Panna cotta is a Labrador, soufflé is shuffle and prosciutto is profanity.
When it comes to food, I hate spellcheck. Thus, the thought of reviewing a restaurant that doesn’t have a menu is stressful.
I would feel too conspicuous if I pulled out a notebook, it’s bad etiquette to secretly record someone, and photographs aren’t enough when your memory is like a potato ricer.
Thus, I must listen intently, as the chef/waiter spiels off a description of their creations, before typing notes on my phone, as if texting a pal. It’s amazing how much information can be lost in the seconds between.
Condita is one of those no menu places. Owned by fine dining consultant, Mark Slaney, their head chef is Conor Toomey, formerly of the Isle of Eriska Hotel.
It serves a seasonal menu, mostly organic, with much of the produce sourced from a 19th century walled garden in the Scottish Borders.
There’s also subtle decor to suit the time of year. On our visit there were green tissue wall hangings and, in the window, a mossy grotto, topped by a bird’s nest filled with quail eggs.
We went for the five course (£50) option, though you can also go for eight (£80), add the wine flight for an additional £40pp, or there are 20 reasonably priced wines from small producers available by the glass or bottle.
The only clue as to what you’ll be eating comes as a strip of paper with illustrations of the ingredients they’ve used.
First, we were served a “snack” – aka a single Shetland mussel on top of a shell-shaped potato chip that was tinted black with squid ink.
It was super savoury, with a smidge of dashi mayonnaise, caviar, seaweed and some other tiny bits, all rendered in miniature, like netsuke.
That single bit of shellfish – wow, what a glamorous ending, like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin.
The proper first course was two bites’ worth rather than one and, again, went for the jugular flavour-wise.
It was a mini sarnie, filled with haddock that had been poached in a nage vinaigrette, and flanked by planks of crispy chicken skin, with pinpricks of confit egg yolk on top.
Line ‘em up on a conveyor belt, I want to eat 50.
Next, served on wood chips, was a smoky yakitori chicken wing, stuffed with eel. This was a nice little protein hit, though perhaps less memorable than the other treasures.
Just when I was wondering about carbs – ta-da – along came a whole mini sourdough, the size of a beret, with soft goat butter.
It was steamy hot, with a chestnut-coloured crust that could give a vulture mutton chops.
According to our drawings, we would be served the fugliest of vegetable. Indeed, the next course consisted of a clod of salt baked celeriac, topped with remoulade and celeriac crisps.
There was also a jug of celery cream, and the chef said this should ideally be mopped up by some of their bread.
Unfortunately, we’d prematurely eaten the entire loaf, so he popped a second in the oven for us. Bless.
Next was a slab of pink roe deer, with wilted ribbons of wild garlic, broccoli purée, slices of fermented broccoli stem and wholegrain mustard. Beautiful.
“I think we’re done now,” I said, unsure if two loaves counted as one of our courses.
But, no, there was more, including a piece of Errington’s Sir Lancelot ewe’s milk cheese, topped with “textures of pear” – dehydrated slices, clear gel and tiny little nuggets the size of fish teeth – as well as a salted crisp bread.
Pudding was definitely the final chapter. It featured forced Yorkshire rhubarb, as part of a parfait, which was encased in white chocolate and sprinkled with raspberry dust.
There was a smaller bombe too, except this one was covered in edible silver, like a werewolf bullet, and was filled with a slick of vanilla cream.
And there were rosemary infused crumbs on the side and lots of other little geegaws.
I can’t be any more specific, due to nonsensical notes.
Next time, I will be inspired by Condita’s lovely illustrations and take a sketchbook.