Archive for April, 2014

Restaurant Review: Tinello, London (April 2014)

Posted on: April 18th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Tinello, Italian for a small dining room, is the perfect name for Federico and Max Sali’s unpretentious but attractive restaurant in Pimlico.  The tinted glass frontage under a smart black awning leads to a long, dark dining room. Exposed brickwork, wooden flooring and low hanging copper pendant lights over each table create an intimate, semi rustic feel, accentuated by the shady colour scheme and well-spaced, simply dressed tables.

Diners are quickly put at their ease with relaxed formal service. The front of house staff, led by brother Max, are courteous, informative and eager to please, but not ingratiatingly so. The clientele is composed mainly of locals, many of them regulars, although Tinello’s reputation is now attracting diners from further afield. Family eating in true Italian style is also encouraged.

Simplicity and honesty, the hallmarks of classic Italian cuisine, are fully exemplified in the cooking at Tinello. Dishes from the menu range widely across the Italian peninsula, although there is a Tuscan slant to many. When asked which dish on the menu summed up the essence of his cooking, Federico named Pappardelle alle erbe, ragu di anatra in bianco (Homemade herb pasta ribbons, duck ragout.)

The use of the finest ingredients is a prerequisite, but there is no obsession about sourcing everything from Italy. Whilst, for example, aubergines, lemons, tomatoes, cheese, cured meats, oils and balsamic vinegar are imported,  full respect is paid to the high quality produce from the UK, including, for instance, Cornish fish. The brothers’ experience working at Locanda Locatelli and Zafferano has also enabled them to build contacts with some excellent British suppliers.

Prices for this affluent part of London – two minutes from Sloane Square – are surprisingly reasonable and represent excellent value for money. The menu includes four antipasti; ten small eats (£1.95 to £6.50); eight pasta dishes (£10 to £18.50); seven mains (£17.50 to £26.50); 6 desserts (£3.90 to £13.50)  and one cheese course.(£8.50). Shunning the culinary haughtiness of more stuffy restaurants, Chef Federico is flexible in the preparation of dishes, adapting them to the diner’s preference on the rare occasions when this is requested.

After nibbles and a refreshing glass of Prosecco, we sampled four small plates.

A chicken liver crostini, (Crostini con il “fuagra” toscano), was rich, well- seasoned and deeply flavoured. Together with the soft and crisp textures, this simple best-selling preparation proved a highly satisfying starter.


Mortadella sausage, properly fatty and spicy, was served with gnocco fritto, fried bread dough which puffed up like small pillows – visually interesting if somewhat bland tasting.


Delicious courgette ribbons had been coated in a light batter and fried until crisp. Strangely, the presentation of this popular dish resembled the Medusa’s snake infested head!


A special of the day featured well timed sprue asparagus, sauced by the yolk of a soft poached egg, and seasoned by a parmesan tuile. This was a delightful, well balanced combination, making the most of prime seasonal produce.


Next, we tried a pasta dish, Paccheri astice e fave. The robust tubular pasta was cooked al dente and served with succulent lobster and fresh broad beans in a rich but light sauce. The precise timing of both the humble and extravagant elements, together with the textural contrast, allowed their inherent qualities to shine through.


Two main courses were sampled. Filetto d`ippoglosso, rape bianche, barba di frate e salsa all`arancio   saw perfectly cooked halibut fillet, matched with braised turnips and monk’s beard.  The rich mineral notes and crunchy texture   of the samphire like vegetable added  taste and textural interest while a light blood orange sauce successfully brought the various elements together


In Petto d`anatra arrosto, topinambur e spinaci novella, the crisp skinned and medium rare duck breast  – as preferred in Italian cooking – was succulent and flavoursome. Accuracy in judging cooking and resting times was clearly evident. A puree of Jerusalem artichokes added an earthy richness, wilted baby spinach gave a vibrant freshness and a light jus rounded off the dish.


The skill of the pastry section was shown in desserts which included a fine tiramisu, layered in a sundae glass, fruit sorbets and a cake like apple tart with chocolate ice cream. Classic Cantucci Biscotti dipped in Vin Santo sweet wine proved an attractive alcoholic alternative.

Espresso served with crisp choux pastry beignets stuffed with Zabaglioni completed a memorable meal.

Clearly from the lunchtime buzz, Tinello has established itself as a thriving neighbourhood restaurant serving a well-heeled clientele who appreciate its accomplished cooking, welcoming service and unstuffy atmosphere. Driving the restaurant forward are brothers Max and Federico. Unfortunately, Max was away when we visited but we were able to chat with Federico whose engaging manner and passion for his craft were abundantly evident. These qualities are reminiscent of Giorgio Locatelli, his mentor and financial backer, with whom – and this must have been said by many – he bears an uncanny resemblance. Given the brothers’ extensive experience in high end Italian establishments, Tinello can only go from strength to strength, developing into a destination restaurant. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.

Feature: The Missing Barrier at Burchetts Green (April 2014)

Posted on: April 18th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Crown Burchetts

Fine Dining Guide was privileged to enjoy a special themed lunch – Tour des Grands-Meres – featuring the cuisine of (mainly) South West France. Hearty, rustic, nose to tail cooking, lovingly prepared, with bold flavours and generous portions, typify the dishes of this region. Simon Bonwick is able to replicate this, with great aplomb using classical techniques to showcase his carefully sourced ingredients.

This traditional home-style French cookery, lacking frills but not flavour, is increasingly difficult to find, given the faddish obsessions of contemporary cuisine. How refreshing not to encounter small portions decorated with smears, drizzles, foams, dots and the other superfluous elements which often show style over substance.

Well-seasoned sea trout rillettes combined the freshness of gently cooked and shredded fish with the richness of lard. Perched on spears of new season’s asparagus cooked al dente, this was a vibrant dish of strong and mild flavours with contrasting textures.


Next came a delicate foie gras parfait. Its smooth texture contrasted with the layer of lentils and crisp, diced green beans which covered it. These also acted as the perfect foil for the rich, buttery goose liver.


There followed the largest sweetbread – clearly a pancreas – I have ever seen, let alone eaten. This delectable piece of offal was accurately timed to produce a nicely seared crust and a creamy, melting interior.  The gentle sweetness of braised carrots set off this heavenly dish perfectly.


Two long slow cooked meat dishes completed the savoury courses

Beouf Bourguignon was classically rendered, the slow braising producing tender, succulent meat.  Being added at the last moment, the lardons, baby onions and mushrooms retained their individual identities and tastes whilst adding to the overall flavour of the dish. The addition of turned carrots and saffron infused potatoes added a retro touch which was totally in keeping with the spirit of the dish.


Finally, a cassoulet exemplified all the glories of South West gastronomy. Given the numerous variations of this dish, I was especially interested in Simon’s interpretation of this rich stew. Whilst  haricots blanc and a gratinated top are integral to any version, his use of bone marrow – emerging from across cut veal shank – osso bucco style –  added a novel richness and visual appeal to the dish.


A well-executed lemon tart with mango and rhubarb completed a memorable meal

Some days later, as I was happily recollecting the joys of the meal, I perused the menu. Sea Trout rillettes, Goose livers, Sweetbread, Bourguignon, Cassoulet, Barrier…Barrier? What’s that? Having sampled the first five, I could not recognise, let alone remember, the sixth. Was it an actual dish or a garnish?

My dining partner who had taken photos of the food had, I thought, missed this mysterious concoction.  A variety of recipe books I flicked through were unhelpful.  Nor was Larousse Gastronomique, the Bible of French gastronomy, much better. The only entry that came anywhere near was not a dish but a chef – Charles Barrier, who gained three Michelin stars in 1968 for his eponymous restaurant in Tours. Frustrated, there was only one course of action left – to phone the chef.

Simon Bonwick’s knowledge of the world of food is encyclopaedic.  He loves sharing it with fellow diners, showing a real passion, laced with a dry sense of humour and sprinkled with a little eccentricity. All this makes his company delightful and endearing.

So, what was his explanation for Barrier?  Firstly, I was relieved to learn it was a dish but we had not eaten it. Secondly, I was getting warm when I referenced Charles Barrier.  Finally, he  revealed that Barrier was his version of stuffed pig’s trotter originally pied de porc farci de foie gras –  a dish invented by Barrier which has been copied and adapted by top chefs ever since.  And why was it still on the menu? Simply because staff from the Waterside Inn and The Fat Duck had consumed the lot the previous week – lucky them! – and Simon had forgotten to take it off the menu!


The missing Barrier??


Never mind, we will look forward to when trotters are again on the menu. Meanwhile there is much to admire in his seasonally changing menu. Creedy Carver duck or Welsh mountain lamb testify to the importance of sourcing prime ingredients. Displayed on a blackboard, the mixture of French and English classics are playfully described: consider the intriguing  Mr Farley’s idea for gradalax (sic) or “Highland” beef braised in the Burgundian way or treacle sponge “hot.”  Prices are fair given the quality of the produce and the skill of the cooking.

Overall, The Crown remains a real gem amongst the mass of mediocre restaurants in the area. It deserves to be successful and Fine Dining Guide will continue to support it, watching its progress with interest.

Interview: Philippe Gombert, President Relais & Chateaux

Posted on: April 6th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Philippe Gombert

Philippe Gombert – President Relais & Chateaux

Philippe Gombert has taken the mantle of President of Relais & Chateaux, here he speaks openly to fine-dining-guide.

Tell us some background about yourself

I am the son and grandson of Paris-based hoteliers who originated from the southwest of France. In 1982, my family and I acquired Château de la Treyne; it was like coming home – a return to our roots.  Following the premature death of my father, my mother (an hotelier by profession) wanted to realize a long-held dream of welcoming guests as friends ‘at home’ in a unique setting.  Her sense of elegant style, good taste and talent for the genuine art of receiving guests attracted a loyal following of guests who returned time and again.  Ten years later, in 1992, our house achieved the ultimate accolade: it was accepted as a member of the great family of Relais & Châteaux.  I am proud to have served our fine Association for 12 consecutive years, initially as a Delegate and then as Secretary General.  I decided to stand for the position of International President last year because I am absolutely passionate about our beliefs and values, and those who nurture them.

Tell us some of the actual R&C Background

Sixty years ago Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, musical entertainers and owners of La Cardinale, a hotel and restaurant on the right bank of the Rhône, came up with the idea of promoting eight hotels together under the tag line ‘La Route du Bonheur’.  Each was a distinctive, authentic and thriving establishment, en route from Paris to Nice, and they all shared the same core values: outstanding cuisine and an Art de Vivre based on the pursuit of excellence.  This union was the embryo for Relais & Châteaux, a collection of charming hotels and restaurants managed by a community of proprietors passionate about their surrounding areas, outstanding cuisine, attention to detail and heart-felt personal service.  Today, Relais & Châteaux is the most prestigious hotel and restaurant association in the world, presenting 520 exclusive members along 60 stunning Routes du Bonheur across more than 60 countries, all of whom continue to uphold that same passion and vision that Marcel and Nelly Tilloy had 60 years ago:   ‘Hoteliers and restaurateurs should let their hearts do the talking’.

Tell us some of the R&C Philosophies

While each property is distinctive and individual, a common philosophy is shared by every member, best summed up by five values and experiences:

  • THE SOUL OF THE INNKEEPER: Each Innkeeper puts his or her highly personal stamp on their place, its surroundings and the hospitality, service and cuisine they provide.
  • THE TASTE OF THE LAND: For our members, the local terroir is expressed via each property’s architecture, landscaping, leisure activities and the fine dining offered by Relais & Châteaux Grands Chefs and chefs.
  • THE PASSPORT OF FRIENDSHIP: Each property is unique, yet all share the same welcome, inspiring in guests a genuine sense of belonging and a yearning to discover other members.
  • THE CELEBRATION OF THE SENSES: Relais & Châteaux properties provide a natural setting for the awakening of the senses and feelings of well-being on a daily basis and for every special occasion.
  • AN AWAKENING TO ART DE VIVRE: At the heart of the Relais & Châteaux philosophy is the notion that travel should be a journey of discovery into the pleasures of the Art of Living. The ultimate goal of the Relais & Châteaux Innkeeper is to introduce guests to these delights.

What is your personal vision for R&C going forward?

My main objective is to convince all our members that more than ever before we need to be united behind a strong, major global brand that reflects our authenticity, generosity, exclusivity and excellence.  These striking and significant values are what resonate with today’s guest.

My first ambition is to achieve a complete digital revolution: Relais & Châteaux will have a global internet showcase, an attractive platform on which to position our worldwide brand, and blogs about the art of travel and cuisine.  Since my election we have already launched our website in Portuguese, introduced an Android Tablet app to complete our collection of apps for iPhone, iPad & Android smartphone, and created a Russian version of the app too.

What might we expect with the 60th anniversary?

Relais & Châteaux is planning more than 120 exceptional evening events to commemorate our 60th anniversary.  These include dining festivities at our properties worldwide.  Guests can look forward to specially created 60th anniversary menus coupled with exclusive celebrations to mark this special year. Chefs will share their interpretation of their individual terroir using their own distinctive techniques to express their kinship and love of their properties.  I hope our guests across the globe will dress up and enter into the spirit of the event.

In the United Kingdom & Ireland, each of our establishments has prepared a 60th anniversary tribute tasting menus; an autographed first edition of each menu will be collated in an “Anniversary Album” that will travel the British Isles starting in Ireland on April 27th arriving in London at The Goring in September.

What is the international structure of R&C? 

Relais & Châteaux is an association of like-minded hoteliers and restaurateurs led by an international group of members selected by the Chairman of the board.  The Chairman is democratically elected by the entire association membership.

My chosen committee comprises:

–       George GOEGGEL, Fist Vice-President (Americas) from the Auberge du Soleil, USA

–       Silvia LAFER, Vice-President (Europe) from Johann Lafers Stromburg, Germany

–       Olivier ROELLINGER, Vice-President (Chefs) from Les Maisons de Bricourt, Cancale, France

–       Jaisal SINGH, Vice-President (Asia) from Sher Bagh & The Serai Ja sailmer, India

–       Olivia LE CALVEZ, Secretary General from Hôtel de Toiras & Villa Clarisse, France

–       Thomas MAECHLER, Treasurer from Beau-Rivage Hotel, Switzerland

–       Mar SUAU, Member from Son Brull Hotel & Spa, Majorca, Spain

–       Andrew STEMBRIDGE, Member from Chewton Glen, Hampshire, United Kingdom

What are the trends in terms of customer needs and offerings to market?

Gastronomy is an increasingly important part of the travel experience. Travellers want to discover a country not just for its topographic beauty, they want to taste it and experience the local culture – what better way to do this than through the terroir? This year we have welcomed two new and inspirational Grands Chefs, both of whom celebrate their land in their cuisine:

  • Diego Muñoz at Astrid & Gaston studies Peruvian biodiversity and products; he is co-leading Gaston Acurio’s new project, Astrid & Gaston-Casa Moreyra, taking Peruvian cuisine to a new level.
  • On the other side of the world, you can taste a new style of South Korean cooking at the Kyoung-Won Park at Si-Wha-Dam. Every dish draws inspiration from nature, a poem or a painting, representing an extraordinary work of art and Korean culinary virtuosity.

Tell us about Les Grands Chefs

The Relais & Châteaux philosophy pays particular attention to food which is key to our ‘taste of the land’, ‘celebration of the senses’ and ‘awakening to Art de Vivre.’

This commitment relies on our Grands Chefs: a rare breed of almost 160 men and women across five continents, striving for culinary excellence on a daily basis.  Each shares the same passion for fine ingredients, respect for their terroir and love of their culinary heritage – often passed down over several generations.  They are people with strong, passionate personalities who enjoy getting together and sharing experiences as a true family.

Tell us about 5C Club

Club 5C members are loyal friends of Relais & Châteaux who come from all over the world.  Relais & Châteaux member properties recommend their most loyal guests for membership of Club 5C and we work with exclusive partners of similar quality to offer their dedicated followers reciprocal benefits.   Currently there are more than 10,000 Club 5C members.   Activities include social gatherings and invitations to exclusive events.  Each Club 5C member receives optional communications to showcase Relais & Châteaux destinations and products such as the “Routes du Bonheur”.  They also receive regular news about our annual guide launch, special packages, the latest offers, exclusive Club 5C events, corporate retreat information and gifts available for purchase.

 What are your plans for 2014/15?

Relais & Châteaux’s plans for this year and next are mainly focused on a new print and web strategy to help our guests discover our philosophy and membership with speed and ease.

Our other mission is firmly focused on gastronomy and our first step has been to create a new “Comité des Tables” that will have its first meeting in May.  This project is being driven by Olivier Roellinger, our Vice-President and the initial focus is “what is on my plate must tell me about the place where I am”.

Restaurant Review: Sixtyone, London (April 2014)

Posted on: April 6th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Sixtyone restaurant02

Heading down Edgware Road from Praed Street to Marble Arch, it is easy to feel a creeping fatalism. The area is rightly noted for its Middle Eastern restaurants, with garlanded food stores and smoky hookah bars vying for attention. The epicurean opportunities are familiar and not unattractive, but my destination on a Monday evening was not far from this familiar scene.

I continued my walk into Upper Berkeley Street which straddles the Marylebone area east of the Edgware Road and north of Oxford Street. Apart from a number of well known hotels such as The Churchill, it is without significant landmarks and the streets are eerily quiet even by 7pm. It is therefore with some relief that I find myself in the oasis of lights at Sixtyone Restaurant.

In fact the location of this new restaurant which, I am sure, will soon be a foodie destination, is not as out the way as it might seem. There are two entrances, a designated one off Upper Berkeley Street and the other through the Montcalm Hotel. The restaurant takes its name from the former.

arnaudLaunched in November 2013, this is the eagerly anticipated debut of Chef Patron Arnaud Stevens. With the financial backing of Searcy’s (of Champagne bar fame), the restaurant has in Arnaud someone of impeccable heritage. With stints working with such giants as Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White and Richard Corrigan, and latterly himself as Executive Head Chef at the Gherkin, the opportunity for Arnaud to go it alone has long been overdue. Searcy’s can surely spot an opportunity for success.

The interior of Sixtyone exudes understated elegance with its comfortable chairs and banquettes, excellent lighting, and spacious layout. There are also quirky and inventive features, notably a large tubular copper set of lights that hang intriguingly above the tables like the innards of a Wurlitzer machine.

This aspect of the décor clearly reflects a sense of fun which seems to be the zeitgeist running through Arnaud’s vision.

The courteous, welcoming service is overseen by Artan Mesekrani whose extensive experience in high end restaurant management makes for interesting, nostalgic conversation.

The menus at Sixtyone are enticing yet unpretentious, offering excellent quality without a serious attack on the wallet. Starters are all £10 or less and include options such as Octopus Carpaccio, Dorset Oyster or Smoked Mallard Salad. There is also a choice of seven main courses, all under £20 and including, for example, Braised Beef Cheek with Black Pudding, Slow Cooked Sea Bream or Potimarron Gnocchi with Chanterelles. Due diligence is paid to provenance without being evangelical. As Arnaud later explained, the focus is on delivering absolute quality – the pretentions are to be left to others.

The options are all very appealing and as we begin the painful deliberation over our selection we find salvation in the tasting menu. Not only does this include a number of the options from the carte, it is also exceptional value at £45 for six courses (or £75 with wines).

Our taste buds are initially whetted by the house aperitif, a Sparkling English Rose by Balfour. The crisp dry flavours perfectly complemented by the arrival of breads and what is described on the menu as ‘snacks’.

Sixtyone seabream10

Sample Dish at Sixtyone – Sea Bream


Amongst the homemade breads was a wonderfully rich cep brioche and a tangy marmite bread, both unusual but immediately pleasing.

Serving the ‘snacks’ gave an opportunity for a piece of restaurant theatre which was highly revealing of the playfulness of the menu. A conical flask, lined with filter paper, was placed on our table. Into this the waitress began to scoop large spoonfuls of porcini granules, adding Dashi stock for us to witness the infusion and percolation process. The finished result was a liquid with an intense mushroom flavour. This was served alongside a soft and deeply flavourful mushroom parfait, silky smooth, a quenelle of perfection!

Already it was becoming clear that our preconceptions would be challenged. Although the menu listed ingredients, the descriptions of each course were terse and there was to be an element of surprise as each dish arrived.

The next course was described as Mussels, Bread Soup and Suckling Pork Belly. The mussels were enrobed by the creamy rich Polaine based soup. At the centre of the dish, the belly was the sweetest and softest of meat, with a delicate crisp skin. Melting into the soup was a quenelle of white chocolate ganache, the sweetness of which perfectly complemented the other ingredients. The dish was a real triumph of gastronomic acumen – a perfect, if unusual, combination of flavours and textures. The accompanying  Bacholet Monnot Burgoyne Blanc 2011, with its chalky minerality, did full justice to the food

Next came the intriguing Rabbit Bolognese, Salsify and Almond. When this arrived it resembled classic Spaghetti Bolognese, the pasta sitting on a bed of ragout and the dish of almond resembling finely grated parmesan. An initial taste revealed the pasta to be salsify, but when the almonds were sprinkled on top of the rich, heavily reduced ragout, it was hard to believe this wasn’t a traditional but excellent “spag bol.” The clever presentation of the dish managed to trick both the eyes and the taste buds! Additional texture was provided by thyme croutons, a pleasing contrast to the softer components of the dish.  The wine pairing was a very pleasant Chianti Classico.

From the rabbit we moved on to a dish of Roasted Cod with Garbure Vegetables. The rustic vibrancy of chunky carrots and potatoes cooked with kale in a saffron stock contrasted with the opaque flesh of the fish which had been accurately timed to showcase its beautiful fresh flavour and flaky texture.  The addition of the Alsace bacon lifted the whole dish which was at once both a hearty and refined. The accompanying elegant Pinot Noir, Burgoyne Valet Freres Gevrey Chambertain. 2010, had a pure finish and velvety texture.

For the final savoury course we were treated to Squab Pigeon with Snails, Cauliflower and Parsley Risotto. The pigeon, precisely timed and well rested to showcase its gentle gaminess and melting texture, sat on a bed of silky cauliflower puree. The snails, suitably chewy but not tough, were classically paired with parsley, which came in a brilliantly green and well seasoned risotto. With contrasting textures from the al dente creamy rice and crisp puffed rice garnishes, this was a highly original presentation. This accomplished dish, showing high levels of skill and creativity, was enjoyed a beautiful Sicilian Cristo de Campobello Rosso 2011.

The dessert featured Rhubarb with White Chocolate and ginger. Visually  impressive, with a riot of pinks, red and amber along a linear arrangement, it centred on a white chocolate bombe, encasing rhubarb compote. Although slightly oversweet and cloying, it was balanced by the acidity of the smooth rhubarb sorbet. Similarly, the warmth of ginger added a muted spicy element to the sweet and acidic elements. This final course managed to surpass expectations and, like the rest of the menu, deliver something different, exciting and fun. The accompanying dessert wine was a classic Muscat de Beaume de Venises, Le Chant de Griolles Paul Jaboulet Aine 2011.

The sense of the familiar and predictable which started my evening, was dispelled by dinner at Sixtyone. Through his menu Arnaud Stevens takes classic technique and flavour combinations, but somehow twists these into something different and unpredictable. His playfulness with the presentation and the arrangement of each dish builds a real sense of excitement and anticipation at the table.

The real strength of Arnaud’s cooking is that at no point does style take over from substance. In getting this balance right, Arnaud has managed to successfully walk a tightrope that many have tried and failed. Continuing in this way, Sixtyone is deserving of the commercial success to match its culinary excellence. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Camellia, South Lodge. (March 2014)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Camelia Interior

The Camellia Restaurant, renovated in 2008, comprises three interconnecting rooms serving 80 covers. Above the handsome embossed oak panelling, the bold patterned wallpaper of red camellias on a white background envelops the room. These features give the room a  traditional, heavy feel, reinforced by the mirrors which reflect the camellia pattern on the opposite wall, and the grand copper chandelier  style lighting. A contemporary floor to ceiling book case and display cabinet  at one end is balanced by a more old fashioned plate dresser, displaying replicas of some in the British Museum, at the other. Supremely comfortable Louis XV style chairs are arranged around well spaced tables dressed in fine napery.

This is the dining room which showcases the cuisine of Steven Edwards, winner of the Masterchef, The Professionals, 2013. What is less known is that he had previously won the Sussex Young Chef of the year in 2010.

The Camellia at South Lodge Hotel

Having worked in a variety of two and three AA rosette hotel restaurants, he joined The Pass Restaurant at South Lodge in 2008. He reached the positon of Junior Sous Chef in 2010, before being promoted to Head Chef of the Camellia in 2012.  Steve’s clear ability prompted Executive Chef Lewis Hamblet to push Steve into applying for the prestigious BBC series.

Conscious that it was not just his, but also the Exclusive Hotels’ reputation on the line, Steve understandably felt pressure, especially in the first week of the competiton when an early exit might have brought negative publicity.

Masterchef, The Professionals, allowed Steve to showcase his own unique style in creating dishes around a few humble, seasonal and local ingredients – some from the hotel’s kitchen garden – using technique and creativity to extract maximum flavour from each element. The duck and broccoli main course he cooked in the semi final, epitomizes this philosophy. For the final, time was limited in deciding what to cook, although he was confident that crab orzo and his dessert of honey cake were strong contenders. The pigeon and stone bass, which he opted for later, helped to balance the menu perfectly.

Apart from the euphoria of winning, Steve’s high point of the series was his trip to Italy and cooking with Massimo Bottura. Although very different from his own, this Italian maestro’s style provided invaluable inspiration and encouragement.

In his own kitchen at the Camellia, a team of eight chefs address the demanding task of  serving breakfast, lunch  and dinner seven days a week, catering for up to 120 guests. Team work here is essential for as Steve says “you are only as strong as your weakest chef, so there is a real drive to share information and get things double checked.” Communication using SOP’s and a kitchen drop box is well developed, he is investigating the possibility of installing ipads to improve this even more.

The increase in demand for tables at the  Camellia after his Masterchef success has been gratifying but sometimes difficult to satisfy, given its position as the house restaurant. Many opt for the winning menu which has been offered since November 2013 and will continue to the end of March 2014. In the long term, Steve hopes the Camellia will be seen as a dining option for local residents and those from further afield. With his confidence boosted by his Masterchef  success, Steve’s vision for his future career has become a more realistic target. Fine Dining Guide wish him every success and will follow his career with interest.

Opting for Steve’s winning menu and three dishes from the carte and daily menu, proved to be a wise choice.  Sour dough bread has a well developed tang with crispy crust and firm crumb. An amuse bouche of silky smooth cauliflower veloute was given a lift by the addition of toasted parmesan crumbs.

The first course, Anjou Pigeon breast, was carefully seasoned and pan fried to showcase its gentle gamey flavour. The timing of the cooking and resting was accurately judged, producing a soft, almost melting texture, avoiding the liver like flavour and consistency that results from overcooking. The accompaniments, baby beetroot (roasted then pickled sous vide), and diced feta, (frozen then bruleed with sugar to counter its saltiness), proved ideal foils in taste and texture  for the rich game. Apple puree added a lively sweet acidity, watercress gave a herby note and added colour, and beetroot vinaigrette brought the dish together. The clear flavours and clean presentation  of this dish captured the essence of Steve’s cooking philosophy –maximising the flavour of humble ingredients with skilful technique and imagination. (Wine: Eric Louis, Sancerre Rouge, 2011, Loire)


Stone Bass, now increasingly seen on menus, has proved just as versatile as its more expensive, grandiose Sea Bass cousin. Typically the humbler fish was the focus of the main couse. A beautifully fresh fillet was simply pan fried to crisp the skin and showcase the soft, translucent flesh. This rested on a bed of orzo, the soft grain like pasta being mixed with white crab meat and shellfish stock, these given extra richness with parmesan and butter. However, the most creative aspect of this dish was the much underused Kohlrabi, served in three ways – blackened in a pan (deliberately), poached in a water bath and pureed with cream and butter. The contrasting crisp and soft textures and delicate and bold flavours added gave an earthy counterpoint to the fish and crab orzo.  A lime foam- which did not collapse immediately – was not a superfluous garnish but added the vital citrus note which the dish needed. Overall, this was a tour de force of harmonious elements with imagination and sensitivity. As with the pigeon, the presentation of this dish was stunning. (Wine: Citari Lugana di Tressiano, 2010 Italy)

Camelia Stone Bass

In the last course, pistachio was the least humble ingredient used. In its crumbed and crystallised garnishes, it gave textural complexity to a dessert focussing on honey cake. Based on flour, ground almonds and honey, the inspired used of beurre noisette gave it added depth of flavour and colour. A compote of roasted peaches added a contrasting fruity element, whilst a velvety smooth yoghurt sorbet – an adaptation of the original recipe which used a yoghurt espuma – finished the dish with a refreshing tangy coldness.

Camelia cake

Other dishes sampled included a starter of duck breast with rhubarb, parsnip, honeycomb form the carte; an chicken escalope with quinoa, pak choi and a red wine jus from the set menu; and a mango parfait with coconut sorbet, also from the set menu. As with the Masterchef menu,they all demonstrated careful thought in the combination of ingredients, precision in the timing of cooking using a variety of techniques, and a conscious artistry in presentation.

Camelia Duck breast

Overall, Steve Edwards has created a cuisine of which he and  the hotel can be justifiably proud. Given the brilliance – both in conception and execution  – of the winning menu, his victory in Masterchef, The Professionals was richly deserved.

Hotel Review: South Lodge, Horsham, Sussex (March 2014)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

South Lodge Hotel Exterior

South Lodge, part of the Exclusive Hotels Group owned by Danny Pecorelli, is set in 93 acres of woodland south of Horsham, West Sussex. A five star  country house hotel, it boasts a distinguished history. From modest beginnings in 1883, its owner Frederick DuCane Godman extended the property in 1911 with the addition of the Drawing Room wing. As a private residence until 1985, it saw Winston Churchill as a regular guest during his parliamentary career, and was used as a hospital in the Second World War. In 2009 it hosted the important G20 London summit. More recently – and for food lovers most important of all –  its two restaurants gained national distinctions: The Pass was awarded a Michelin star and the two rosette Camellia Restaurant’s Head Chef, Steven Edwards, won the 2013 series of Masterchef, The Professionals.

A handsome stone building built in the neo Jacobean style, the hotel was sympathetically extended in 2008, substantially increasing the amount of accommodation. The spacious public areas – the lounges, bar and Camellia restaurant are comfortably furnished and tastefully decorated in traditional styles. The Drawing Room features a walkway which leads to a beautiful terrace with splendid views of the hotel’s private lake and the South Downs.  Oak doors and paneling abound, even in the new long corridors which are also lined with a lustrous taupe fabric. In stark contrast, the Pass Restaurant, which embraces the modern dining concept of a chef’s kitchen table, has a contemporary design to match.

Although the absence of a spa might initially appear a disadvantage, it is more than compensated for by a variety of alternative leisure pursuits. These include golf at the sister property of Mannings Health Club, a gym with Technogym Kenesis facilities, tennis, croquet, jogging and mountain biking. Budding connoisseurs can indulge in wine tasting in the handsomely restored Victorian Cellar, and aspiring gourmets face an embarrassment of choice in the two award winning restaurants.

Overseeing the whole operation, which has a custom of 50% corporate and the remainder divided between individual leisure, golf and weddings, is General Manager David Connell. Given the highly competitive market of luxury hotels, he is conscious of the need to exceed guest expectations, creating WOW experiences whenever possible.

David Connell, General Manager

David Connell, General Manager


Fundamental in achieving this is his management philosophy of recruiting of the right staff: “I certainly believe in attitude over aptitude…skills can be trained but you have to want to look after people to be good at it.” Regretting the limited time he has to act as host given the demands of the business, he shows full confidence in his team’s ability to deliver consistent, first rate service. In an effort to maintain the highest of standards, he is a great believer in the marketing power of websites such as Trip Advisor, used by many at the buying stage. This is monitored closely by hotel manager, Mark Surguy who gives prompt and detailed replies to guest comments. Whilst David Connell relishes the prospect of a Spa facility, which is in the very early days of planning, he is constantly updating and refurbishing public rooms and bedrooms. This helps to maintain their excellent overall standard.

South Lodge Hotel Interior

The West Dene Junior Suite, situated on the ground floor at the end of the new extension finished in 2008, is an example of this.  It has the advantage of its own semi private terrace with garden furniture, and benefits from state of the art facilities.

The spacious, well lit accommodation is a pleasing mix of traditional and contemporary décor, furniture and fittings. Doors and furniture including a writing desk are in heavy oak. Some walls are partly smooth exposed brick, although the long dividing wall has striped coverings in duck blue and cream to complement the colour and pattern of the pelmetted curtains in heavy duty brocade.

Possibly unique amongst hotels at this high level is the invitation to cut flowers from the garden and display them in the vase provided.

South Lodge Hotel Bedroom

Comfort is provided by the deep bucket style, low back armchairs and two superking beds. These have handmade mattresses and are dressed in fine Egyptian cotton sheets and breathable hand finished duvets.  From the choice of pillows – a rare facility even amongst the top hotels – I opted for  the  “anti snoring”  one, which, according to my companion, has the right effect!

Modern conveniences include  a flat screen TV with Sky Channels, dvd player,  a humidifier and flexible bedside reading spotlights. Fortunately, the technology encountered, unlike many hotels of this standard, is not so advanced as to intimidate technophobes like myself.

The huge tiled bathroom features twin sinks,  jacuzzi bath and a spacious walk in rain shower with side sprays. An ample selection of Spa range toiletries, from the sister hotel Pennyhill Park, is generously provided.  Another indulgent extra is  an aqua television embedded in the wall, to be watched whilst soaking in the bath!

Overall, staying at South Lodge was a real joy. From the friendly, welcoming check in, through dinner and breakfast to our the final departure, we were spoilt with personal, courteous service. Staff clearly enjoy their work, and constantly convey this to their guests.

Restaurant Review: L’Anima, London (March 2014)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

L’Anima translates from the Italian as ‘soul’. Certainly, nourishment for the soul as well as the body is offered in abundance by this accomplished Italian fine dining establishment. Since opening in June 2008, Chef and owner Francesco Mazzei has rightly been lauded by both diners and critics alike.

The restaurant, which is located conveniently close to Liverpool Street station, borders trendy Shoreditch and is in the heart of London’s financial centre; the gleaming towers of RBS are just around the corner. L’Anima occupies the lower level of what seems like a nondescript modern building. However the restaurant transforms the ground floor into a light and airy Mediterranean oasis. One feels like Mr Benn entering into his famous shop, then being transported to some exotic corner of the globe.

The dining room itself is mostly furnished in white with large floor to ceiling windows around a 270 degree circumference. One side has views of the kitchen, providing a glimpse of the masters at work. The bar area, by contrast, is set to a darker tone and offers an alternative intimate dining space.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a Monday evening in March.  Marco and the team offered a warm and hospitable welcome and were on hand to offer expert guidance on the menu. The cooking is inspired by the Mezzogiorno, with fresh and vibrant flavours. Simple, boldly flavoured and clean tasting dishes nevertheless involve a careful balance of tastes and textures, accurate timing and beautiful presentation. Sourcing is important, with the best of British and Italian ingredients treated sensitively and with imagination. A glossary of terms at the bottom of the menu helps to demystify some of the less familiar offerings.

In true Italian style we began with an Aperitivi.  The Milano Torino is a classic combination of Campari with Red Vermouth, served on the rocks. The seasonal bellini on this occasion combined green apple with prosecco, for clean, crisp flavours.

Faced with an embarrassment of choice and acute fear of missing out on signature dishes, we were delighted to be offered the guidance of Sous Chef Antonio Favuzzi.

We had the pleasure of sampling three of the dishes from the starter menu, which ranges in price from £12 to £18. The first dish was Frito Misto, an amazing construction of soft shell crab, prawns, calamari, gurnard and a baby grey mullet arranged on the plate with architectural finesse. Accompanying the sea food where strips of fried courgette and meltingly crisp sage leaves. The fish was coated in a soft batter, which was cut through with lemon juice and accompanying chilli. The freshness and simplicity of the dish made this a real pleasure and evoked memories of the seaside – one could almost hear the lapping waves!

L'Anima_fritto misto

The other dishes from the starter menu were equally triumphant. The Octopus a la plancha was served with pearl barley, ’Duja (a type of spicy sausage), ricotta mustia, broccoli and paprika oil. The octopus itself was beautifully soft and meaty and the gentle saltiness of the ricotta was balanced perfectly by the heat of the paprika oil.


The Battuta Di Manzo, our other starter, initially seemed a mellower affair. The raw beef was of excellent pedigree, but really  came to life when tasted with the accompanying Bottarga (fish roe) and anchovy sauce. These added an intensity of flavour, perfectly complementing the beef. A sprinkling of large arugula leaves provided the final peppery seasoning.


Throughout the meal the attentive Fabrizio was on hand to offer advice on suitable wines to accompany our food. We started with Riflesso Rosi 2012. 50% cabernet and 50% merlot, this was a light red wine with fresh and fruity flavours, making it an excellent match for both the fish and the meat dishes.

Of course no Italian meal would be complete without pasta, and L’Anima prides itself on the expert delivery of this staple. The Pasta and Risotto menu provides an exciting range of options for a main or intermediary course, and other than Gnocchi with Lobster, are all priced around £16.

We sampled a Tortelli with Stracciatella, Ricotta, Brown Butter and Hazelnuts. Tortellini is a type of small round stuffed pasta, normally associated with northern Italy. These larger Tortelli were generously filled and when cut, the two cheeses of the filling gently oozed out onto the plate. This was creamy with a slight acidity, perfectly offsetting the beurre noisette and the sweetness of the accompanying ‘Famiglia Gottardi’ aged balsamic. This was a dish for all the senses, with a wonderful perfume of white truffle filling the air.


Seriously impressed, we moved on to sample two of the main courses. We sadly lacked the capacity to try the Rabbit Siciliana, which was so highly praised by Jay Rayner of the Observer. Instead we opted for the Fish Stew and Black Scotch Beef Tagliata. Main courses range in price from £15 to £32.50.

The Fish Stew was a wonderful collection of Fruitti di Mare, including lobster, sea bass, prawns and mussels. These were set on a rich bed of tomato and Fregola, a small couscous like pasta. The fish and shellfish were accurately timed, maximising their delicate flavour which was complimented, rather than being overpowered by the fresh, punchy sauce.


The final savoury course was Black Scotch Beef Tagliata, served with bone marrow, Blue Di Capra and a Magliocco sauce. The ‘tagliata’ element of the dish refers to the way the beef had been sliced. This sat atop a tower set of bone and mashed potato, making for yet another playful presentation. The beef was meltingly tender and full of flavour. The bone marrow and blue cheese both offered a complimentary richness, making every mouthful truly joyful. The Magliocco sauce, a reduction from the Calabrian wine, was not predominant yet brought the other elements together in a rounded way.


We finished with a Bergamot Soufflé, served with a berry compote and chocolate sorbet. The soufflé was light and airy, with subtle citrus flavours, providing the perfect canvass for the dark chocolate sorbet and tart compote. The sorbet, gently slipped into the soufflé by the server, created a wonderful melange with the aroma of chocolate orange, a truly harmonious combination.


Coffee and petit fours completed an outstanding meal.

It is clear that Francesco Mazzei has taken his extensive experience  in Italy and England – the latter including The Dorchester, Hakkasan, Franco’s (in Jermyn Street) and St Alban – to reach a height of accomplishment with his own offering. That the great and the good at Michelin have so far failed to recognise this seems an injustice that surely must be corrected. Fine Dining Guide will watch the progress of L’Anima with interest.