Sorrel - Dorking (UK)

77 South Street


Surrey, RH4 2JU

Tel. 01306 889 414


The Food: 


Beetroot and tapioca crackers with horseradish and oyster emulsion and freeze-dried raspberries

Chicken liver pâté in curry and apple meringues

Filo pastry with black onion sense, pork belly and lovage mayo

Discovery menu:

Split pea purée, green coffee and truffle with fresh grapefruit

Scottish scallop with Lollo Rosso seaweed, caviar, oyster garnished with lemon thyme

Forty-five-day aged beef tartare with raw chicory, Coolea, horseradish and mustard with truffle toast

Green, Green and Green (broccoli curds, broccoli leather, green tomato mousse, caper berries and kiwi fruit)

Monkfish with thinly sliced lardo, celeriac, lemon and a miso butter garnished with monk’s beard and a fennel breadcrumb

Anjou pigeon with umeboshi purée, black pudding purée, beetroot and morels stuffed with morel purée

Wigmore cheese with dried apricot ketchup, raw fennel and almond oil with Amaretto biscuit

Rhubarb and sorrel custard with blood orange

Grapefruit parfait with coconut, milk jam, passion fruit and basil meringue

The Wines: 

2010 Michel Gonet Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les 3 Terroirs88
2018 Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken
2018 Lyrarakis Voilá Assyrtiko92
2005 Rauzan-Ségla94

The Sorrel exterior

Gazing out the taxi window toward the verdant Surrey Hills speckled with dunnish cows and puffs of sheep, little did I know of the drama unfolding contagiously just over the horizon. Thinking back to that day in mid-March, lurking in the back of my mind was a tumescent foreboding. There were small signs of an ominous change, the taxi driver ruing the sudden dearth of bookings and unusually empty country pubs. Our lunch at Sorrel was a last-minute booking after the postponement of an eagerly awaited trip to Rome to celebrate Mrs. M’s important milestone. Wanting to avoid public transport, I had scoured the internet to find the closest restaurant to home whose standard of cuisine was commensurate with the occasion. Sorrel fit the bill. What I did not expect was that my last fine dining experience before the country shut down would turn out to be one of the most outstanding meals I have enjoyed over the last 10 years. I write that without any exaggeration. I vowed that as soon as Sorrel reopened, I would publish my Vinous Table, crossing my fingers that it would not be another victim of COVID-19. The fact that you are reading this confirms that Sorrel has again opened its doors. 

The historic Sorrel interior

Named after the chef’s favourite herb, Sorrel nestles in Dorking, just south of London. You could catch a train from Waterloo for lunch, or feasibly hire a taxi for dinner, though my preference would be to book a room nearby and enjoy the scenic Surrey Hills or visit a couple of local wineries. What I’m saying is that it’s definitely worth the schlep out of London. Sorrel’s head chef and owner is Steve Drake, a 2001 winner of the Roux scholarship whose impressive CV includes stints at The Oak Room under Marco Pierre White, at Ninety Park Lane with Nico Ladenis and also at L’Arpège in Paris. Having learned his craft under these culinary legends, he opened Drakes in Ripley, which held a Michelin star for many years until its closure. Sorrel opened in 2017 and won a Michelin star in 2019. Based on my lunch, it deserves another. 

The restaurant occupies a picturesque 300-year-old, Grade II listed, two-story red brick building near the center of Dorking, formerly home to a Pizza Express. The interior is steeped in history, featuring large timber beams, whitewashed walls and an almost comedic wonky floor warped by passing centuries. Even before social distancing was imposed, the restaurant restricted the number of tables to around ten, and only a couple have been removed to adhere to government guidelines. The ambiance is one of coziness. Clearly, no expense was spared on the refurbishment, undertaken by the same team that renovated Annabel’s in Mayfair. Sorrel is essentially a rural restaurant conveniently located in a Green Belt town. It’s so full of character and charm that upon entering, it already feels familiar, like reacquainting yourself with an old friend. Each table is adorned with thick and perfectly ironed white linen. The chairs, upholstered in gray velvet, are so comfortable that it is difficult to extricate yourself. The open kitchen lies in an adjoining room at the rear, so that a bit of hustle and bustle leaks out into the dining area. That was welcome on this occasion, since only two tables were occupied. Despite what must have been difficult circumstances, the service from every member of staff was faultless: friendly and attentive but not overbearing.

Seven- and nine-course “discovery menu” set lunches are offered. Given the occasion, we selected the latter – a wise choice given that it would constitute our last fine dining experience for some while. At £85.00 per person, the cost is equivalent to London prices, but given the quality, trust me, it’s a bargain. The cuisine is exactly what you expect to find in a Michelin-starred establishment. The sourcing and freshness of ingredients was exemplary from start to finish, with a strong seasonal aspect to every course and an emphasis on locally sourced produce. The exacting technical skill of the chef (incidentally, not Drake on this occasion) ranged from excellent to spellbinding. The presentation is not quite as extravagant as at, say, Clare Smyth at CORE, yet it is meticulous in detail. Similar to my experience at The Ledbury last June before it closed its doors, the menu is not designed to leave you bloated or weighed down by colossal calorie intake. Decadent, unctuous rich sauces or intense reductions are eschewed. Ingredients veer toward fresh vegetables, often uncooked, and fish. Sorrel is about textures, umami and inspired combinations of ingredients. Only two courses featured red meat, and they were prime cuts, meaning there was always room for the next dish. You can eat to your heart’s content at Sorrel without doing penance at the gym for the rest of the week. 

Split pea purée, green coffee and truffle with fresh grapefruit

The appetizers set the tone for what followed, each exemplary in their own way. The beetroot and tapioca crackers came with a horseradish and oyster emulsion and freeze-dried raspberries, light and airy, setting the taste buds aflame. The crunch of the cracker that turns almost powdery in the mouth plus the sharp tang of the raspberries was utterly sublime. A duo of chicken liver pâté in curry and apple meringues melted in the mouth, while the filo pastry with black onion sense, pork belly and lovage mayo was a killer combination of flavours.

Scottish scallop with Lollo Rosso seaweed, caviar, oyster garnished with lemon thyme

The first course on the discovery menu was a split pea purée infused with green coffee and truffle, served with slivers of fresh grapefruit. Peas are so common that they tend to be overlooked, even disparaged, by the vegetable brigade, yet here they partnered brilliantly with the green coffee. This was followed by a Scottish scallop, served with Lollo Rosso seaweed, oyster and lemon thyme, plus a generous topping of caviar that was not even mentioned on the menu. The scallop was perfectly cooked, al dente on the exterior and pearly white and soft inside, the seaweed not overwhelming the subtle flavours of the scallop, and the oyster and caviar imparting a subtle salty tang that got the saliva flowing. 

Forty-five-day aged beef tartare with raw chicory, Coolea, horseradish and mustard with truffle toast

The first meat course was a 45-day-aged beef tartare. This came with delicately sliced raw chicory, apple and sweet chicory marmalade, Coolea (a Gouda-like cow’s-milk cheese) and horseradish and mustard with truffle toast. The beef was modest in size and some of the finest I’ve eaten outside Japan. Again, the accompanying ingredients offered their own cornucopia of taste sensations without overshadowing the main attraction.

Entitled “Green, Green, Green” this was as healthy and as delicious as it looked

The fourth course was called “Green, Green, Green,” which would have prompted this writer to run screaming out of the restaurant back in the days when I steadfastly refused to eat anything green (peas excepted). This is one of Drake’s signature dishes, a mélange of broccoli curds and poppyseed “leather,” a fresh and zingy green tomato mousse served with caper berries, and kiwi fruit. I am not partial to broccoli, and yet there I was, mopping up my plate and experiencing the unusual sensation of eating something wholly beneficial to my body. 

Monkfish with thinly sliced lardo, celeriac, lemon and a miso butter garnished with monk’s beard and a fennel breadcrumb

The next course comprised monkfish tail cooked on a Japanese robata grill, served with thinly sliced lardo, celeriac, lemon and a miso butter garnished with monk’s beard (a Tuscan vegetable similar to chard) topped with a sprinkling of fennel breadcrumb. Again, I could see the influence of Japanese cuisine. The genius of this dish is that unlike the preceding appetizer, it conveyed no perception of saltiness, the discreet bitter aftertaste of the monk’s beard sufficing to season the succulent fish. The second meat dish consisted of Anjou pigeon served with dots of umeboshi purée and a black pudding purée, beetroot and morels stuffed with morel purée. (Just writing that is making my mouth water.) I had recently watched a dining companion in Chablis eating pigeon that can only be described as a crime against humanity (no, it was not Au Fil du Zinc), and here was a lesson on how to cook this bird, with a novel and again Japanese-inspired twist. And the morels? Surely a strong candidate for the greatest fungus on Earth, the purée delivered a natural sweetness that was irresistible.  

Grapefruit parfait with coconut, milk jam, passion fruit and basil meringue

I don’t eat much fromage these days. Sadly, it is not friendly to those who need to make sure their arteries remain unobstructed, but of course, once in a while doesn’t hurt. Wigmore cheese comes from Berkshire and contains no rennet, and it was absolutely delicious. It came with a dried apricot ketchup, raw fennel and almond oil with Amaretto biscuit. Pre-dessert came in the form of a rhubarb and sorrel custard with blood orange, and then we finished with a frozen grapefruit parfait that rendered the palate as fresh if not fresher than when we entered. This came with coconut, milk jam, passion fruit and basil meringue.  

The wine list is not huge but features judiciously chosen producers and leans toward organic and natural wines. This is not a list festooned with multiple vintages of DRC or Coche-Dury, yet you will find some exciting new producers, such as Chavy-Chouet, and some that deserve more attention, such as Koehler-Ruprecht. There are also plenty of wines available by the glass. Sorrel was very reasonable in terms of corkage, a gesture that should never be taken for granted, and one that might become vital in a reshaped hospitality industry. It fills otherwise empty seats, and the considerate wine-lover will reciprocate by ordering from the list, making sure the sommelier gets their share and nobody loses out. 

We were presented with complimentary flutes of 2010 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les 3 Terroirs from Michel Gonet. Having spent six years aging on the lees, it had a fresh, straightforward Granny Smith apple and sea spray nose. The palate was taut on the entry, never quite delivering the thrilling tension of a top Blanc de Blancs, yet focused, with a pleasant saline finish. The sparkler was followed by one of my favourite and, dare I say, undervalued German producers. The 2018 Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken from Koehler-Ruprecht in the Pfalz is a treat. An entry-level wine in their range, it delivered wonderful melon and yellow plum scents on a tightly wound nose that only began motoring after 30 minutes in the glass. The palate was brimming with nascent energy and commendable mineralité. While it does not boast the complexity of the revered Saumagen vineyard, it possesses the salinity to keep you coming back for more. The Riesling was partnered with a white from Crete. The 2018 Lyrarakis Voilá Assyrtiko comes from gravel/limestone soils located 580m above sea level. Lemon thyme, basalt and hints of jasmine form the irresistible bouquet, and the beautifully balanced palate offers hints of grilled almond suffusing citrus fruit that dovetails into a subtle white peach and nectarine finish and a persistent stony aftertaste. This was divine and, given its retail price, an absolute steal.

We moved back to classic territory for the final wine that I bought myself, the failsafe 2005 Rauzan-Ségla. Having reviewed this wine recently, I have little to add. The aromatics are more generous than other Left Bank 2005s at the moment, delivering plush black plummy fruit, cedar and mint, this bottle perhaps demonstrating a touch more gaminess. The palate is just about ready to drink, its almost creamy texture disguising the substance and backbone of this Margaux, and the silky texture is intact on the finish. The wine mellowed nicely over a couple of hours, developing a sensual roundness that neutered any guilt about broaching it young, at least for this vintage.

We occupied our seats for the entire afternoon, just a pair of honeymooning lovebirds and the two of us occupying an otherwise empty restaurant in one of its final services. We visited the kitchen and chatted to the chefs, who were bewildered by recent events, their futures suddenly thrown into doubt. Wishing them all the best for whatever lay ahead, I promised to return “on the other side.” It was a cruel twist of fate that my last fine dining experience before the pandemic constituted one of my most impressive meals in years.

The restaurant industry will take time to get back on its feet in a radically altered landscape. Yet I am convinced that if the fundamentals were already in place – that is to say, superb cuisine, driven and talented chefs, impeccable service, a serious wine list and an ambiance impossible to recreate at home – then restaurants the calibre of Sorrel will return stronger than ever. I must admit to being blown away by Sorrel, and I would place it on the same level as the aforementioned CORE or the now sadly departed Ledbury. There had been a trend toward simpler, less fancy cuisine typified by restaurants such as the outstanding Brat. Yet when you experience the craftsmanship of a talented and confident chef like Drake, a maestro in the kitchen, it’s a life-affirming experience that goes beyond mere gustatory satisfaction.

I telephoned to ask how things are going now that Sorrel has reopened, and they replied that they have been fully booked. They’ve had time to adapt and comply with social distancing and hygiene measures, and you can find details on their website. As you can read for yourself, nothing is being left to chance. So what are you waiting for? Check out one of the best restaurants in the UK.