Archive for August, 2011

Whatley Manor Hotel Review, (August 2011)

Posted on: August 30th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Since opening in July 2003 after three and a half years of restoration and extension, Whatley Manor has established itself as one of the leading hotels in the Cotswolds. As a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association and winner of a host of awards including the AA Inspectors’ Choice Hotel Five Red Stars and two Michelin stars for Martin Burge’s cuisine, accommodation and restaurant bookings at this 23 roomed hotel are now in high demand.

Arranged around an inner courtyard at the end of a long drive, the main hotel buildings are accessed through a gateway of automatic doors. Built in honey coloured Cotswold stone, complete with arches, gables and dormer windows, and lying in twelve acres of beautiful gardens, the exterior of Whatley Manor epitomises the classic English country house.

The interior, however, is a different matter. Whilst the public rooms retain their original wood panelling and stone fireplaces, the bespoke furniture, pastel shaded walls, soft furnishings, and fixtures and fittings reflect more of an understated European elegance. The Swiss owners, Alix Landolt and Christian Landolt, have used one their country’s leading interior designers to help them realise their vision of a stylish family style residence which successfully avoids an impersonal, corporate feel. This also goes as far as not giving names to the various lounges (so beloved of the English country house) and keeping signage to a bare minimum. Fortunately, guests are able to find their way to the bar, restaurants, spa and gardens fairly easily.

Individuality is seen most strikingly in the styling of the fifteen rooms and eight suites. Traditional structural features, notably the well preserved leaded windows, exist in harmony with contemporary wall coverings, furniture and fabrics. These have been sourced from a veritable Who’s Who of top names, including Chivassa Carlucci, Nina Campbell, John Hutton, Rubelli and Canovas and Noblis.

Comfort and luxury are of the essence. In the suite I occupied, patterned suede covered the wall behind a supremely comfortable bed, illuminated by soft glow of contemporary up-lighter lamps. A cosy sitting room furnished with deeply cushioned settee and armchair, writing desk and Bang and Olufsen sound and vision Beocentre, also provided the basis for a most enjoyable stay. The luxuriously appointed bathroom, with heated flooring, was particularly impressive. Incidentals such as designer toiletries, a well stocked mini-bar, complementary mineral water were well up to the high standards expected at this level.

For those seeking just peace and quiet, Whatley Manor is an ideal retreat. Set well back from the main road and insulated by farmland, the stillness and tranquillity of the Wiltshire countryside are almost palpable. The lounge and terrace seating are ample enough to allow guests to find their own quiet space. Many will also enjoy strolling through the well tended gardens, 26 in all, and the secluded arbor. Strangely enough, the hotel lacks a library or reading room, a facility the more sedate guests might prefer.

Relaxation might also involve visiting the European style Spa which has proved a major attraction for residents and day visitors alike. As someone who usually avoids using hotel leisure facilities, I was pleasantly surprised and easily seduced, spending far too much time luxuriating in a series of thermal cabins – the scented Camomile Steam Grotto is best – and the hydrotherapy pool. Given more time I could have sampled the intriguingly named Wave Dream Sensory Room, worked out in the well equipped gym – well perhaps not! – or indulged in one of the many health treatments. Those who are particularly adventurous might sample the lyashi Dome, where detoxifying through perspiration, whilst the body is cocooned in ceramic chamber, has the same effect as a 20 kilometre run. Aquarias spa at Whatley Manor is the only hotel spa in England to have this Japanese treatment available.

Canny guests might well book a Whatley Manor package. Not only do they benefit from discounted room prices, but they also engage in a special activity, which could be Nordic walking, a beauty workshop, a cookery master class or a special dinner. Those staying on a Sunday night might also watch a film in the hotel’s cinema or enjoy a jazz concert.

Located within easy driving distance of historic settlements like Bath, Cirencester, Malmesbury and Tetbury, Whatley Manor is also an ideal base for touring the southern Cotswolds. The famous Westonbirt Arboretum is also only three miles away.

However, there is no need to seek distractions beyond the grounds of what is, in effect, a resort in the countryside, providing for the guests’ every need. On the food front, well prepared breakfasts are taken in Le Mazot, the casual dining restaurant, which is also open for lunch and dinner all week. Fine dining is available in the Dining Room, Martin Burge’s 2 Michelin starred restaurant. In both, as with the rest of the hotel, the service is welcoming, helpful, efficient and unobtrusive. No request is too much, as shown by the shaving kit which was quickly provided after discovering I had forgotten mine.

Overseeing the whole operation is General Manager Peter Egli, whose clear vision, close organisation and engaging personality ensure the high standards and ethos of the Relais & Châteaux philosophy are maintained.

From the valet parking at the start of my visit, to the assistance with luggage on departure, my stay at Whatley Manor was a real joy. At all times I felt special, being treated, like other guests, as one of the family. The hotel goes from strength to strength, and can look forward to continued success in the future.

The Quay, Sydney Restaurant Review 2011

Posted on: August 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

No self respecting foodie could visit Sydney without dining at Quay, Australia’s leading restaurant. It was named this in 2011 when it gained 26th place in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Previously, it had achieved a host of distinctions including the Three Chefs Hats award for nine consecutive years from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. This publication also named it Restaurant of the Year in 2009 and 2010, the same years as The Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide awarded it the same accolade. To achieve this in two consecutive years is unique amongst Australian restaurants.

Located on the western side of Circular Quay, with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the restaurant occupies a site that is the envy of all other Australian restaurateurs, and many foreign ones besides.

As John Fink, co-owner and General Manager was keen to point out, the functional nature of the steel and glass structure, along with the relatively simple but elegant designs of mirrored walls, tiled ceilings, carpets, furniture and fittings allow the magnificence of the surroundings to take centre stage. This is a similar concept to Michel Bras’s Laguiole French countryside restaurant.

At lunchtime, when the restaurant is bathed in brilliant sunshine, the activities around the harbour and busy Circular Quay, with its ferry terminals, railway station, shopping attractions and Opera House, can all be clearly observed. In the evening, when the lighting is dimmed, the stunning nocturnal panorama of glittering harbour city gives a vibrant, celestial feel.

A table in the tower, or the private dining room above, will give the best views of both iconic landmarks – the Harbour Bridge towering on the left and the more distant Opera House on the right. But any seat in this heavily over subscribed 110 cover restaurant will not disappoint. In the main dining room large, well spaced tables line the window with a parallel row raised on a dais, which has comfortable banquette seating and equally good views.

However, the chief glories of Quay are its food and inspirational chef Peter Gilmore. Even in a short conversation one could not fail to be impressed by the passion and dedication shown to his craft. These qualities, tied to his boundless energy, prodigious talent and modest, unassuming nature, have earned him the respect and admiration of his peers. Widely acknowledged as a “Chefs’ Chef,” his ten year leadership has brought well deserved national and international acclaim. At 42 years of age, one might expect a diminution of his creative genius but this is far from being the case. Whilst the essence of his nature based philosophy of food is captured in his first magisterial cookbook, Quay: Food Inspired by Nature, dishes are still being developed in his experimental kitchen, sometimes variations of recipes detailed in his book. Alternatively, new dishes might be trialled as specials on the menu. Either way, an abundance of innovation and exploration, with elements of fun and surprise, is clearly evident.

Peter Gilmore’s cuisine respects and celebrates the bounty of Nature’s gift with its exciting original creations. Purity of taste harmony of ingredients and textural integrity are paramount. A penchant for using baby vegetables and flowers, some of which are rare and obscure, is facilitated by collaboration with Blue Mountains boutique farmer Richard Kalina. This ensures the exceptional quality of seasonal, organic ingredients. Equal care is taken in the provenance of fish, meat and game, with sustainability and high ethical standards being important considerations. The menu acknowledges by name the suppliers of ingredients as diverse as Suffolk lamb, palm hearts and young herbs.

The presentation of dishes avoids extraneous smears or scatterings in favour of a natural, organic simplicity, with clean lines and elegant proportions. In this respect, the influence of Japanese cuisine is evident. A range of cooking techniques embracing modern technology is used to preserve or modify the flavour of ingredients, Happily Peter is not obsessed with sous-vide, appreciating its limitations and preferring sometimes to use temperature controlled poaching.

Fine-Dining-Guide had the pleasure of visiting Quay on a week day lunchtime in August. The eight course tasting menu with matching wines was the best way of sampling the delights of Peter Gilmore’s cutting edge repertoire. The content balance of the menu is carefully judged, so that bread is not offered until the more robust game and meat courses are reached.

An amuse bouche of soft white carrot puree topped with tiny cubes of smoked eel jelly and rye crumbs encapsulated the key features of Peter Gilmore’s cooking: the use of unusual ingredients, a distinct flavour profile, textural contrast and elegant presentation.

The first course was “Sea Pearls.” Inspired by the varying colours of natural pearls, the chef’s signature dish comprised four perfectly shaped iridescent spheres, each containing utterly fresh seafood set in jelly. More than any other dish, itreflects the labour intensity and attention to detail needed in Peter Gilmore’s cooking. Mud crab, enlivened with yuzu and coated with a congee of tapioca had clean, clear flavours. Delicate, sweet scallop was given heat by a horseradish creme fraiche. Tuna sashimi encased a jellied dashi centre, the sweetness of which acted as foil to the rich fish. Finally, a brandade of smoked eel came wrapped in a layer of egg white pearls, achieved through the painstaking method of usingan eye dropper to transfer the strained egg white into grape seed oil at 70 degrees. This provided a delicate taste without the greasiness associated with fish. Overall, “Sea Pearls” was visually beautiful dish, a gastronomic tour de force of conception and execution, and one which it will be impossible to take off the menu! The aromatic crisp, dry young wine, with its peach and floral notes, proved an ideal match for this course. (Wine: 2009 Dona Payterna Alvarinho, Vinho Verde, Portugal)

Pearls: Mud Crab - Smoked Eel - Scallop - Tuna

The next course gave full scope to Peter’s love of seasonal, heirloom vegetables. A complex winter salad of pickled rhubarb and cooked endive, beetroot, purple carrot, rosa radish and kohlrabi allowed individual tastes to come through. Sheep’s milk curd added a rich but not overpowering dairy element. The salad “dressing” came in two contrasting forms which added flavour and texture: breadcrumbs soaked in pomegranate juice and oven dried for 12 hours, and a syrup of pomegranate molasses. Edible violet flower gave a dramatic flourish to this brilliant composition.

The accompanying young, organic wine had a fruity notes of cherry and raspberry that complimented the dish well.

(Wine: 2011 Harham Winery “Rose Noveau” Hunter Valley)

The second seafood course saw slices of southern rock lobster, expertly poached to preserve its inherent sweetness and succulence. The lobster was also served as a “velvet,” a warm, well flavoured mousseline of smooth consistency. Sandwiched in between this mini tower construction were strips of baby squid “noodles” so delicate they almost melted in the mouth. The crowning glory, tapioca poached in smoked eel broth so as to resemble golden “caviar” not only added a bolder flavour but also injected a playful element to the dish. The vibrant acidity and muted oak of the dry white wine did full justice to this memorable dish. (Wine: 2008 Scorpo “Aubaine” Chardonnay Mornington Peninsula)

The course of coturnix quail breast was memorable as much for its firm but soft texture as its gentle gamey flavour. This result was achieved through initial roasting, then slow cooking sous-vide. Flavoursome accompaniments featured a base of chestnut puree topped with quinola, and walnuts. Sweetened pumpernickel, dried milk skin and truffle gave extra contrasting elements to this earthy composition. The paired red Burgundy, with its dark, concentrated fruits and robust smokiness was a fine match. (Wine: 2010 Thick as Thieves Pinot Noir Macedon Ranges)

Berkshire pig jowl proved a triumph of execution and ingenuity. Steamed in a combi over for 12 hours at 85 degrees, the resulting meat had an unctuous, melting quality. To avoid using the deep layer of skin and fat to make the crackling, a brilliant gastronomic conceit was employed: this was a mock crackling, a crisp, delicate toffee coating of maltose sugar, which did not stick in the mouth but shattered and dissolved on consumption. Prunes marinated in Pedro Ximenes sherry and cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil, added to the warm, complex flavours of the dish. The chosen Reisling provided the necessary sweetness and acidity to complement the pork. (Wine: 2008 Fromm Spatlese Reisling, Marlborough, New Zealand)

A generous portion of Wagyu beef from David Blackmore proved a fitting climax to the savoury courses. The fillet, with a 9+ marbling score – the highest quality by the Japanese rating – benefitted from sous vide cooking to emphasise its soft, flavoursome qualities. It was then coated with faro, buckwheat hazelnut and Ezekiel which gave contrasting flavour and texture without overwhelming the meat flavour. Served with oxtail, morel and a pureed black pudding, this deeply earthy dish was as decadent as it was delicious. The full bodied red, with its intense bouquet of chocolate, palate of rich berry fruit with spicy long finish worked very well with this dish. (Wine:2008 Cascabel “El Sendero” Tempranillo, Malaren Vale)

The first dessert entitled “Jewels,” was inspired by the idea of finding precious items under snow. This palate cleanser comprised a fine textured granita, flavoured with lillipilli to give a sweet but slightly acidic taste, Partially covered were pink grapefruit segments, caramelised cranberries and pomegranate jelly amongst other delights. This was a playful, fun dish, expertly matched by a sweet, sparkling wine with the taste and aroma of red apples –an inspired choice indeed.

(Wine: NV Alain Renardat-Fache Bugey-Cerdon Demi Sec, Bugey, France)

Finally, a composite dessert featured a warm brioche, coated in a maltose crust and flavoured with vanilla and palm blossom. Caramelised white chocolate, amaretto cream, walnuts and prune sorbet provided other elements which harmonised well in taste, texture and temperature. The fortified sweet wine served with the dish was intense and luscious.

(Wine: Campbells Liquid Gold, Rutherglen)

Other aspects of the meal were also first rate. The four sourdough; breads – rye and spelt; polenta and sunflower, white and malted whole wheat – had crisp crusts and firm crumb. Coffee and petit fours were exemplary. The ceramic dishes had been carefully selected to showcase the food to maximum advantage.

The service was welcoming, friendly, attentive but unobtrusive. Unlike many top end restaurants it was also well informed, so staff had no trouble in answering questions about ingredients and cooking methods. This was no mean achievement given the variety and complexity of Peter Gilmore’s cooking. Amanda Yallop showed enthusiasm and great depth of knowledge in her role as sommelier. The matching flight on classic wines was expertly chosen, and described with admirable clarity and succinctness.

Dining at Quay was a real joy and utterly memorable. In a restaurant world where tasting menus have become ubiquitous and predicable, to produce an eight course meal as original, creative and satisfying as Peter Gilmore’s – the best degustation menu I have eaten – fully justifies the plaudits he has received. Dining in his restaurant was the highlight of my trip to Australia and will be an excellent reason for a return visit.

Whatley Manor Restaurant Review (August 2011)

Posted on: August 1st, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Whatley Manor

Whatley Manor


Since becoming Head Chef in 2003, Martin Burge has received high acclaim from food critics and his peers for his refined, gastronomic cuisine. With two Michelin Stars, 8/10 in the Good Food Guide – making ‘The Dining Room’ one of the top twenty restaurants in the country – and four AA rosettes, he can be justifiably proud of his culinary achievements. Named Chef of the Year by The Independent in 2009, he has exceeded this by being admitted to the elite group of Grands Chefs in 2011. It is clear that Martin is near the peak of his profession, being recognised for his major contribution to their craft.

Not that he has exhausted his creative energy and is content to coast. In talking to him, you cannot fail to be impressed by his almost youthful enthusiasm, his genuine passion for food, and his utter determination to progress further. He rightly shuns the current vogue in criticising the use of amuse bouches and pre-desserts by serving two of each on his menu: they add value and are a further outlet for new, sometimes playful ideas. He embraces new kitchen technology such as the water bath which gives greater consistency of result, and will experiment with ingredients and techniques: for instance, a crisp sesame biscuit to accompany an amuse bouche is actually made from bread rolled through a pasta machine to achieve its correct texture and thinness.

Having served under major names such as Richard Neat, Raymond Blanc and John Burton-Race, Martin could have easily synthesised their approaches and offered it as his own. Instead, he has created a personal, distinctive style in which classical French cuisine is given a modern interpretation. There are interesting but not outlandish combinations, updated cooking techniques, and innovative presentation, often with an element of surprise given the understated menu descriptions. Saucing is a particular strength, whilst foams and purees are always integral to the composition rather than extraneous flourishes.  The multi component, labour intensive dishes are rich but light. Ingredients harmonise whilst retaining their distinctive tastes and textures. Precision in cooking methods and timing elicit their purity and depth of flavour.

Happily, Martin has not jumped on the “local is best” bandwagon, sourcing his scallops and langoustines, for instance, from Scotland rather than Cornwall. Nevertheless, regional products such as some excellent cheeses enhance his menu. Seasonality however, is more important, as shown, for example, by the top quality summer vegetables used in the dishes sampled.

The carte of seven starters, six mains, six desserts and cheese reflects the depth and breadth of his gastronomic versatility, from mushroom pannacotta through to blackcurrant ravioli. Menu descriptions, although detailed, still understate their composition and complexity of cooking. Six or seven dishes are changed with the seasons. However, two in particular are so popular it would be difficult to take them off. Martin is particularly proud of a starter of braised snails in a garlic cassonade with red wine sauce infused with veal kidney and a cheese /dessert of black truffle ice cream, lightly creamed Roquefort, deep fried goat’s cheese and candied walnuts. These have become signature dishes.

The Dining Room which serves forty covers is long and narrow, but divided into three sections, so the effect is more confined. More eclectic in design and decor than other parts of the hotel, it features wooden floors, screens, square brown framed mirrors, spotlighting and tasselled chandeliers. Tables are well spaced, with comfortable seating and conventional fine napery.

Fine Dining Guide was able to visit The Dining Room on a july evening to sample dishes from the carte.

Three breads were offered – onion, spelt and pain de campagne. All were well made, the onion bread to be especially delicious, with light crumb and crisp crust.

The canapés showed the painstaking attention to detail lavished on this part of the meal: poached quail’s egg with smoked eel spume and leek was rich and flavoursome; foie gras mousse, teriyaki jelly and sesame crisp delighted both in a range of tastes and textures; and beetroot disc with crème fraiche and white balsamic gel was a good balance of sweet and sour.

Canapes at Whatley Manor

This trio of canapés was followed by an amuse bouche of well seasoned haddock tartare spiked with apple  – a surprisingly good combination – and finished with  a quenelle of Tewkesbury mustard ice cream that awakened the palate with its was lively heat and velvety smoothness.

The cooking of a starter of Scottish langoustine tails had been well timed to retain their sweet succulence. Accompanying them was a light, deeply flavoured cannelloni mousse made from the bisque of the shells wrapped in Madeira gel. Macaroni, stems of Swiss chard and peas proved suitably light and fresh garnishes. A truffle sauce spiked with more truffle brought this visually stunning dish together.  (Wine: Chardonnay 2009, Domaine St Louis, Chablis, France)

Langoustine at Whatley Manor

Another starter of Squab pigeon breast was poached and roasted to give a delicate softness and caramelised crust. Croquette like towers made good use of the leg meat. The gentle gaminess of the pigeon was boosted by the creamy silkiness and gentle livery qualities of pan fried foie gras. A reduced jus of intense, dark Pedro Ximenez sherry, with tiny cubes of its jelly, together with golden raisins added a rich sweetness whilst lightly roasted pine nuts gave textural contrast. In conception and execution, this was another brilliant starter.  (Wine: Tempranillo / Garnacha 2006 Bodega Izadi, Reserva Rioja, Spain)

Pigeon at Whatley Manor

An intermediate course saw a hand dived scallop paired with flakes of warmed salmon. The inherent sweetness of the seared scallop worked well with the smokiness of the oily fish. The wonderful freshness of the seafood was enhanced by a well balanced celeriac cream lightly infused with horseradish. Samphire and salmon caviar added elements of salinity and colour, enhancing the visual beauty of this dish which resembled a coastal rock pool.  (Wine: Chenin Blanc 2009 Kanu, Stellenbosch, South Africa)

Scallop and Salmon at Whatley Manor

Main courses continued to impress with their clarity of flavour, balance of textures and artistry in presentation.

A fillet of utterly fresh Turbot was pan fried to produce a golden crust and flaky, moist white flesh. Sweet, delicate crayfish tails added another luxurious element, whilst its mousse gave a deep bisque like flavour. Creamed stems of Swiss chard, along with well cooked asparagus, courgette flower, peas and tiny wild mushrooms were appropriate summer vegetable accompaniments. Shellfish cappuccino and a hazelnut emulsion gave a sophisticated finish to this highly memorable dish.  (Wine: Pinot Gris 2008 Matakana Estte, North Aukland, New Zealand)

Turbot at Whatley Manor

Another main course of poussin bore similarities in conception to the pigeon starter. Here the tender, sweet, crisp skinned breast was paired with a  puree of foie gras, and a cannelloni of ham hock and confit chicken. The ham gave just right salty accent to season the whole dish with its asparagus, pea and wild girolles garnish.  A sticky Madeira jus spiked with truffle gave heady fragrance, elevating the whole dish. (Wine: Pinot Noir “margot” O.Leflaive Burgundy, 2009)

Poussin at Whatley Manor

 The English and French cheeseboard, supplied by Premier Cheeses, offered a wide selection of cheese made from cow, goat and ewe’s milk. Those we selected were models of their kind. Of the French cheeses, the triple cream Brillat Truffe was soft, smooth and aromatic; Tomme Brulee slightly smoky; and Fourme d’Ambert savoury, nutty and dense. The English Love Ewe cheese was suitably earthy and pungent, whilst Ticklemore was crumbly, clean and fresh. Three condiments of Sauternes jelly, honey and thyme, and apple and pink peppercorn chutney served as good counterpoints to what in many ways was the heaviest and richest course. (Wine: Taylor’s LBV Port 2003)

The two pre desserts – a tiny quenelle of tropical fruit sorbet and  coconut alongside a foam base drank through a straw – were playful and enjoyable, cleansing the palate before the final course.

Apple and maple syrup cheesecake was first rate, amazingly light and fresh tasting, the gently acidic and sweet elements working well together. This was also true of the caramelised pecan nuts and poached apple, scooped into delicate balls, which also gave contrasting textures. A refreshing sorbet finished the dish perfectly. (Wine: Riesling, Late noble harvest 2008, Walker Bay, South Africa)

Apple Desert at Whatley Manor

Cannelloni of Mango was a tour de force of invention and execution, the puree of the fruit forming the basis of the delicate sweet tube encasing a well flavoured, creamy mango mousse. This was cut by sharp lime curd and pink grapefruit segments and jelly, making this a well balanced dessert.  (Wine: Moscatel 2008 Finca Antigua, Castilla la Mancha, Spain)

Mango Dessert at Whatley Manor

The petit fours, which included an intense blackcurrant and clove jelly and crisp macaroon, and hand made chocolates, were exemplary. (Some of these chocolates are included in the Whatley Manor chocolate box available for guests to purchase before they arrive)

The service, from mainly young staff, was welcoming, informative and attentive without being obtrusive. It was  overseen by restaurant manager Glen Harris. The sommelier, deftly matched wines with food, giving concise, well informed descriptions.

Overall, this was a highly memorable, flawless meal of an excellent standard. Whilst meals in Whatley’s Manor’s Dining Room do not come cheap, the quality of the ingredients, the high levels of skill and artistry in producing the dishes more than justify the prices. This is cooking at a rare, highly elevated level by a master of his craft who still has even more to give. It is clear why Martin Burge and his team deserve the recognition they have achieved, and why they have the potential to go even further.