Visit: 3 August 2023, dinner for five
Award: 1 Michelin Star
Tom Shepherd’s restaurant Upstairs was awarded its first Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2022, and it is the first and only Michelin starred restaurant in Staffordshire. The restaurant has been recently extended and now has 40 covers instead of the 24 previously.
I have visited on a number of previous occasions, and you can see my reviews and an introduction to the restaurant here:
Tom recently won great acclaim on Great British Menu 2023, where he represented the Central Region and went on to win the main course round. At the Banquet he served his take on Desperate Dan’s Cow Pie.
The cost of the 7-course tasting menu is £100 per head, and there is a vegetarian menu option. This is very good value for food of this quality and with such excellent service. There is also an optional wine painting at £60 per head.
Tonight, the food was even better than I remember from previous visits. I think Tom is on his journey to a second Michelin star. There were three canapes – a polenta and pecorino fritter with truffled emulsion and seasoned tapioca crackers; a croustade of Hereford rump cap beef tartare with a tom yum Asian style dressing, smoked mayonnaise, chive, and grated ox heart; and an aged parmesan sable biscuit with a Tunworth cheese custard, onion jelly ketchup and powder, and fresh thyme. All three of these canapes were very tasty, especially the polenta fritter and the superb beef tartare croustade.
The first starter course was a red cabbage gazpacho, with a quenelle of horseradish ice cream, and Portuguese Casa MigMag olive oil. This was a visually appealing dish with the deep purple gazpacho soup lifted by the addition of the mild horseradish which was a perfect accompaniment, adding an extra layer of flavour.
The bread course was a Parker house roll with cultured butters, including Tom’s famous Marmite butter.
The fish course was Atlantic cod loin, with carrot, golden raisin ketchup, tandoori and cod skin crackers, and a chicken velouté sauce split with pumpkin seed oil. This had deep flavour and the cod was precisely cooked. However, I found the sauce to be slightly too salty for my palate.
Next was corn-fed spring chicken from Brittany that had been roasted on the crown, a sweet corn fricassee, with peas, smoked bacon, girolle mushrooms, smoked sweetcorn puree, and tarragon, finished with a buttermilk chicken sauce, covered in optional Australian black winter truffles (at an extra £11). The buttermilk is a by product of the cultured butter served earlier and adds acidity to the dish. Again, I found the sauce to be slightly too salty for me. The chicken was extremely tender, and the black truffles were a very nice accompaniment to this dish.
Herdwick Spring lamb was served in two parts. First was the braised neck, cooked in red wine, shallots and garlic, then panéd and served with parsley emulsion and pickled radish. The second part of the lamb course was lamb loin served with lamb sauce made with mint oil, red wine and shallots, a broccoli puree, and confit lamb belly topped with gem lettuce, a Caesar emulsion, a lamb and onion compote, pickled red onion, and compressed gem lettuce with coal oil to finish. All the components of the lamb course were exceptionally good.
The optional cheese course (£12) was Baron Bigod, a fabulous Brie-de-Meaux style cheese from Fen Farm Dairy, Sussex, served on a crumpet, with truffle butter, pickled walnut ketchup, roasted walnut, and dressed with Upstairs truffled honey. A very tasty combination of great cheese, homemade crumpet, truffle, butter and honey.
The transition course, a palate cleanser moving you from the savoury to sweet courses, was a take on Thai green curry, with a rice pudding base, fresh mango and mango sorbet, a Thai style foam, topped with puffed wild rice and fresh coriander.
The dessert was “No Ordinary School Boy” which was Tom’s dessert entry in Great British Menu 2023. It was given four 10s by the judges, the only dish to receive the full 40 points in this series. The dessert is a mock banana, made from a banana mousse, with chocolate and surprise popping candy inside, and then dipped in chocolate to give it a crisp outer coating. This is served with a separate bowl of rum soaked banana sponge, banana ice cream drizzled with caramel, and served on a sweet granola. This was outstanding! This was served with an Upstairs Banana Manhattan cocktail made from banana skins macerated in Caribbean rum, Brazilian banana liqueur, Macadamia nut syrup, and a sweet vermouth, a perfect accompaniment.
The accompanying wines were unusual but very well chosen to complement the food. The service was superb. The staff were friendly and extremely knowledgeable, being able to answer my questions without having to refer to the kitchen. The food was superb, even better than previous visits, and the courses were served at a good pace without us being rushed.
Tom’s success and the popularity of the restaurant mean that it’s very difficult to get a table. However, it’s worth persevering as it’s really very good!