Oone could be forgiven for thinking that a trip to Seasonality, a new restaurant in Maidenhead, would involve a smooth and lightning-fast journey along the brand new Elizabeth Line. After all, we saw Her Majesty in a tall hat, dutifully cutting a ribbon, announcing that Maidenhead and the likes of Twyford and Slough are now within super-fast reach of the capital. Curiously, this is not the case.
Seasonality is strong, serving smoked bacon rillettes and peach bavarois on Queen Street downtown. But it’ll be 2023 before the Elizabeth line starts doing the useful, commuter- and homebuyer-friendly things it promised, because it’s still three separate parts. Currently, Seasonality, by Wesley and Francesca Smalley, feels like an intimate party just before things get a little hectic.
On the day of our visit, we were one of only three tables, and Wesley served the food as well as placed it, on a beautiful, coveted freestanding island in the center of the room. The menu was delicate, ornate and carefully selected, similar to what one might find in a posh, hard to book place in London. The Smalleys offer, among other things, a sea trout tartare speckled with cucumber and ginger, sweetened with a white soy ponzu; and ginger mackerel with oyster cream, radish and lemon verbena.
Seasonality is more than a restaurant, by the way. It first opened as a neatly curated produce store, where you could – and still can – leave armed with classy balsamic vinegar and exemplary jars of cashews. They also offer weekend meal delivery boxes, which have been a local hit. Now, however, it’s time for Seasonality the restaurant to shine. It is obviously a small independent structure, operating in difficult times; a real labor of love, involving a lot of sweating, pivoting and courage. At one point, after a round of Carlingford oysters spiced up with shichimi togarashi spices, and then a bowl of really good eggplant caponata, I thought to myself: this is a place worth thriving.
Caponata is a perilous thing to pull off because it’s little more than a ratatouille with illusions of grandeur, made with capers, olives and garlic. We all know how difficult it is to make a ratatouille or caponata presentable to anyone other than yourself, and maybe the dog. Oh, we start with good intentions, but 10 minutes after cooking this eggplant, we end up with a pile of dark, bitter mush. But at Seasonality, the caponata was an architectural feat, gloriously generous on black garlic and strewn with a vibrant sesame crumble. I have never eaten anything like this before and may not again.
Other mains included a rather short but delicious piece of Denver steak, sitting on a parsley mash with fresh peas, garnished with summer truffle. Portions are certainly small, though perfectly executed, which is the case across the country as ingredient prices rise and energy bills rise. Nonetheless, we loved a piece of Cornish sea bass, now served with a velouté of lettuce, a moist stew of earthy puy lentils and datterini tomatoes. When we went, the sea bass came with a shellfish lasagna filled with scallops, mussels and cockles, which was gloriously rich, chewy and soft in all the right places. It is a delicate, imaginative and meticulous cuisine.
There’s a two-course lunch for £18, with those homemade rillettes and the option of orecchiette with lamb stew, which I think is decent value – although it would be a travesty to miss the pudding list of Seasonality because there is a lot of joy to be had there. The art of pudding fuss is in a slippery state on the UK restaurant scene (such is the pressure to turn the tables), so praise should be heaped on the poached cherry financier option, a la marshmallow and pistachio from Seasonality, which is dreamy and artisanal. .
We ate a dark chocolate creamy, sticky banana caramel flavored with homemade vanilla ice cream. There was also a bowl of English strawberries with a daiquiri sorbet and a boozy rum mousseline, but Three-Pudding Grace was held back for the day.
Maidenhead town center may not be a destination dining spot like nearby Bray or Windsor, but the seasonality is a positive addition to a town on the brink of great change. And it may not be entirely easy to get there, but I suggest you focus on these pistachio financiers, do as Oleta Adams and go for it if you can.
Seasonality, 26 Queen Street, Maidenhead, Berks, SL6 1HZ, 07507 714087. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-9.30pm. Around £40 per person including drinks and service. (Lunch menu £18.)