Early in 2016, Paul Foster took a huge risk. He quit as head chef at Mallory Court in Leamington Spa and launched a Kickstarter campaign for a restaurant of his own. The all-or-nothing funding drive raised £100,000. In March 2017, Salt was born. A flurry of glowing, high-profile reviews, three AA Rosettes and appearances on Saturday Kitchen and Great British Menu all followed. In October 2018, Salt was awarded its first Michelin star.
Foster, once the Observer Food Monthly’s Young Chef of the Year, has worked at some of the most progressive, star-laden kitchens in the world, including Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottinghamshire, Raymond Blanc’s Oxfordshire getaway Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, California hotspot The French Laundry and now-departed NYC ground-breaker WD-50. Salt is the accumulation of all those experiences: a place to exhibit a cooking style he describes as “modern British with a focus on purity of flavour”.
You’ll find Salt in one of the handsome Tudor buildings within the historic Old Town area of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Inside, two spaces share the feel of a stripped-back, low-ceilinged cottage: stone flag flooring and white-washed walls accentuate original wooden beams. We liked the look of the window seat in the front room, but were pleased to be seated in the rear space, next to the semi-open kitchen. On our visit, it was exciting to see Foster himself rattling the pans at the head of a small team – the best thing about booking a seat at a standalone restaurant with a passionate chef-owner at the helm.
While we chose a bottle from the restaurant’s well-priced and well-chosen wine list, we were greeted by smoked almonds and fat, flavoursome olives. Then warm malted bread rolls, served alongside some of the tastiest salted butter we’ve ever tried.
The menus change often to reflect the seasonal produce of local suppliers. On a fresh May afternoon, we began with English asparagus served with earthy hazelnut butter and fat-flecked Cotswolds salami. Smart, locally made crockery matches the minimalism of the surroundings.
Throughout our meal, interesting ingredients abound. For the fish course, cured scallop was served alongside douglas fir emulsion (a delicious, herbal addition), dashi and cucumber. It looked beautiful, and tasted even better. Later, a rack of dry aged lamb came with plump morels and miso turnip, adding a hit of umami to a traditionally cooked dish.
Dish of the day, though? One of the menu regulars: a whole carrot, cooked in chicken fat and served with crispy chicken skin and a second, sharply pickled carrot.
An optional course that we now consider essential was the cheese plate. We crowned delicate rounds of homemade lavoche crispbreads with three British cheeses and dollops of spiced apple chutney.
Opt for the tasting menu and you’ll get two delicious desserts: on our visit, Wye valley rhubarb, buttermilk parfait, thyme meringue and almond; then chocolate sorbet with caramelised white chocolate and goat’s milk jelly – an unusual and satisfyingly sweet curd. As the coffee was poured and the petits fours passed around, we debated the relative merits of these precisely assembled puds and relaxed into the feeling that – even after six courses – we felt well-fed, but not stuffed and sleepy.
For the quality of the food, the smoothness of the service and all of the extra morsels, a trip to Salt is excellent value for money. A meal for two, including drinks and service, costs £70-£110; the six-course tasting menu at lunch comes in at £50 each; and a set two-course lunch is £22.50.
Great for both groups and romantic meals, Salt offers a laid-back atmosphere, but is worthy of special occasion dining too. It’s heartening that Foster’s fundraising campaign has delivered the result he wanted: well-received by locals and loved by touring foodies, Salt is a real success story.
Where to stay…
Salt doesn’t have rooms but, just a few doors away, the lovely Townhouse offers 12 recently revamped en-suite bedrooms. In a Grade II-listed building, each one is individually decorated and features super-kingsize beds by Feather & Black, luxury linens, geometric wallpapers by Cole & Son, high-pressure rain showers and Nespresso machines. Rooms start at £130 per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
How to get there…
From London: Salt is a 15-minute walk or four-minute taxi ride from Stratford-upon-Avon train station. Journey times from Marylebone start from 2 hours and 7 minutes. Car journeys via the M4 take around 2 hours and 10 minutes with no traffic.
From Birmingham: Direct train journeys from Birmingham Snow Hill station take 55 minutes. Car journeys via the M40 also take around 55 minutes with no traffic.
From Manchester: Train journeys from Manchester Piccadilly last 2 hours and 54 minutes. Car journeys via the M6 take around 2 hours and 10 minutes with no traffic.
Salt, 8 Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6HB; Salt is open for lunch from 12-2pm Wednesday-Sunday and dinner from 6:30-10pm Wednesday-Saturday.
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