Preston is famous for having the biggest bus station in Europe, and is the town where I did my A levels... but it's not exactly known for fine dining. So when my mum told me that she'd been to a new, top-class restaurant which was also happy to cater for her vegan, wheat-free diet, I was excited to have chance to try Fusion Room for myself.
UPDATE 2013: I'm disappointed to say that my mum has found Fusion Room is no longer delighted to cater for her group of vegan friends, which is a very disappointing turn of events! However I'm leaving this review in place as it accurately reflects my experiences when we visited.
We phoned in advance, and they prepared a special menu for us, so that we actually had three starters and three main courses to choose from (the regular menu has one veggie option). There was a selection of tasty bread rolls to nibble while we contemplated the menu, of a variety of different styles. There's not much to say about bread, but my mum's gluten free rolls were surprisingly light, and in fact I think her seeded roll could have held its own alongside the regular bread. If you've ever tried gluten free bread, you'll know this is quite an achievement.
I had a goats cheese & asparagus slice to start, which was incredibly rich. I seldom wish for less food, but in this case I would have been quite happy with half the portion. The goats cheese was made into a thick and creamy terrine, and the taste was quite mellow, although it still overpowered the asparagus a little.
Andrew and my mum both ordered tomato soup, which came topped with a thick layer of basil foam. I've been reading a lot about food science lately, including foam and other textural experiments, so this was fun to see, and the foam was actually warm which came as a surprise to me. I had a taste, and it was definitely something I'd consider if it's on the menu when we go back.
For my main course I selected a dish called "Shallot Textures" which consisted of shallot risotto and a shallot tarte tatin, topped with a roasted fig. I wasn't sure how well the fig would work with the other parts of the meal, but it actually complemented the shallots perfectly. The caramelized tarte was quite sweet, but the risotto was savoury with a slightly bitter edge which balanced it out. I'd certainly eat this again.
The main courses were served with more vegetables than we could eat (broccoli, carrots, and roast potatoes) - a pleasant change from some high-end restaurants who really do seem to believe that less is more.
Andrew ordered trout (which has no place on a vegetarian blog!) and my mum had a mixed vegetable stir fry, served with rice and a spring roll, which she enjoyed.
For dessert, I had the chocolate & amaretto sponge with orange sorbet. The moment I saw amaretto on the menu, I knew what I'd be ordering. Unfortunately, the orange sorbet was so sharp and strongly flavoured that I couldn't actually eat it with the chocolate cake - at least, not if I wanted to be able to taste the chocolate and amaretto (which I did!). So I ended up effectively eating two separate desserts: a sherbet-orange sorbet, and a chocolate amaretto cake. Both of which were delicious, but it was a shame they didn't quite work together.
My mum had told us all about a sophisticated rhubarb dessert which she'd loved on her previous visit, so she was a little disappointed to find that when we went, the only suitable option was a selection of sorbets. However, they made it look incredibly pretty, and the flavours were as bold and bright as the colours.
Andrew had a lemon tart, which was a sort of deconstructed lemon meringue pie (the meringue having been cooked with a blow-torch, straight onto the slate). This was served with raspberry sorbet, but in contrast to my dessert, in this case the lemon and raspberry were both vibrant flavours which could stand together without either overpowering the other.
Overall, we had a fantastic meal and it's always great to see a restaurant go to so much trouble to make vegetarian and vegan guests feel just as welcome as everyone else. While there were some elements that seemed slightly unbalanced, this didn't stop me enjoying my meal - and I'm sure it will only improve as the chef gathers more experience. I'll definitely be going back next time I'm in the area.