. This was a dessert which zinged on the palate. The second dessert was a rhubarb and vanilla custard sponge served with ginger sorbet and pink peppercorn meringue. This was my daughter’s favourite for the lightness of the sponge, the poached rhubarb and bite of the meringue. For me it could only have been improved by more ginger in the sorbet because I love the pungent root so much.
We had a long chat with Gavin and Samantha once most of their other guests had departed. They work hard to reflect the high calibre of the fine dining offer in Lincoln and wish they could entice more youngsters into the industry and kitchen – a problem countywide, not just in the city. They have remained in this historic location despite a fire ten years ago which closed their business for nearly two years. There are further rooms upstairs which can be used for private dining; perfect for celebration lunches or special occasions. We will be back, to explore that wine list and experience more of Gavin’s dishes, which continue to reflect the best of seasonal produce and influences from their latest travels.