Archive for March, 2011

Chef Interview: Martin Burge (March 2011)

Posted on: March 19th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

As one of the elite band of Michelin two star chefs, Martin Burge has achieved his success by focused dedication to the craft. With years, not months, in the kitchens of multi-Michelin starred chefs under his belt, Martin learnt all aspects of the profession: Perhaps most tellingly, that of consistency, structure and discipline. Martin found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide, interview took place in The Dining Room at Whatley Manor Hotel. Published March 2011.

Martin Burge

Tell us some background about yourself?

I am from Bristol and while at school I did work experience at Brunel College. This made a strong impression on me and I went on to study a full time education catering course at Brunel college before taking my first job at The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath under Michael Croft.

I worked five days and went back to college on one of my days off to study an advanced pastry course. Even at that early stage, I was quite passionate about pastry and aware that it was a potential weakness for the future if I didn’t study the subject properly.

Michael Croft moved to London and I went with him (to The Mirabelle) and stayed for about fourteen months. One of the chefs at Mirabelle was telling me about Pied a Terre, which was run by Richard Neat. At that time the restaurant was putting some of the best food in London on the table. The kitchen there was super tough and had a particularly high turnover of chefs. I stuck it out and actually thrived under the pressure, realising it was cooking and a career at that level that I had envisaged.

One day Richard (Neat) told me I should go to Le Manoir (aux Quat’ Saisons) and work for Raymond (Blanc). Initially, they offered me a second commis position and so I turned it down – I was really a chef de partie on pastry at Pied a Terre – they came back to me and offered me a first commis position with the chance to progress. I took the job, put my head down and stayed for three years.

I really learned so much about structure and discipline at Le Manoir and it was very different from working in a relatively small kitchen. The sectional set up and development approach at Le Manoir is something I still have kept with me today at Whatley Manor.

During my holidays I got invited to do a food festival with John Burton Race in Singapore. I worked for John for six years, taking in L’Ortolan and The Landmark Hotel, London. I was so pleased when we retained the recognition (Michelin Two Star) after uprooting a country house restaurant setting and moving it to London. I was his head chef so had significant responsibility in making sure the kitchen ran smoothly and achieved what was expected to be achieved.

One day John (Burton-Race) decided he was going to pull the plug on the business and do his French Leave. My daughter was one day old and I was out of a job. Then the Whatley Manor opportunity came up. Many hotels try to be all things to all people and hope for Michelin stars but that doesn’t really work. We have the right channels to market here to enable us to focus on top end fine dining as well as facilitate the broader needs of the guests.

What are your current roles and responsibilities at Whatley Manor?

Essentially everything to do with food: From the room service through the brasserie to ‘The Dining Room’. There was a bedding-in period where energies were cast in all directions; we were doing Lobster salads on the room service menu and cooking (probably) three (AA) Rosette standard menus in the brasserie. Over time you become more sensible, balanced and pragmatic as the model for how a hotel operates becomes clearer. Each element has its own identity, focus and objectives and we stick to that process.

What is the size of your brigade?

After eight years, the operation is a fairly well oiled machine with a fully staffed sixteen chefs. There’s been a lot of innovation in kitchen technology over the last few years that have helped efficiency in the kitchen. A simple example is water baths which have created much more working space.

I take great pride in the longevity of the staff here and making sure they are motivated, fresh and developed properly. In particular Robin Stock one of the two Senior Sous Chefs here has been with me for six years and Lee Bamforth the pastry chef has notched up five.

Let’s say, for example, I have someone who is demi-chef de partie level and doing well, I might rotate him to the brasserie on fish and meat for six months, couple that with some training and I can bring him back to ‘The Dining Room’ team at the next level.

Likewise, if I have had someone with me for three years and they’ve done all the sections, then they may have the opportunity to do pastry for six months to a year. Yes, they would start as third on pastry but on chef de partie wages and learning a new aspect of the trade. This not only keeps staff with me but develops them and keeps them fresh.

A number of chefs who make it to chef de partie, move on from a chef de partie to doing the fish and meat section – possibly making it to sous chef – but missing out on that vital element of pastry. I believe that this would restrict the opportunities of becoming an all round complete chef for the future.

What is the creative process for a new dish in the kitchen?

It depends on whether there is a new product on the market which inspires you to a dish or it might be a new technique or re- inventing an old dish or picking up ideas from other restaurants and so on.

In terms of fine tuning long standing dishes, Raymond Blanc was a past master at finding something new and exciting that would tweak the dish perfectly. When I was young I wondered why change something that had been perfect for years but actually making changes reflects progress.

It’s actually a natural process to me as I’m sure it is to a lot of chefs – the process of creating a new dish. The most important thing of course is to eat what you create. For example, I had this roasted scallop dish with truffle and white bean puree. I thought it would be wonderful but when I ate the dish, the puree of white beans coated my palate and I was unable to enjoy all of the flavours. Ultimately, taste is the test.

What’s the policy on sourcing ingredients for The Dining Room?

When I started here I sourced from the suppliers I already knew but have now introduced more local suppliers. I don’t fly the flag for anything – I do have my principles; sustainable fish and so on – but really its quite black and white with produce, it has to be the best. So while I might be able to get scallops from Cornwall, the ones I get from Scotland are outrageously good, and I won’t change just to tick a box.

You have to be efficient and make sure the produce is here day in, day out and of a consistent quality. This makes the romance of purely local and/or artisan suppliers not work in reality. Having said that we may, once a month, put on a Sunday roast in the brasserie and have a fantastic cut of beef from a local farmer.

How often do you change the menu at The Dining Room?

I’m a seasons man, although autumn is tough because by and large the game isn’t good enough and again in February the same happens. I feel you wait forever for spring to come and the vegetables to be ready, although I’m not an absolute purist on the seasonality of the menu as I feel it may get too repetitious.

I will set myself goals and aim to create around four new dishes per menu and bring back some of the favourites from the previous year. I feel if you create twelve new dishes a year, you’re making steady progress and staying fresh and motivated.

Is it a deliberate strategy to be open dinner service only at ‘The Dining Room’?

That was always the template when the hotel was being developed. The brasserie opens seven days a week and ‘The Dining Room’ five nights a week.

Were we to change it then we would have to review the whole structure of the staffing – size of brigade, salaries and so on. So changing has not been discussed; we’re realistic about what we’re offering and thus far the template has worked well for Whatley Manor and for the customers.

What are the strongest culinary influences on your career?

The people I have worked with have had a great influence. Pied a Terre introduced me to cooking at a Michelin level. Le Manoir for several things – Raymond (Blanc) was all about taste, taste, taste and so I trained my palate while at Le Manoir – there was also the organisation and structure to a successful Michelin starred kitchen. John Burton-Race was really about empowerment; allowing me to create dishes while at the same time learning how to run a kitchen.

Eating at Per Se four or five years ago was like an epiphany as to what great food should really be about – keep the ingredients true to themselves – beautifully done but not too complicated. If every single ingredient on the plate tastes exactly of the wonderful flavours of that ingredient then it will come together.

Do you have a signature style to your cooking?

Yes, I suppose building on the Per Se experience, it is to bring out the strong, clear, deep and natural flavours of the ingredients while, on the creative side, not getting too carried away with fashions and trends.

How has the enhanced media profile of chefs affected you and your restaurant?

Masterchef was fantastic for us, we had 13,000 page views of the website for three days running and had to enhance our bandwidth to cope. I am, however, very conscious about the programmes I will participate in and remain aware of the way in which I want to put across messages. Masterchef is a quality programme and our involvement motivated the staff – from the gardening team through to kitchen, restaurant, spa, and front of house.

Have you been tempted to step out of the kitchen and into the office?

I understand both sides. A chef needs to develop and doing ‘the executive role’ or selective media work can be fulfilling. So whilst my feet are firmly in the kitchen I see achieving the right balance between the two roles is crucial.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

Well I shed a tear the day we got the second Michelin Star. A happy day. Hard to top. I shared a bottle of Bollinger with some key colleagues.

What are your plans for the future?

I think you have to be proud and motivated in what you are achieving each day. I’ll always be open to the idea of new opportunities but right now Whatley Manor and I are a happy marriage that is achieving everything I want to achieve.

And so it was time to leave, Martin had proven the most charming host, with an easy manner and a glint of mischief in the eye. No doubt Whatley Manor will continue to go from strength to strength.

Maison Blanc Henley Review, March 2011

Posted on: March 19th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

2011 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Raymond Blanc’s opening of the original Maison Blanc in Oxford. I remember how it attracted national attention with its live-in artisan baker and early morning queues of people eager to buy its freshly baked authentic breads, savouries and patisserie. Then, it was one of the few places outside London where produce of such quality could be found. Its small café, at the end of the long narrow room, was always crowded, with patient customers waiting for a spare table.

Whilst the refurbished Woodstock Road branch still thrives, the intervening years have seen the successful growth of the Maison Blanc group, with 14 branches in south east England. Its central concept of a boulangerie, patisserie and chocolatier, combined with all day casual eating, has proved highly popular with its discerning patrons. Whereas originally the shop was the central part of the business, now the café, with a more extensive menu, is at least equally important. The scale of the operation has increased significantly, with its own bakery in London supplying all its branches.

The most recent one to open, in July 2009, is in Henley -on -Thames. This historic, picturesque town, famed for its annual regatta, is packed with hotels, restaurants, tea rooms, cafes, coffee houses and pubs. Competition is fierce for the custom of local residents, workers, students and tourists.

Located at 1-3 Duke Street, at the major crossroads on the town, it lies at the very heart of the town. Pedestrians, and motorists waiting at the traffic lights, cannot fail to be impressed by its signature italic blue logo, glass fronted walls and attractive displays. In fine weather, the possibility of al fresco eating is another attraction. Inside, a wooden dresser acts as a room divider between counter and café. The dark wooden shelving gives a traditional feel to the shop, whilst the brightly lit tea room has furniture more functional than decorative in design. A spiral staircase leads to the kitchen and extra seating.

Queues regularly form for lunch and afternoon tea, with weekend trade being the heaviest. The menu offers a variety of dishes to suit all pockets and tastes, for all parts of the day. Prices range from £2.99 for toast and marmalade to £12.95 for a sharing platter of various cheeses, hams and French saucisson.

How refreshing to see the humble porridge (with a variety of toppings), and boiled eggs with toast on the nine breakfast items, (although all these are available all day.) A more luxurious alternative is smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, which are properly runny and creamy.


Two salads are offered on the autumn/winter menu. One featured lightly smoked salmon paired with (thankfully not over- cooked) crayfish, avocado and mixed leaves. French dressing and crème fraiche with dill are well made and served separately in little pots.

Seven types of sandwich and three baguettes are listed. The warm brioche used to make the chicken club sandwich was excellent in its buttery sweetness, although the chicken was hardly noticeable amongst the other strong flavours of Comte cheese, pancetta and hard boiled egg. Nevertheless, as a composite light lunch, it was first rate.

Nine warm items “From the Oven” include the best selling spinach and goat’s cheese quiche, the generous filling of which did full justice to the rich, crisp pastry. However, a croissant of porcini mushroom and bechamel sauce failed to deliver on taste (too bland) and texture – it had become rather soggy.

More successful were the “Hot Bowls.” Deeply flavoured French onion soup was a popular choice on the day we visited. We also tried the Cassoulet, aware that there are many variations of this classic dish from southern France. The Maison Blanc version has a good balance of white beans, garlic sausage, lardons and shredded duck confit. Unashamedly rich with a gratinated top, and served with bread, is proved a highly comforting main course.

To drink, well chosen wines, two white – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – and two red wines – Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja – are available by the glass or half bottle. Piper Heidsieck Champagne and 1644 Kronenbourg lager are also on offer, whilst the hot beverage and cold drinks selections are extensive. It is worth pointing out that coffees and teas, just as good as the up market coffee chain opposite, are available to take away.

Afternoon tea is offered in the English version, with scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream or the Maison Blanc version with five dainty pastries: the lemon meringue pie, apricot almondine, mini chocolate eclair and raspberry millefeuille were all deliciously indulgent and well executed. However, there was an intruder – a chocolate brownie. Why this stodgy American apology for a cake was served alongside French patisserie has yet to be explained. What a shame, also, that tea bags were used. The wide variety of teas, and the whole tea room experience, would certainly be enhanced by serving leaf tea.

Afternoon Tea

Five continental pastries and seventeen different patisserie are available to eat in or take out. The range of patisserie features a seasonal new creation by Raymond Blanc, a delicious a pear frangipan with crumble topping. For chocolate lovers, Concerto features sponge biscuit, chocolate mousse with a crisp centre of feuillantine and praline all encased in chocolate fondant. Although light, it is extremely rich, so a smaller size might be preferable. Eclairs, whether chocolate, coffee or vanilla featured crisp choux pastry and generous, fillings of well flavoured crème patissiere.


Tarte au citron and Plum and Date tart benefitted from outstanding pate sucree. Cheesecake came in the sophisticated form of St Michel aux fruits rouges, with fromage blanc and a mixed berry centre. Strangely enough, the mille feuille did not reach the same high standards of the other patisserie, its pate feuilletee lacking the rich crispness one might expect, whilst the crème patissiere was too thick and needed more vanilla.

Two best selling loaves were sampled. Campaillou, had a sour dough flavour with an open, irregular texture. Its rustic looking crust is crisp and not as hard as Pain Poilane. In contrast, the zepplin shaped Colombier was densely textured, moist and dark with a nutty flavour given by linseeds and sunflower seeds. Both were prime examples of well crafted, artisan breads.

Emily, the cheerful and engaging manager of the Henley branch, heads a young front of house team which copes well at busy, peak pressure times. Happy in her role, she is proud of the success of the Henley branch. That it is constantly busy is a testament to its popularity. Indeed, the winning formula of all day eating, flexible menu, reasonably priced and well cooked food, along with top notch bread and patisserie to take away, is hard to beat, as local competitors are finding to their cost. Maison Blanc has definitely impressed its mark on this prosperous Oxfordshire town.

Simon Rogan and L’Enclume Review, March 2011

Posted on: March 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Simon Rogan

Fine Dining Guide had the pleasure of visiting L’Enclume, the Michelin starred restaurant with rooms in the Lake District, and meeting its highly acclaimed chef patron, Simon Rogan. Having also achieved the coveted accolades of five AA rosettes, (2010), and Best Chef of the Year (Good Food Guide, 2009), his cooking is in the vanguard of cutting edge modern British cuisine.

The gastronomic journey of this pioneering chef has involved fundamental changes. His early limited experience in restaurants in Hampshire and Devon contrasts with the increasing work involved in his expanding culinary empire in Cartmel. Having swopped the bustle of town and city restaurants – with stints under Marco Pierre White and John Burton-Race – for being his own boss in a tranquil picturesque village, must have proved not only a culture shock, but a highly risky enterprise. Most importantly, Simon has retreated from classical techniques of cooking using widely sourced ingredients to a more experimental style, with produce dictated by seasonality, locality and sustainability. Indeed, L’Enclume was voted Sustainable Restaurant of the Year in 2010

Speaking with the clear vision and genuine passion of a true convert, Simon reflected on the past and enthused about the future. Encouraged by his previous sous chef Frederick Forster, (Roux Scholar in 2000), he found true inspiration in the experimental approach of Pierre Gagnaire and the use of wild herbs and flowers by Marc Veyrat. Both these elements play a large part in his culinary philosophy, along with an uncompromising adherence to top quality, organic supplies from the nearby Howbarrow farm.

It is hoped to adopt a totally bio-dynamic approach to farming by 2012, guaranteeing a continuing seasonal supply of food and obviating the need for a menu in the traditional sense.

Just as his shorter hair style reflects a certain personal moderation, so Simon admitted he has toned down his earlier – wacky – attempts at innovation, designed to make an impact on the gastronomic stage. Although foams, purees and jellies still abound in unusual combinations of tastes and textures, his primary focus now is on maximizing flavour from his raw materials, whether farmed or foraged.

Simon emphasized it did not mean he is less ambitious; rather his energies have been redirected. He enjoys using the latest kitchen technology in realising his inexhaustible fund of new ideas. These will be given further scope by his plan to employ a full time development chef (he already has a development kitchen), an enlarged main kitchen, along with a restructured restaurant. Moreover, Simon has a plan to elevate Rogan and Co, his nearby brasserie in Cartmel, into another fine dining restaurant.

Finally, and true to his philosophy, Simon is fully embracing his Cumbrian surroundings by using regional materials in the imminent change of the restaurant furniture and décor. In particular, Cumbrian oak tables, with surfaces to resemble smooth coastal pebbles, will take pride of place. The anvil from which L’Enclume takes its name, is likely to remain.

The exterior of the grey-stoned, slate roofed ex smithy, originating from the 13th Century, belies the modernized interior that is now home of L’Enclume restaurant and four of its twelve guest rooms. Low, oak beamed ceilings of the original building coexist with modern spotlighting, leather backed chairs and a bright conservatory extension. Bare topped tables in the fifty cover restaurant are well spaced, although these and the leather chairs are about to be replaced.

Two twelve-course menus, one wholly vegetarian, are offered alongside a shorter eight course option. What impresses the diner are not just the consistent precision of the cooking, clean tastes, textural complexity and artistic presentation – as if these were not enough – but also the enormous range of ingredients, many of which are unfamiliar of half forgotten. Each multi-component dish is a tour de force of invention and technical skill, delighting, and often playing with, the senses. Every ingredient is given the same attention to detail to maximize taste and texture; indeed, a hardened carnivore could easily be seduced by the emphasis on vegetables, herbs and hedgerow ingredients.

Of the three home made breads offered at the start of the meal, pumpernickel was outstanding in its gentle sweetness and soft texture.

An amuse bouche of chick pea cracker with garlic flower was suitably crisp, delicate and light. This went perfectly with the champagne aperitif.

Served in a ceramic sack, a layered combination of carrot puree and fried “cake” covered a base of succulent Cumbrian ham. With the instruction to taste all elements in one mouthful, this proved a tasty, well balanced construction.

Next came a highly imaginative, labour intensive offering of cod “yolk” which looked like an egg yolk but was actually composed of a warm mousse of salt-cod, dipped in fish jelly and coloured with tumeric. Amazingly the spice did not overwhelm the fish. A mayonnaise of garlic and egg cream imitated the egg white, whilst puffed wild rice spiked with vinegar powder was a playful salute to salt and vinegar crisps. Overall, this was a triumph of wit, taste and texture.

Chestnut dumplings and English mushrooms provided a range of earthy notes, the strongest being the black truffle shavings. A mild chestnut froth contrasted with its intense and consommé-like jelly which added a deep richness to the dish.

Compared with many of the other dishes, potted char seemed less adventurous but nonetheless perfectly executed: the rich buttery fish being balanced by pickled radish and a tuile of dill and rye toast. (Wines with the above: Riesling, Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley 2009, Australia)

Baked vintage pink fir potatoes were adorned with crisp potato skins and “ashes” of powdered roasted onion skin. Smoked goat’s cheese and sorrel added a fresh lift to this unusual but successful combination.

Earth and sea were showcased in a brilliant composition of roasted cauliflower and razor clam. The nutty caramelized floret matched the delicate sweetness of the utterly fresh razor clam. Seafood foam masked a surprise of seaweed and oyster which added a saline depth of flavour.

Grilled sea kale with golden beetroot, wild flower honey and salted hazelnuts had pleasing crisp, crunchy and soft textures with sweet and savoury notes. Its stunning presentation, like so many of the dishes on the menu, added interest and excitement to the dining experience.

Hake with chicken was another delightful gastronomic conceit. The crispy salted chicken skin worked well with the tranche of firm fleshed hake which it covered. Spring greens and artichoke puree added colour, flavour and texture, whilst a sauce of malted cider with a subtle sweet acidity, brought the dish together. (Wines with the above: Graves, Chateau Moulin, Bordeaux 2008, France)

The meat course of Gott’s Holker milk fed lamb featured cuts of shank, loin and sweetbread, all the elements being well flavoured and meltingly tender. Turnip rounds provided an ideal textural contrast. However, the addition of sheep milk curds would appeal to the more adventurous, but for others it might be an acquired taste. (Wine: Bourgone Pinot Noir, “Cuvee les Deux Pais”, A Gambal, Burgundy, 2006, France)

The optional cheese board offered one of the few concessions to foreign ingredients. All cheeses were in peak condition, and mont d’or, langres and comte were enjoyed with Cumbrian Prospect goats’ cheese. The accompanying chutneys and homemade crackers were excellent.

Desserts continued the themes of unusual combinations with sweet and savoury elements and contrasting textures

Cream crowdie was a salute to the Scottish dish, substituting rhubarb for berries and Douglas fir for a mint garnish.

Sea buckthorn puree, its astringency moderated in the cooking process, was matched with dainty muffins specked with blackberry powder. Cumbrian dark beer and liquorice provided a liquid base to this intriguing, beautifully presented dessert.

Best of all was an apple sorbet, the acidity of which was balanced perfectly by the sweetness of sliced beetroot. Thyme custard added herbal fragrance whilst the cobnut crisp gave textural contrast. This was one of many brilliantly conceived and precisely executed dishes. (Wines with desserts: Gaillac Doux Domaine, Rotier, 2007)

As if all the above was not enough, an unheralded course provided another culinary conundrum: a milk shake of pureed parsnip – again playing with the senses – was served with a miniature parkin. Good coffee and Kendal mint cake chocolate completed a highly memorable meal

Although restaurant manager Franck was absent, he had trained his staff well. Service was seamless and highly knowledgeable, not a mean feat given the number of multi-component dishes. When asked, waiting staff not only enlightened diners on the ingredients but also the cooking techniques. Wines were chosen to match each a group of dishes; again, a demanding task given the number of courses.

Finally, the patience of the waiting staff needs praise. Having arrived late, after major problems on a two hundred and fifty mile drive, I discovered I had lost my wallet somewhere in the dark streets of Cartmel. The calming, helpful manner with which Camilla and Rebecca dealt with this situation enabled me to enjoy the meal in a relaxed frame of mind.

In the end, the experience of eating L’Enclume was well worth the journey. As a destination restaurant, many are prepared to travel long distances and stay in one of its twelve rooms. The suite I stayed in, overlooking the village square was spacious, lavishly decorated in a French style, and extremely comfortable.

The full bookings of restaurant and rooms testify to the attraction of L’Enclume to genuine foodies. Their high expectations, like mine, are met and exceeded. Having embraced Cumbria to the full, it would be pleasing for Simon Rogan to see the locals reciprocate by patronizing L’Enclume more than they do. There can be few chefs – if any – who have the confidence and virtuosity to change their menus so regularly, being governed by the trinity of seasonality, sustainability and regionality.

With a brigade of just seven in the kitchen the wonders produced reflect meticulous planning, organization and execution. Simon Rogan and his team have created a restaurant of which they can be justifiably proud and which is going from strength to strength. The recognition it has achieved is fully deserved and it can only be a matter of time before Michelin awards it the second star it deserves.

Bybrook Restaurant Review, Manor House Hotel, March 2011.

Posted on: March 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Richard Davies’ (Above) cheerful, engaging personality makes him instantly likeable, and must be a major asset in a busy kitchen. With an impressive CV, having worked in the restaurants of Gordon Ramsay, John Campbell and Thomas Keller to name but three top chefs, he became Head Chef of Sawyards Restaurant in West Sussex at the age of 25. Within 6 months he had gained a Michelin star.

Richard admits he fell in love with the Manor House – as many do – when approaching the hotel along the majestic drive for his first interview, Arriving to take control of the kitchens in August 2007, he was awarded a Michelin star in January 2009, the 18 months being short by Michelin standards if not his own.

He admits that John Campbell helped him to moderate his intense, aggressive Ramsayesque approach. Now his calmer manner in the kitchen is used to produce a cuisine streets ahead of most luxury country house hotels, meeting and often exceeding diners’ high expectations.

Although he uses it as convenient shorthand, Richard is hesitant in describing his cooking as “modern British cuisine,” The broad range of styles and time period it encompasses, makes the tag too imprecise and misleading: even Heston, he claims, is now doing what Ferran Adria has pioneered for years. He reflects on how chefs should not be too “militant” and inflexible in their approach, as this can result in stiff and over formal service in the restaurant. An element of fun, with a more relaxed approach – as seen in his favourite restaurant, The Ledbury – will enhance the dining experience.

Whilst not intentionally aiming for a star, his cooking style and dishes he likes to eat happily fit into the Michelin mould. There was less pressure in the kitchen, he admits, before gaining a star, but keeping it has made him more demanding and questioning of his own product. Ultimately, however, he will cook what the customers, those who pay the bills, prefer.

The classical French base of his cooking is adapted with innovative, contemporary touches. Menus change with the seasons, but not all at once, with new dishes being introduced gradually, or half at any one time. Richard is also not obsessed with local produce, which he feels can be over hyped. Whilst applauding local boar and lamb, which he can trace from field to plate, he will not sacrifice quality for locality. Thus, he still sources hand dived scallops from the Isle of Skye, which he views as the best. Another reason is that local ingredients, including those from the kitchen garden, cannot possibly sustain a restaurant of up to 90 covers, plus the demands of various private and corporate functions,. Indeed the £1.2 million spent on food last year suggests the need for sourcing from a much wider market.

The Bybrook dining room is an extension added in 1980. Although large, with well spaced tables accommodating 50+ covers, the room lacks the character and charm of the older parts of the hotel. Far from enlivening the room, the oak beams, carved stone work, stained glass windows, chandeliers, gilt framed portraits and thick drapes add to its heavy feel. Perhaps this is an advantage, because the real interest in the room lies in the food

Menus range from the good value market menu at lunch (£30) to the carte (£60 for three courses) and the Menu Prestige (£72 for five courses with an amuse bouche and pre dessert)

Fine Dining Guide had the pleasure of sampling the Menu Prestige with matching wines on a quiet weekday evening

Mi-cuit of salmon exposed the utter freshness and delicacy of the fish in its semi cooked form. A puree of celeriac and horseradish gave a gentle kick, whilst beetroot added sweetness and contrasting texture. A generous blob of caviar provided the necessary salt, giving also a luxurious decadence. Although only an amuse bouche, this was a highly innovative, perfectly balanced composition, auguring well for what was to follow.


Seared scallops with cauliflower puree and oven dried florets has been tried and tested in many high end restaurants. What distinguishes Richard’s version is the addition of an agro dolce dressing, a balsamic based sweet and sour reduction which elevated without overwhelming the seafood. (Wine: Rias Baixas, Viegadares.Albarino, Adegas Galegas, Galicia, Spain 2008)


The quality of the Torchon of duck foie gras was exceptional: marination, salting, spicing and rolling of the lobe had been carefully executed to produce a rich, smooth and melting result. Balancing this were gingerbread tuile which gave crispness and a fig and port reduction and jelly adding a depth of sweetness. (Wine: Gewurtztraminer Signature, Rene Mure, Alsace, France 2008)

Foie Gras

Pan fried turbot was perfectly timed to produce a golden crust with firm meaty flesh. This robust fish easily stood up to the earthy, rich flavour of the cep, celeriac and pancetta fricassee garnish. (Wine: Bramito, Chardonnay, Castello dello Sala, Umbrio, Italy, 2008)


Lamb was served in two ways: the herb crusted cannon was cooked pink to maximize flavour whilst a confit belly benefited from long slow cooking giving a melting unctuousness. This contrasted with mushy peas, a truly inspired garnish which added a freshness and colour. So too did the now ubiquitous pea shoots which, thankfully, were used in moderation, although they did add a distinctive fragrance to the dish. (Wine: La Fleur Laroze, Merlot, Caberet Franc, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux , France 2005)


A pre dessert of rhubarb and orange jelly, vanilla cream orange granite proved an excellent balance of contrasting textures and temperatures and sweet and astringent flavours.

Warm Valrhona chocolate fondant was suitably rich and runny. The rum ice cream might have benefited from more alcohol, although the chestnut puree avoided being over sweet. (Banyuls, Rimage. Les Clos de Paulilles, Grenache Noir, Roussilln, France 2008)

Incidentals of home made breads (a choice of four, the foccaccia being the best), coffee and petit fours were all top notch

This was a highly satisfying meal, clearly demonstrating the precision and versatility of Richard Davies’ cooking. It was enhanced by efficient, helpful and knowledgeable service overseen by Head Waiter Michal Szelagowski. Assistant sommelier Ben, in particular, was effusive in his matching wine descriptions, keen to demonstrate his expertise.

The Bybrook is a restaurant of which the hotel can be justifiably proud. Its popularity, especially at lunchtimes and at weekends, reflects a solid appreciation of the skill and creativity of Richard Davies. Whilst attracting local clientele, especially at lunchtimes, it has also become a destination restaurant and is clearly going from strength to strength.

March 2011: Fine Dining Guide March Newsletter

Posted on: March 3rd, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood is delighted to announce the continued success of a free iTunes podcast series. You can find any episode by typing “fine dining uk” in the main iTunes search box.

newsletter interviewees

The site has conducted four interviews since the last newsletter, spanning a former Michelin editor, a chef, a hotel group Regional vice President and a fine wine investment adviser.

Having Joined Michelin in the mid 1970s, some years later Derek Bulmer became only the third editor in GB&I Guide history. In this, his fourth interview with fine-dining-guide, Mr Bulmer speaks openly about his past, present and future.

Michelin two star chef Martin Burge successfully worked his way through the kitchens of Pied a Terre, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, L’Ortolan and The Landmark before setting up at Whatley Manor.

Four Seasons Hotel Group recently re-launched their Park Lane address and John Stauss GM and regional vice-president was on hand to give us his philosophies of General Management as well as an insight into the complete re-development of the iconic Park Lane site.

Berry Bros. & Rudd are one of the great wine merchants of the world – founded in the seventeenth century – and now with a global presence and a ground breaking website. Here Joss Fowler ( speaks about fine wines for investment.

Twitter/Facebook: The Twitter page continues to grow and now approaches 2450 followers ( The top 20 or so news tweets can also be found on fine-dining-guide’s News page. The Facebook page, which carries photo galleries of restaurant visits and updates of new articles, has grown steadily with 325 ‘likes’.

General Website Updates: The late winter/early spring months are typically the strongest for the site and this year has proved no exception with around 85,000 page views from 30,000 unique visitors since the last newsletter.

The 2011 edition Michelin arrived prompting an updating of the Lists of Restaurant Rankings. The Michelin Section has been significantly updated, in line with the publication season for all the various international city guides. The Restaurant Picture Gallery continues to be popular with readers and has been updated with visits to: The Cliff (Barbados), Cassis and Dinner by Heston.

In terms of restaurant reviews, The Restaurant Reviews Section now carries new pieces regarding BIrmingham Revisited (Love’s, Purnell’s and Turner’s), Odette’s, Le Pont de la Tour, Ristorante Semplice, Roux at the Landau, Cassis, Launceston Place, Corrigan’s and L’Enclume.

Opinion/News: The market for fine wines for investment – namely the top twenty or thirty Chateaux in Bordeaux is currently dominated by the far east. There are many wealthy, educated collectors in China with empty cellars. Today this market is brand loyal, should Chateau Lafite-Rothschild be written on the bottle then name your price. Or not quite. But a brand leader nonetheless.

Two economic corollaries appear; first that other fine wines of great intrinsic value are under priced today and the differential will be corrected tomorrow (as the dominant market becomes more aware and educated of intrinsic value over brand), making certain strong second growths a great investment today; second that there is no ‘Robert Parker figure’ in China today leaving a hole in the market for someone of that origin to capture the ‘taste of China’ – it made sense for an American to lead the world from the 1980s as they were the world’s leading investor, now perhaps it is time for a far-eastern counterpart.

A quick word on Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – the room is stunning and design-wise a vast improvement on what had gone before, the glass kitchen centre-piece is truly memorable. The food is good too and the atmosphere, decor and style of service are in keeping with the modern all-things-to-all-people “brasserie style.” Let’s face it fine-diners, even supermarkets are training the checkouts to strike up an informal conversation so top end restaurants offering relaxed chats is nothing out of the ordinary, couple this with bare tables and uncomfortable chairs and you have the modern restaurant opening. It’s what people want (at the moment).

Finally, many congratulations to Derek Bulmer on his retirement after a distinguished career. Perhaps he has overseen the meteoric rise of the Michelin chef to the extraordinary plateau in public understanding they now enjoy. The media rollercoaster has re-invented the Michelin chef and the Red Guide has been right there with the shift throughout. Some rather lazy, Michelin bashing journalism has made its way to the broadsheets recently (including the FT no less) – well a powerful critic with unwieldy power will attract critics of their own. Its a compliment.

Until next time, Happy Eating!