Dining out: Ember, Wellingborough

See what we thought when we visited the award-winning restaurant
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Just like fashion and haircuts, food trends come and go. Who is ordering a prawn cocktail now? And who isn’t eating avocado?

As one of those people who watches every cooking show imaginable, something I’ve noticed that seems to be fashionable is cooking everything over fire.

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It might be popular but the scorching heat of flaming wood or red-hot coal is notoriously difficult to control, as most inexperienced cooks find out in British barbecue season.

Ember in Wellingborough and, inset, the pork bellyEmber in Wellingborough and, inset, the pork belly
Ember in Wellingborough and, inset, the pork belly

Thankfully the chefs at Ember in Wellingborough have nailed the art of it, and have brought with it the kind of flair that wouldn’t be out of place in London’s restaurant scene.

Having welcomed our second baby earlier this year, my wife and I dropped our children off at all-too-willing grandparents for a celebratory Saturday lunchtime treat at the Nene Court venue.

We’d heard great things about it – it has won a number of awards, after all. I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Wellingborough but I don’t remember eating a meal there as good as this.

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Ember is not the place to go if you want a meal in silence. There was a DJ and it has a lively atmosphere – you can hear the buzz from other diners and the energy from the kitchen. Wherever you are sat, whether it’s at the chef’s table bar stools or main floor dining tables, you can see staff preparing the food and, most importantly, feel the heat of the fire. The staff are incredibly friendly, but not over-the-top-in-your-face friendly, and gave helpful recommendations.

The beef, scallops and sticky toffee pudding.The beef, scallops and sticky toffee pudding.
The beef, scallops and sticky toffee pudding.

We were shown to our seats and ordered a sparkling wine and rhubarb cider from nearby Saxby’s while we perused the menu, which features a series of small plates separated into snacks, sea, meat, vegetables and puddings. Dishes are brought to the table whenever they’re ready and you can order multiple times.

Whenever we go to a top restaurant we try to order things we would rarely cook at home, this time opting for scallops, pork belly and smoked beef. There was plenty on the menu including padron peppers, monkfish, butterflied chicken thighs, sausages, baked carrots and roasted cauliflower, but as much as we wanted to we couldn’t eat it all.

The scallops came with a warning not to touch the shell, which had been placed directly on top of embers and had a scorched exterior. The scallop meat was perfectly opaque and sat on garlic butter with a herbed breadcrumb topping which provided a great texture. We didn’t need the warning about the shell – they were so tasty it would have been worth the blisters.

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The pork belly was some of the best we’d eaten, on top of smooth and creamy celeriac. It had perfectly crisp crackling with a few blobs of apple and miso puree which were delicious.

The beef – oh the beef! – was superb. It was picanha and served fairly rare, as the cut should be, but was incredibly juicy and had a good smoky flavour which didn’t overpower the meat. A zingy herb and caper salad really brought the dish to life.

Onto the vegetables which were brought out last and we were so full we probably didn’t need both dishes we had ordered, but we gave them a good go. The barbecued hispi cabbage had a lovely char and was served with Desi pilipili, an Indian chilli oil, and yoghurt. It was quite spicy but delicious nonetheless. Could it have done with a tad more yoghurt? Maybe. Our final savoury dish was burnt leeks with buttermilk and black garlic, which was creamy with a big allium hit.

Our only slight disappointment was the baked focaccia, which although had a great flavour lacked the oily spring we hoped for.

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We were asked if we wanted dessert and gladly nodded like insurance dog Churchill. On another day I would have liked to have tried the smoked pineapple ‘trifle’, which had me curious, but with only room in our stomachs for one dessert between two it had to be the miso sticky toffee pudding.

This wasn’t any old sticky toffee pudding according to the menu – it was ‘famous’. To call something famous you either have to be brave, stupid or incredibly confident, but thankfully it lived up to the billing. It was sensational. Rich, indulgent and everything you’d want from a dessert, and definitely worth the year it’s probably taken off my life.

Now for the part everyone looks at before deciding where to eat – the price. Ember is not a budget restaurant and nor does it claim to be. Our bill of two meat dishes, one sea dish, two vegetable courses, bread, a dessert and a few drinks, combined with service charge, came to just over £90.

In a cost-of-living crisis it’s not somewhere we, or anybody who doesn’t earn mega bucks, will be going all the time. There’s plenty of cheaper restaurants about, but Ember is fantastic for a treat or special occasion like the one we were celebrating.

And unlike prawn cocktail, we hope their fashionable food is here to stay.

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