AA ANNOUNCES NEW MULTI ROSETTE AWARDS . FIRST EVER FIVE AA ROSETTE AWARD IN JANUARY.
The AA has been awarding Rosettes to restaurants since 1956, with the top award of five rosettes being introduced in 1991. The multi rosettes are awarded bi-annually in January and September and for the first time this year the AA is announcing a new Five Rosette award in January.
The restaurant achieving this coveted five AA Rosette award is Gidleigh Park in Devon. Michael Wignall (pictured), one of the country’s most respected chefs, moved to Gidleigh Park in January 2016. He is well known for having a great respect for food and an ever evolving style which creates unique dishes full of flavour, underpinned by a contemporary, less formal approach to fine cuisine.
Alistair Sandall, Commercial Manager at AA Hotel Services said, ‘While the awarding of new five rosettes is usually included in our main Hospitality Awards in September we all felt that we could not delay this award until then. Michael Wignall has transferred his exquisite skills and style to Gidleigh Park and has made this undoubtedly worthy of this accolade.’
The restaurants awarded new four AA Rosettes are –
- Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, Balloch
- Morston Hall, Blakeney, Norfolk
- Typing Room, London E2
The new three AA Rosettes restaurants are –
- AG’s Restaurant at Alexander House Hotel, Turners Hill, Crawley
- Anglo, London EC1
- Boringdon Hall Hotel (Gallery Restaurant), Plymouth
- Bovey Castle, Moretonhampstead
- Céleste at The Lanesborough, London SW1
- Crossbasket Castle, Blantyre
- Inver Restaurant, Strachur
- The Elderflower Restaurant, Lymington
- The Mount Somerset Hotel and Spa, Taunton
- The Olive Room, Ilfracombe
- The Square, London W1
- Tuddenham Mill, Newmarket
Restaurants awarded three AA Rosettes are all outstanding restaurants that achieve standards that demand national recognition well beyond their local area while those achieving four AA Rosettes are among the top restaurants in the country. To achieve five AA Rosettes, the restaurants are the pinnacle of the nation’s restaurants where the cooking compares with the best in the world and exhibit breath taking culinary skills and set the standards to which other aspire to and yet few achieve.
As you round the corner on the long, winding drive on the edge of Dartmoor, the sprawling half-timbered mansion materialises against a lush backdrop of trees, with the River Teign flowing languidly past the front. The Aussie shipping magnate who built the property in the Arts and Crafts style in the late 1920s obviously intended to show his guests that he was a chap of substance, and it still gets jaws dropping today. It’s a charming and stylish place of impressively high standards, fully in tune with the needs of 21st-century sybarites, so everything is set up for pure indulgence and relaxation – there’s even a hot tub on the roof these days – and something would be amiss is there wasn’t an A-list dining option.There is: Gidleigh Park has one of the top restaurants in the country. The place was already in the Premier League of country house destination dining thanks to the long residency of chef Michael Caines – big boots for any successor to fill, but Michael Wignall (ex Pennyhill Park in Surrey) is a chef of the requisite calibre. He took the helm in 2016 and has shown that there are going to be thrills aplenty under the new regime. Wignall’s cooking is technically precise, clever without ever losing its way, and everything looks perfect on the plate. A light touch means you can tackle the seven- or ten-course tasting menus without being overwhelmed, and meat-free versions of both ensure that veggies are not sidelined. Otherwise, the carte offers up five choices per course, or lunch is a good entry point if you want to get a measure of the place for pretty much half the price. Ensconced in oak-panelled majesty in one of the three dining rooms, you might as well splash out on some wine. An authoritative list of around 1,300 bins awaits, with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic sommelier to steer the way.
Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
These days, just about every name chef has a place in the city and somewhere in the countryside, and Edinburgh star Martin Wishart has a gorgeously sited venue on a bank of Loch Lomond, probably literally a stone’s skim from the front door to the water’s edge. Naturally, views from the dining room are over the gently ruffled waters of the loch, and a little creative ruffling has been brought to the latest Ian Smith design job. Graeme Cheevers brings his own productive energies to the Wishart style, which matches a strong commitment to natural produce with head-turning visual display.
On the edge of the Blakeney National Nature Reserve in coastal North Norfolk, Morston is a flint-knapped 17th Century country house with commanding views of the briny – a heaven-sent location for sourcing prime produce from land and sea. Inside, it’s a supremely civilised set-up, run for a quarter of a century with personable warmth and easy-going charm by chef-patron Galton Blackiston and wife Tracy. The conservatory dining room looks the part in delicate vernal green with fresh flowers abounding, and polished service ensures the evening runs like a well-choreographed routine. After aperitifs at seven, guests take their seats for the eight o’clock show that is the seven-course tasting menu. The pre-selected wine flight bears all the hallmarks of thoughtful selection based on testing and tasting, and is well worth the extra layout.
The old Bethnal Green town hall was built at the end of the Edwardian era, and is uniquely suited to have become a 21st-century hotel. The space where council memos were once hammered out on manual typewriters is now an independent dining room, designed along impeccable modern lines, including an open-to-view theatre kitchen with five evening shows a week and four lunch matinées. Time spent at international reference eateries Noma and Per Se, and productive periods under London maestros Tom Aikens and Jason Atherton, have refined Lee Westcott’s output to a rare pitch of concentrated creativity, and even where dishes look perfectly straightforward, they reveal unexpected depths of intensity from one mouthful to the next.
AG’s Restaurant at Alexander House Hotel
In a sprawling 120 acres of Sussex-Surrey borderland, the red-brick manor house is an architectural mash-up comprising a castellated neo-medieval turret and soaring factory-style chimneys. Inside, the designers have been busy funking up the bar and lounge with assertive splashes of psychedelic colour, but sensibly sticking to a more sober palette of royal-blue upholstery and white linen to reinforce the fine dining mood in AG’s, the principal dining room (there’s also a sleek brasserie called Reflections). Innovative technique and eye-catching presentations are the hallmarks of dishes that have their roots in the classical repertoire. Everything including the bread is made with craft and attention to detail, and it’s all backed by a compendious wine list.
The new order of fine dining is to chuck out the chintz and proffer an unpretentious attitude, to focus on the ingredients and to maximise flavour with various whizzy techniques. The guys behind Anglo do just that, in a simple room with a light modern feel, the space watched over by a small service team who are as professional and informed as they are youthfully exuberant. Some plates are brought to the table by the chefs, which is also part of the new order. Owner Mark Jarvis is an experienced hand, having kicked off his career at Le Manoir over a decade ago, and head chef Jack Cashmore has Sat Bains on his impressive CV. They’re turning out some eye-catching food, inspired by British produce – hence Anglo – and offered up via a lunchtime à la carte and 5-course tasting menu, and a full-bore 7-course tasting menu in the evening. Everything arrives looking beautiful on attractive crockery, and flavours hit home. Dinner comes with an optional wine and beer pairing for each dish.
Boringdon Hall Hotel
Only a few clicks outside Plymouth, Boringdon Hall is a spa hotel with a rich past. Back in the Tudor day, it became crown property during the Dissolution, and was then gifted by Henry VIII to one of his court favourites, Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Today’s attractive mix of stone walls and mullioned windows with ultra-mod spa facilities adds up to a powerful enticement, and the deal is surely sealed in the Gallery Restaurant, which, as its name suggests, overlooks the beamed Great Hall with its intricate carved furniture and little crannies. Scott Paton rules this roost, with food that is full of surprises and inventive energy.
Built in 1890 by one William Henry Smith (WH Smith to you and me), Bovey Castle was first opened as a ‘golfing hotel’ by the Great Western Railway company way back in 1930, and both associations are acknowledged in today’s dining options: Smith’s Brasserie and the big-hitting Great Western restaurant. It’s a property with a real sense of drama – big, bold, and glamorous, with a spa and that golf course to help pass the time until dinner. The Great Western is an equally lavishly done out space, suitably romantic with an art deco swagger. The kitchen is headed up by Mark Budd, a local chap who always had his eye on the top job here, and he hasn’t wasted any time making his mark. Regional ingredients from land and sea loom large in good-looking contemporary dishes that reveal well-honed technical skills and even a sense of fun.
Céleste at The Lanesborough
London is hardly short of gilded relics of empire, but this grand old mansion on Hyde Park Corner is in the Premier League. The Lanesborough offers a world-class level of luxury and service, but if your budget’s not up for stratospherically-priced rooms – personal butler included – you can sample the hotel’s oligarch-friendly glamour by booking a table at Céleste, the opulent dining room. And those tables come glistening with top-class crystal and silverware, beneath a glass-domed ceiling that reflects a trio of shimmering chandeliers, and blue and white friezes resembling delicate Wedgwood china. Modern French cuisine is the kitchen’s thing, cooked with top-level skill under the aegis of French super-chef Eric Frechon, although day-to-day delivery of the Frechon style is in the talented hands of head chef Florian Favario. The kitchen and über-professional front-of-house team may be as French as a camembert baguette, but the first-class materials underpinning the menu are resolutely British.
Crossbasket is a castellated beauty, dating in parts from the 16th century, and following a multi-million-pound refurbishment it can’t surely have looked this good in all its 500-year history. The luxurious, traditional decor is entirely in keeping with the building, with just nine sumptuous bedrooms to ensure a personal touch. The restaurant follows suit with its lavish colour scheme of red and gold, and with the names Albert and Michel Roux Jnr looming large, well, you just know the culinary bar is set very high too. The service is formal, professional and spot on, while head chef Alex Thain is the man charged with delivering on the promise of the Roux association. There’s evidence of classical thinking on the menu, alongside a light modern touch and contemporary ideas, and the wine list covers the globe while remaining true to the auld alliance.
Pam Brunton and Rob Latimer have made quite a metaphorical splash on the shores of Loch Fyne. Their low-slung whitewashed cottage sits in splendid isolation by the water’s edge, and a well-designed interior spec provides contemporary simplicity tempered by a couple of real fires. A stack of vinyl records provides a cool backing track. If the interior brings to mind the purity of Scandinavian design, well, that is perhaps no coincidence, for Pam’s time spent at Noma in Copenhagen has helped inspire her culinary approach too (check out the cookbooks on show to find further clues). The menu reflects the seasons and the local terroir, and modern cooking techniques enhance the ingredients to maximum affect. Children have their own wee menu, and the wine list, like everything else here, lifts the spirits.
A moment’s stroll from the quay at Lymington, The Elderflower is a traditional-looking double-fronted restaurant in the old part of town, opened in 2014 by Andrew and Marjolaine Du Bourg, a partnership with its entwined roots in Yorkshire and the Charente. Low beamed ceilings and smartly linened tables establish a sympathetic ambience within, and Andrew’s menus, honed by valuable experience in many of London’s premier addresses, are overflowing with intelligence and enthusiasm.
The Mount Somerset Hotel & Spa
A handsome Regency pile in four acres of hilltop grounds, Somerset House lords it in the bosom of the Blackdown and Quantock Hills. Within, it’s the very template for classic country-house style, jazzed up with a modern note here and there, its period features – high ceilings, ornate plasterwork, polished wooden floors, open fireplaces, and a sweeping centrepiece staircase for when you feel the need to make a grand entrance – all remain pristine and play their part in building an air of luxury and refinement. New head chef Mark Potts has upped the kitchen’s game, steering a creative, contemporary country house line, and packing its menus with top-grade produce with West Country ingredients play a leading role.
The Olive Room
One of the most encouraging aspects of the contemporary dining scene is that a cutting-edge kitchen might as easily be found on the tranquil north Devon coast, not far from where the ferries depart for Lundy island, as in the metropolitan heartlands. So it is with Thomas Carr’s thrilling modern repertoire at The Olive Room, which at one glance is just the dining room of a local guest house, but at another is so much more. Cream walls and engaging staff set a relaxing tone, but the cooking will have you sitting up and taking notice, and there is a compact list of well-chosen wines to accompany.
A new era began for The Square in March 2016 when, after a quarter of a century at the helm, former owner and driving culinary force Philip Howard announced its sale to Marlon Abela. Fear not. Abela heads up a high-end transatlantic portfolio and knows a thing or two about the restaurant business, so the formidable reputation built here for refined modern French-oriented cuisine that utilises a wealth of thoroughbred British produce remains intact. The room was never a show-stopper, but it is refined and gently contemporary: abstract art on pearlescent walls, polished wooden floors and generously-spaced tables dressed up in pristine linen. This is Mayfair after all and dishes unashamedly mix high and humble.
The old mill may have ended its grinding days in the 1950s, but its heritage remains intact at the present-day boutique hotel. For one thing, the stream that turned its waterwheel has been dredged of centuries of silt and is now a thriving wildlife habitat, while the majestic wheel itself, framed by beams and glass walls, forms a diverting centrepiece to the first-floor restaurant. Head chef Lee Bye is a country boy with an instinctive feel for the surrounding region.