Archive for April, 2015

Hotel Review: Storrs Hall, Lake District (April 2015)

Posted on: April 17th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


In the highly competitive market of luxury Lake District hotels, an embarrassment of choice awaits the first time visitor. With most establishments boasting lake views, fine gardens, superior accommodation and gourmet cuisine, the decision of where to stay is, indeed, fraught with difficulty.

That said, no one would regret choosing Storr’s Hall, a member of the Exclusive Hotels Group. Standing in 17 acres of grounds and woodlands on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere – note actually  on the shore and not some distant hillside with a glimpse of the lake – it is undergoing a comprehensive room renovation. At the same time its gastronomic credentials have been raised by the arrival of Connor Toomey as head chef.

Storrs Logo

Unlike many other properties in the area, Storrs Hall has the advantage of historical and architectural interest. Now a Grade II listed Georgian villa, it was built in the mid 1790s for Sir John Legard then transformed on the profits of the slave trade by architect Joseph Gandy for John Bolton in 1808-9. A private family home to a succession of wealthy owners until 1892, its heyday witnessed guests from the worlds of literature – Wordsworth recited his famous “Daffodils” poem here – politics, industry and the military. From 1892, when Storrs Hall converted to a “Grand Hotel”, it changed hands three times, with the present owner, Les Hindle, investing heavily in the hotel’s extensive renovation.

One building within the grounds which has not been altered and is worth visiting is the National Trust owned folly, “Storrs Temple” reached at the end of a stone jetty. Built by Sir John Legard, it honours four naval heroes of the 18th/19th centuries: admirals Duncan, Nelson, Howe and St Vincent.


Externally and internally, Storrs Hall retains many of its original classical features. Guests are able to drive up and park next to the main entrance, admiring the entrance loggia with Greek Doric colonnade. Internal decoration and fittings of the highest quality, including inventive, luxuriant plasterwork and chimney pieces, are a testament to the excellent design and craftsmanship of the period.

Exploring the main public areas the Georgian interpretation of classical forms is clearly evident. The entrance hall, with a segmental-arched opening, leads to the central rotunda. This circular hall, with niches containing classical busts on the ground floor and a balustraded gallery on the first, is capped by a domed lantern in blue, orange and yellow. This rises from an entablature with a scalloped, fluted frieze. Equally impressive is the cantilevered staircase with decorative brass balustrade lit by an oval dome. At first-floor level the detailing is in the Composite order of architecture. The portraits and large tapestry evoke a past in which the rich merchant class unashamedly displayed their wealth.



The spacious, well lit dining room facing the lake has access to a verandah which links the two wings of the original building.

Fortunately, levels of comfort at Storrs Hall are not of Georgian standards. Decorated in pastel shades, public and private bedrooms ooze luxury and sophistication. In the Drawing Room and Study, a variety of clubby armchairs and settees, in a range of sumptuous materials, offer guests an ideal place to relax.

Many of the 30 bedrooms, consisting of Traditional and Deluxe guest rooms as well as Traditional, Deluxe and Exclusive Junior suites, have benefited from renovation in both traditional and contemporary designs which respect the building’s historical legacy. This was true of our twin aspect De-Luxe Junior Suite decorated in a bold arborial motif in brown and cream. Period mahogany furniture – desk, dressing table, bedside tables, chest of drawers and coffee table – were in sympathy with the spacious, sash windowed, high ceilinged room. A two seater settee and Queen Anne armchair offered comfortable seating. The beds, with padded leather headboards and dressed in the fine linen, gave a blissful night’s sleep. Modern additions included a large flat screen television, free internet access, designer chrome standard lamps, bedside reading spotlights – a particularly thoughtful touch – a Nespresso maker – perhaps essential for this level of room – and tea and coffee making facilities.

Storrs Bedroom

The bathroom had been totally modernised with twin white bowl sinks, separate bath with a built in waterproof television encouraging a long, relaxing soak. More stimulating for the senses was the walk in monsoon shower with side jets. Fluffy towels and bath robes side jets added to the sense of luxury.

However, whilst the clean white lines of the bathroom were aesthetically pleasing, the practicalities of using the facilities raised issues. The bath and shower would have benefited with hand rails for safety and instructions for use – it’s amazing how many different ways are invented for turning on a bath tap, plugging the tub or operating a shower! The lack of a soap dispenser, a range of quality toiletries and a box of tissues seemed particularly odd given accommodation of this quality. These, however, are minor blemishes which can easily be rectified and did not spoil what was a most comfortable stay.

Finally, the quality of management and service can make or break a hotel, regardless of how attractive the venue and modern the facilities. In this respect Storrs Hall is in safe hands. Derek MacDonald, ex The Vineyard in Berkshire, has recently taken over as General Manager. He is supported by an able team of over 30 including the charming and helpful Assistant Manager Sarah Nelson who chatted with us over dinner and chose the wines.  As a graduate of the 10/10 scheme, she has trained in all aspects of hotel life at such prestigious hotels as Cliveden, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the Chester Grosvenor. Clearly, this will stand her in good stead for a successful career at Storrs Hall. Restaurant assistants, especially Frederick Milando, and reception staff were polite, welcoming and attentive. Overall, the hotel runs efficiently and effectively, putting its guests’ needs first.

From check-in to departure, staying at Storrs Hall was a most pleasurable and memorable experience, exceeding our already high expectations. The idyllic setting – the hotel is inevitably popular for weddings – combined with high standards of accommodation, cuisine and service mean it can easily hold its own, and see off, much of the competition in the area.

Restaurant Review: Storrs Hall (April 2015)

Posted on: April 17th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Conor Toomey came to Storrs Hall after working with Michael Wignall at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, (two Michelin stars), where he was promoted to sous chef, followed by a stint in the kitchen at Coworth Park, Ascot (three AA rosettes). This wealth of experience and inspiration has already helped to gain three AA rosettes for the Storrs Hall restaurant.

Chef Conor Toomey

Conor is a chef who loves the creativity and excitement his career can bring. Accepting that it is a very tough life, but one of choice, he relishes the start of the busy season after the slowness of the winter. He enjoys weddings – unusual amongst highly creative chefs – and has helped to enhance Storrs’ enviable reputation in catering for them, (on average three a month in the summer).

Conor’s approach to sourcing ingredients – the freshest, best quality, seasonal – is axiomatic. Unlike some of his peers, he is not obsessed with local provenance at all costs. He does work with local suppliers – witness the foraged pennywort, wild garlic and hare on his current menu – but will only accept the best, whether local or from further afield.

His menu changes within the seasons and with his suppliers. Some popular dishes, such as loin of hare and his yuzu dessert have remained on the menu for several weeks. Nevertheless, his creative juices are stimulated by new ingredients which he can transform into innovative and exciting dishes. This means he does not have a signature dish as such and his cuisine is constantly evolving.

This approach also helps in the management of his brigade of seven chefs – he needs nine – some of whom, including his sous chef, came with him from Coworth. As a group they are actively involved in suggesting, testing or fine tuning new dishes, giving them a role in the creative process.

Conor’s cooking is unapologetically complex, strong on both classical and modern techniques in producing multi component dishes with satisfying layers of flavour. Freeze drying and dehydrating to create airy powders and granules are part of an extensive range of current cheffy skills. He likes to experiment with interesting, if sometimes unpopular, techniques such as fermentation, as in his fermented cucumber granita with smoked eel parfait, which heightens the sweet and sour taste that no other process can achieve. A water bath is used to soften Jerusalem artichokes before grilling. Strawberries are compressed to create an intense stock. On the other hand, a duck dish is finished with a classic Jus gras in which rendered fat is combined with Xerez vinegar and duck stock.

Other influences on his cooking might include his personal love of curry and raita, hence yogurt with his cucumber granita; or the influence of Michael Wignall who introduced him to a northern speciality, pigeon peas, which appear on the menu as glazed maple peas.

Whilst approving of the current restaurant scene, especially in London, with their “incredible chefs… and massive creativity,” Conor cannot understand the vogue in Nordic design or the trend in relax informality where service takes a nose dive. Fine dining needs a little pomp and ceremony including fine napery, so he would also hate to have his food served on bare tables.

storrs hall dining room

With a mixed client base, and the slow pace of change in the Lakes, he appreciates the need to attract a more local clientele. One method is an attractive price point. The set lunch on Sundays is £16.50 for two courses, £21.50 for three. The seasonal carte offers three courses for £52 with a supplement for cheese. However, the best bargain is the nine course tasting menu at £65, a snip compared with London prices.

Conor’s preference for stronger flavours is amply revealed in an exceptionally generous nine course tasting menu which includes amuse bouches, two seafood, two meat/game, two vegetarian dishes, and two desserts.

To start, one had to be careful not to eat too much of the delicious home-made soda bread and mini baguette

The delicate amuse bouches were a mini meal in itself, showing originality and precise attention to detail. A tapioca crisp flavoured with squid ink dressed with with taramasalata; pork crackling with saffron tapioca with chorizo jam; brioche, pork mayonnaise and truffle; and roasted aubergine puree with bread sticks all offered harmonious combinations which produced flavour explosions in the mouth. Tantalising the palate, with the added fragrance of truffle, they served their purpose well.


In the first course, a lively fermented cucumber granita balanced the intensity of smoked eel parfait. This marriage of fresh and rich flavours, given a dressing of yogurt and herbal lift with dill oil and fresh dill, acted almost as a palate cleanser with its light and refreshing qualities.


A colourful plate of roasted golden and red Heritage beetroot delighted in their vibrancy of colours and flavours. Robble valley goat’s curd added a gentle acidity which balanced the sweetness of the root vegetable. Dainty beetroot meringue simply dissolved in the mouth whilst puffed rye added a necessary crunchy texture.



Next came blackened Cornish red mullet, accurately timed to highlight its rich, shellfish like taste. Accompanied by olive tapenade, compressed celery, shellfish oil espuma, and a Bouillabaisse reduction, these strong flavours complemented each other well, the mullet not being lost amongst the other components. A well-made rouille and grilled fennel, which gave a mild aniseed note, completed this tour de force of fish cookery.


Preparing the glazed loin of hare with its immaculately cleaned rib bones was surely a labour of love. Such delicate meat received the precise timing it needed to maximise rich, gamey flavour. Morels and parsnip puree added a deep earthiness and contrasting texture whilst maple glazed peas provided an interesting nuttiness.


Jerusalem artichokes were cooked sous vide in a butter emulsion before being finished on the barbeque, giving an al dente texture and a slightly nutty taste. This worked well with the slight sweetness of roast celeriac puree, and the herbal boost of parsley oil.

Storrs Jerusalem

The final savoury course comprised duck treated well in two classical ways, pan roasted breast which was well seasoned and rested, and slow cooked confit leg. Spiced granola added texture and flavour, and sprouting broccoli gave colour and crunch. Braised Yorkshire rhubarb and purees of rhubarb and prunes cut the richness of the meat and a classical jus gras round the dish off perfectly.


Two beautifully presented, complex desserts showed the strengths of the pastry section, employing some unusual ingredients and the latest technological wizardry.

Sweet Gariguette strawberries were delicate, soft and juicy with a pleasing fragrance. They were enhanced with a stock of compressed strawberry, given a lemony lift with wood sorrel and herbal freshness with mint ice. The accompanying quenelle of white chocolate ice cream added richness to this light, well-conceived dessert.


The second dessert might be seen as a playful interpretation of deconstructed lemon meringue. Here the lemon custard was frozen and paired with a Yuzu cremeaux which gave an added boost of citrus. Meringues were flavoured with green tea. Given its powerful nature, fennel pollen was used judiciously in an ice cream, giving it notes of liquorice, citrus and marshmallows.


Overall, it was a pleasure to sample Conor’s imaginative, skilfully wrought dishes. There was much to admire in their sheer labour intensity, thoughtful construction and clean presentation. As one of the few chefs in the Lakes producing cutting edge cuisine, he deserves even greater recognition, especially from the AA, Good Food and Michelin guides. Fine Dining Guide is keen to return on its next visit to the Lakes and will follow his progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Linthwaite House (April 2015)

Posted on: April 15th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Set in 13 acres of gardens and grounds, with hillside views of Lake Windermere, Linthwaite House offers gourmet cuisine to match its fashionably designed, contemporarily furnished accommodation.

Linthwaite continues to be garlanded with distinctions and awards. The coveted four AA red stars for accommodation and three AA rosettes for the restaurant make it one of the leading luxury hotels in the area. Not surprising, Conde Nast Johansen granted it the “Most Excellent Country House Hotel” award

More recently, Linthwaite has won the Cumbria Life 2015 award for Best Hotel Restaurant. This is a fitting tribute to Head Chef Chris O’Callaghan, his brigade in the kitchen, and the front of house team.


Chris, who came to Linthwaite in April 2012 from the Michelin starred Paris House, part of the Alan Murchison stable of L’Ortolan, Le Becasse and The Angel in which he spent nine years of his early career. He has had three years to develop his style of cooking. In talking to Fine Dining Guide, he stressed his style had become much simpler. Initially, he was out to prove a point which led to complicated, over wrought dishes. The emphasis now is on clean tastes and tidy presentation. Achieving a perfect custard tart on his dinner menu, for instance, is more important than over-elaborate desserts.

However, simple does not mean easy, hence alongside classical skills Chris has embraced current technical wizardry. Menu descriptions give no idea of the techniques used to enhance his dishes. Chris enjoys the freedom being Head Chef has given him. Creativity there is in abundance: consider, for instance, gin cured salmon, lemon purée, and tonic sorbet, or roasted Cod, cavolo nero purée, hazelnut orzo, artichoke, and prune on the dinner menu. Combinations of ingredients are sometimes unusual but always compatible.

Chris’ passion for seasonal British produce continues. Developing good relationships with top regional suppliers guarantees quality supplies. In line with the restaurant’s excellent reputation for its cheeseboard – Linthwaite has been previously won the Cheeseboard of the Year competition – he works closely with John Natlacen of Churchmouse Cheeses in Kirkby Lonsdale, the “Best Independent Cheese Shop of Great Britain”.

With a brigade of up to nine, Chris took pride in his recruitment policy, given the difficulty in attracting and keeping young staff. His links with the local college, facilitating the training of students for Level 4 NVQs, has resulted in two ex-porters now running sections in his kitchen.

Chris commented that the recent Cumbria Life award has helped boost covers at lunch. Although the priority of his kitchen is to please the guest, regardless of price or awards, he accepted that the attractive price point, £14.95 for two courses, £19.95 for three, helped to build up a client base who will return for dinner. Currently, some 80% of guests for dinner are residents.

Menu alternatives are three in each course for lunch and double that number for dinner, (plus a special each night). Dinner costs £52 whilst a tasting menu – a feature Chris introduced – is also available at dinner for an additional £10. These prices compare very favourably with the local competition.

A diversified, award winning wine list with plenty of Old and New Worlds – includes many vintages which match the food.

Although they lack lake views, the three dining rooms – one of which is small enough for private dining – have decorative mirrors, prints, semi abstract landscape photos and antiques which gain the attention of diners. In the main room, colours, textures and patterns are inspired by nature in a style described as “Raffles-meets-Ralph-Lauren.” Green, pearl and taupe are the predominant shades, balancing the fumed oak and solid wood floors. Banquette and contemporary dining chairs, in a variety of fabrics and patterns are supremely comfortable. Lighting varies from spotlights on tables to bespoke large pendant lamps, giving a background glow at a high level

Drinks in the spacious conservatory lounge, with roaring log fire, preceded a Saturday lunch in late March.

Delicious homemade breads – wild garlic focaccia, white and wholemeal augured well for the dishes to follow.

A starter of smoked salmon mousse was smooth and well balanced. Topped with salmon eggs, the gentle saltiness of which acted as a seasoning, it was dressed with crispy skin which added texture and crispy capers which helped to cut the richness of the mousse. The clean tastes and uncluttered presentation made this a delightful first course.


Equally accomplished was a generous cylinder of ballotine of wild rabbit. Flecked with herbs and well-seasoned, it was suitably moist with a light, gamey flavour. A chutney of butternut squash and cumin added sweet and spicy notes which worked well with the more subtle taste of the rabbit. Crisp seeded puff pastry wheels provided the necessary contrasting texture to this attractively presented dish.


A main course of accurately timed guinea fowl breast was elevated to stellar heights by a seasoning of pesto, hazelnuts and black fermented garlic. Tiny cubes of white balsamic jelly added a counterbalancing sweetness and marjoram gnocchi gave the dish a herbal lift. A rich madeira reduction brought the elements together in this innovative composition, embracing both classic and contemporary techniques.


The most inventive dish was a main course of roasted cod, the soft, translucent flakes of which glistened under shards of crispy skin anointed with nodules of lemon puree. Accompanied by quinoa which gave a contrasting firmer texture, the plate was finished with a flourish of roasted aubergine puree and balls of apple and sage. Visually stunning, with imaginative combination of ingredients that worked well together, this dish typified the attention to detail given to what, in essence, was a simple dish.


Desserts continued to show the versatility of the kitchen

A supremely light vanilla cheesecake came topped with an intense mango gel. A puree of mango and a quenelle of its sorbet piped with white chocolate completed this elegant, refreshing dessert.


Finally, an indulgent dessert featured rich but light salted dark chocolate mousse and a novel hazelnut aero. Orange ice cream provided a harmonious flavour combination and poppy seed Madeleine gave contrasting texture.


Overall, this was a most accomplished lunch made more pleasurable by the knowledgeable, attentive but unobtrusive service. Having enjoyed two previous meals at Linthwaite, this exceeded our already high expectations. Clearly, Chris O’Callaghan and his team deserve the acclaim they have already achieved and have the potential to go even further developing their adventurous cuisine.

Restaurant Review: The Lawns, Wirral (March 2015)

Posted on: April 4th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Lawns RestaurantThe Lawns Restaurant is the proud possessor of three AA rosettes, attracting both a regular, local following and those from further afield.

Not that it has rested on its laurels, which in the main reason why Thornton Hall appointed Matt Worswick as Executive Chef late in 2014. Liverpool-born Matt, 27, will work across the brasserie, private dining, bar /lounge and banqueting suite, leading a 21-strong kitchen brigade. His main role, however, will be to raise the cuisine of the Lawns to even greater heights in order to gain a Michelin star. This will match Marc Wilkinson’s Fraiche in Oxton , currently the only restaurant in Merseyside with a Michelin star.

Matt has already achieved a Michelin star at the luxury Glenapp Castle in Ayreshire in 2013, when he became the youngest chef in Scotland to gain that distinction. Having previously worked with David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, (two stars), and Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay, (one star), his gastronomic credentials were already impressive. As a chef who actively enjoys being behind the stove, like his mentor at Champignon Sauvage, Matt sees his present position as an exciting challenge.

His use of top quality, carefully sourced seasonal ingredients is axiomatic, true for any chef at this level. (Matt has the confidence not to state their provenance, a feature which has become tediously fashionable – and often meaningless – on contemporary menus.) That they are treated sensitively, allowing their natural qualities to shine is fundamental. Classical techniques with modern European influences are preferred to contemporary gadgetry and obsessive experimentation. Matt’s modern European dishes reveal a depth of flavour, the result of accurate timing, well-judged seasoning and harmonious combinations of taste and texture.

The use of less popular cuts of meat, offal, and fish, presenting greater challenges to creativity, is evident across a range of menus. Bavette of beef may appear on the menu du jour; treacle braised brisket and ox tongue as a starter, and ox cheek and oxtail faggot as a main course have appeared on the carte. Similarly, stone bass and gurnard are offered instead of more luxurious alternatives.

Menu descriptions are terse and understated, allowing for an element of surprise in the finished product. Pricing and choices at this level are very fair indeed. For instance, a set lunch is £17.50 for two courses, £21.50 for three. Sunday dinner at £34 has at least 4 options in each of three courses. However, for bona fide foodies and those celebrating special occasions, the £75 tasting menu is the best way of sampling Matt Worswick’s food

Matt Worswick

A quartet of freshly baked mini loaves with crisp crust and firm crumb included farmhouse white, granary, and onion and onion seed. The last of these was outstanding in aroma, taste and texture. Spread with slightly salted Irish butter, the bread proved so irresistible one had to be careful not to eat too much.

An amuse bouche of cauliflower and smoked eel paired humble and expensive elements in a delightful spoonful.

Open tortellini had silky smooth, delicate pasta encasing a deeply flavoured duxelle of wild mushroom. Crisp barley added texture, cep powder gave a heady fragrance and raw mushrooms added an element of freshness. A veal reduction with a sweet, lip smacking quality served as a sauce which balanced the earthiness of the other elements.

Thornton Ravioli


A layered terrine wrapped in cabbage combined the more delicate flavour of chicken with the stronger tasting ham hock. Accompanied by varied shapes of salt baked swede, this unusual pairing worked both in taste and texture. Mayonnaise judiciously spiked with cumin, added a gentle spicy lift. Although lacking a crisp element to balance the soft textures, this was a skilfully crafted and attractively presented dish.

Thornton Terrine

Accurately timed seared scallops had caramelised crusts and soft succulent flesh. Paired with meltingly delicious boneless maple glazed sticky chicken wings, this innovative “surf and turf” combination was garnished with charred leeks and leek puree which added a mild onion taste to the dish.

Thornton Scallops

A deeply flavoured duck breast had its fat well rendered to produce a crisp skin and rich, gamey flesh. The sweetness of the beetroot puree – perhaps an excessive amount on the plate acting as a sauce – was balanced by the gentle bitterness of caramelised chicory. More accomplished were the excellent pommes Dauphine, with their soft interior and crisp coating.

Thornton Duck

Our selection of cheeses was aided by restaurant manager James Campbell whose encyclopaedic knowledge of flavour, texture and provenance was most impressive indeed. The three pieces chosen – Brillat-Savarin with truffle, Montgomery cheddar and Epoisses; were in a perfect condition of ripeness. Truffle honey with the Brillat Savarin and wine jelly with the cheddar were ideal condiments.

The two well-crafted desserts showed the strengths of the pastry section.

Pineapple cheesecake with a coconut gel proved amazingly light and not oversweet. Its accompanying sorbet was velvety smooth and intensely flavoured. Roasted pineapple completed this composite dessert of contrasting textures and temperatures.


Salted caramel is ubiquitous and has been overused. One exception is the fondant of salted caramel and white chocolate fondant served here. Its meltingly sweet, warm interior and brownie texture was cut brilliantly by a scoop of slightly sour yogurt sorbet. Yogurt meringue and leaves of lemon balm added a crisp texture and herbal fragrance to this innovative dessert.


Overall, this was a well- balanced and skilfully executed menu, displaying strengths in all departments of the kitchen. This is only to be expected given the Matt Worswick’s background and achievements. Whilst his cooking is not cutting edge – and all the better for it – its consistency of execution at a high level, maximising flavour and texture, with a cautious, well considered degree of innovation, are defining features of his cuisine. Fine Dining Guide is optimistic about his prospects of Michelin stardom and will await the 2016 guide in eager anticipation.

Hotel Review: Thornton Hall, Wirral (March 2015)

Posted on: April 4th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Thornton Exterior

Located in the historic and picturesque village of Thornton Hough in the Wirral, Thornton Hall is a member of the Classic British Hotels group, itself a sign of high quality. It has gained an enviable reputation for its four star accommodation, award winning spa and three AA rosette fine dining restaurant. Within easy driving distance from Liverpool, Chester and the M6 motorway, it has become a magnet for those seeking peaceful relaxation, pampered indulgence and gastronomic excellence.

Set in well-maintained gardens, the imposing white stone main building, completed in the late 19th century, reflects the wealth and status of the Liverpool shipping merchants who originally owned it. Converted into a hotel in 1954, its room capacity was increased by a two storey courtyard extension with glass walled corridors linking it to the original house.

thornton hall exterior

An airy and spacious reception leads to a number of dark oak panelled lounges, conference rooms and bar. Particularly impressive is the main staircase lined with carvings depicting Aesop’s fables.

The jewel in the crown, however, is the Lawns restaurant. With room for up to 38 covers on well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery, this high ceilinged, elegantly-proportioned room retains many of its original Italianate features. These include the oak carvings, the classical frieze and, most impressive of all, the leather ceiling embossed with mother of pearl. Magnificent crystal chandeliers from Milan crown the room’s opulence whilst gilt framed mirrors and a large bay window add to the sense of space. Wall coverings, drapes and Roman blinds in brown and cream work well with older features, making the Lawns a beautiful room in which to dine.

Accommodation if offered in four categories: Club, Executive Garden, Executive Boutique and Character (individually designed, furnished and housed in the main building). For a truly memorable stay, a Penthouse suite is available

Our first floor Executive Garden room, with its own balcony overlooking the immaculately kept lawn, had been tastefully renovated in tones of sage green. The twin beds gave a good night’s sleep and leather bucket chairs proved very comfortable when watching the flat screen TV. The compact, fully tiled bathroom featured an integrated bath and shower and a waterproof TV, an unexpected but welcome luxury for this level of room. Good quality toiletries, fluffy bathrobes, slippers and ample wardrobe space with proper hangers – not those dreadful ones attached to rings – completed the generous range of facilities in the room.


However relaxing staying in one’s room might be, it would have been a shame not to use the spa – free to hotel guests – for which Thornton Hall is jusgtifiably renowned. Having achieved a 5 Bubble rating in the Good Spa Guide, it has also gained international recognition by winning in categories of the World Luxury Spa Awards in 2014 and 2015. The Spa’s central feature is a 20 metre heated pool, columned in the classical style. Reminiscent also of the Roman baths is the suggested “Thermal Journey Experience” featuring successive use of warm shower, sauna, snow cave, steam room, cool shower and the hydrotherapy pools. The only stage missing is the oil rib and strigil shave! Other impressive facilities include exterior hot tubs, a solarium and a state of the art fitness suite.

spa thornton hall

The beauty and hair spas offer holistic and clinical treatments from relaxing massages to IPL skin rejuvenation. The Tranquility Suite is the Holistic spa with its hot stone massage, reflexology, Hopi and other alternative therapies. A recent addition is the Rasul Room for mineral mud treatment, accommodating up to four guests.

It is not difficult to see why seasoned spa lovers can easily spend a whole day luxuriating in the facilities, being invigorated by the treatments. There is also no need to leave the complex for lunch, as a good selection of dishes is served in the Times brasserie.

All of the above facilities, whether in the main building, Lawns restaurant or spa, would have less impact unless the service was up to scratch. In this respect Thornton Hall scores highly. Peter in reception was welcoming and cheerful, expediting our arrival – form filling being kept to a minimum – and helping with our luggage. The young lady who served us at dinner did remarkably well given it was her first day. Restaurant manager James Campbell was charming, accommodating – especially regarding our fussy choice of tables – and knowledgeable. He led his young team with authority and professionalism

From our afternoon arrival, visit to the spa, through to dinner and a peaceful night’s rest, breakfast and departure, we were looked after very well indeed. Staying at Thornton Hall was a real joy, and definitely somewhere to return for a longer, more leisurely stay, as is the case with the large number of regular visitors.

Restaurant Review: Outlaw’s at the Capital (March 2015)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Nathan Outlaw

Since it opened in 1971, The Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge has seen an enviable galaxy of chefs including Richard Shepherd, Brian Turner, Philip Britten and Eric Chavot achieve Michelin stardom. The award of two stars saw its destination restaurant become veritable temple of gastronomy with dining in hushed, reverential tones as a mark to true respect to these culinary gods. Service was suitably formal, encouraged by the sumptuous décor, the arrangement of tables dressed in fine napery, and a desire to emulate classical front of house service.

By way of contrast, the first decades of this century have witnessed remarkable changes in eating out, especially in London. These include the opening of huge scale restaurants often with industrial chic or Nordic look interiors; and the popularity of tapas, sharing plates and street food, all of which are linked with the rise of so called relaxed, informal dining and service.

Thank goodness the Capital has not adopted the worst excesses of these developments. True, the table cloths have been replaced by table mats on the polished wood tables. There has also been a partial redesign, with the mirrored seahorse sculptures, blond wood paneling and mirrored walls creating the illusion of space. However, all are tastefully executed, consistent with the decor of a plush hotel restaurant.


Happily, there are no small dishes where the bill can easily mounts up deceptively quickly, no Scandinavian sparseness and no sloppy, over familiar service in the guise of informality. Uniformed staff remains making it easy to distinguish staff from guests, unlike the fashion in some high end restaurants.

Nathan Outlaw has embraced the trend towards informal dining but it can only be taken so far at the Capital, a bastion of traditional luxurious hospitality which necessarily involves a degree of formality. This does not mean stuffy, condescending or patronising service, indeed the opposite is clearly the case; from the doorman, reception and waiting staff to the sommelier and restaurant manager, it was a pleasure to experience welcoming, helpful and attentive service balanced by a degree of professionalism.

What is to be welcomed is the focus on fish, Nathan Outlaw’s forte, which has earned him two Michelin stars at this eponymous restaurant in Cornwall. Just as his previous employer and long term friend Rick Stein has spawned a dining empire in Padstein – sorry Padstow – so Nathan has expanded in Port Isaac and Rock, with two restaurants in each. The opening and success of Outlaw’s at the Capital saw his triumphant debut in London.

Worries about spreading his talent too thinly can be dismissed knowing that the brigade of ten in the kitchen is led by Peter Biggs, his sous chef in Cornwall for ten years. Delegation to highly trusted colleagues is an essential prerequisite for successful expansion and here it works perfectly.

Clearly the approach to food at Outlaw’s is the same as those of his other establishments: Sourcing of the finest ingredients is axiomatic. At our recent lunch, brill, scallops, sea bass, lemon sole came from Cornwall and hand dived scallops from Scotland. Sensitive treatment of the raw material, enabling natural flavours to shine, is fundamental. Precision in timing and judiciously light saucing enable the chef to do the fish justice without masking its delicate taste. Care is taken with vegetables which are integral parts of the dish

Pricing is realistic given the quality of ingredients, the accomplished cooking and the superior service. The £55 three-course Winter Menu. has four options in each course including one meat alternative for starters and mains. Cheese at no supplement is offered instead dessert. Even better value is the set lunch at £22 for two courses, £27 for three, with three options in each course.

Fine Dining Guide visited Outlaw’s in a busy lunch in March.

Openers to our meal augured well for what was to follow. Deep friend crispy fish balls were amazingly light and grease free, Dipped in herb mayonnaise, they were a delight to eat.


Even better was the rosemary focaccia, soft and fragrant crumb with a thin, crisp crust

An imaginative starter of brill comprised thin slices of cured fillet given a spicy twist with paprika and enlivened with lemon juice and paprika oil. This worked well with the acidity of a bed of pickled peppers. Dill yogurt and chopped dill provided a herbal lift, contrasting with smoked almonds which gave crunch and texture.


Crispy oysters magically retained their ozone fragrance and slimy texture after being bread crumbed and deep fried – two textures in one. Pickled shallots, carrots and cucumber balanced the richness of the seafood. The dish was bought together by an unusual mayonnaise based sauce using oysters, horseradish and cucumber tea. Thus, a familiar dish was transformed into an excitingly novel one.


In a special starter of the day, three hand-dived, wonderfully sweet scallops in their shells were swiftly baked in a Josper charcoal oven, Whilst lacking a caramelised crust resulting from pan searing, this was more than compensated for by an inventive orange and rosemary butter sauce and a gratin of cheddar and rosemary breadcrumbs. The seductive aroma of warm shells added an extra dimension to the dish.  The overall balance of ingredients was impressive, especially as the rosemary could so easily have overpowered the seafood.

A lemon sole main course featured a grilled fillet precisely timed to retain its structure and moistness – not an easy feat with such a delicate fish. The accompanying sprouting broccoli, finished by char grilling, added texture colour and flavour. What made this simple pairing successful was the warm tartare sauce mixed with fish stock, which gave a well-judged richness, and the crispy capers and lemon oil dressing which acted as a seasoning.


A well timed fillet of sea bass was pan fried to produce a crisp skin and firm white flakes of succulent flesh. Perched on silky smooth, mashed potato, it was enhanced by smoked leeks which also gave a gentle crunch, and a deeply flavoured roast chicken dressing which worked particularly well with the other elements.


Herb crusted cod is almost a cliché in most restaurants. What made Outlaw’s version special is the addition of hazelnuts (to parsley, chives, tarragon and butter), giving the oven baked fish a particularly flavoursome and crunchy coating. Spinach with garlic proved a well-considered vegetable, whilst a dressing of mushrooms, shallots, oil and tarragon enlivened by Levin verjus, finished off the dish well.


To finish, four English cheeses in prime condition, including a Nottinghamshire blue and a Cornish five year matured cheddar specially sourced by Nathan Outlaw, proved a good alternative to those without a sweet tooth. Dried treacle bread, thinly sliced like Melba toast, fig and apple chutney and pickled celery, all delicious, showed that garnishes were not a mere afterthought.

Treacle tart, baked to order, had thin, crisp, buttery pastry and a rich not over-sweet filling. The orange and lemon zest balancing the sweetness of the treacle. Topped with a velvety smooth scoop of vanilla ice cream, this simple dessert embodied all the strengths of the pastry section.


Overall, it is not difficult to see why Outlaw’s has been awarded a Michelin star. Invention and creativity are reflected in harmonious combinations, refinement and elegant presentation of dishes, all of which reflect skills of a high order. These are only to be expected given Nathan Outlaw’s talents and his impressive CV, having worked with top chefs such as Gary Rhodes, Eric Chavot and John Campbell. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit to Outlaw’s at the Capital and will follow its progress with interest.


Restaurant Review: Corrigan’s Mayfair (March 2015)

Posted on: April 1st, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


Since opening in 2008, Corrigan’s Mayfair has been garlanded with an enviable host of accolades. After just three months it gained (and has retained) three AA Rosettes, with the Evening Standard’s London Restaurant of the Year and the ‘AA London Restaurant of the Year’ following in quick succession. At the National Restaurant Awards it gained one of the highest new entries at number five. Since then, it has featured consistently with high marks in the major restaurant guides.

Corrigans chefs libraryfine dining guide first visited in 2011, finding much to admire in the welcoming hospitality and generosity of spirit which epitomise the approach of chef-patron Richard Corrigan. Now that new Head Chef Alan Barrins has been at the helm for over a year, it seemed appropriate to revisit.

Certain features of the long, oak floored, low ceilinged room, lit by dainty chained bell shaped lamps – an odd arrangement – remain. Blue leather chairs and soft banquettes, adding to the club like feel, continue to offer comfortable seating around well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery. The art deco antique mirrored walls now provide the backdrop to more recent additions to the decor – paintings from Richard Corrigan’s private collection.

Private dining for 30 can still be enjoyed in the glamourous Lindsay Room, whilst smaller groups of foodies can book the Chef’s Table or Kitchen Library (directly opposite the passe) which seat 12 and six respectively. The glamourous bar, which occupies half of the main dining room, can also be used if all tables are booked.

Happily, the food philosophy remains the same: sustainability, sourcing from small individual suppliers, the use of top rate organic produce – including vegetables from Richard and Virginia’s recently purchased 150 acre estate in County Cavan – are fundamental. This is not the place for cutting edge cookery – and all the better for it. Cooking fads are largely rejected in favour of classical techniques producing honest, robust cooking with bold flavours, including nose to tail dishes, served with generosity.

Head Chef Alan Barrins who came to England 11 years ago from his native Sligo in north west Ireland has a distinguished CV. This includes two and a half years at the Lanesborough with Paul Gayler , Arbutus and Les Deux Salons with Anthony Demetre (also two and a half years), and the highly acclaimed Rockpool in Sydney (two years). However, it was at the more modest but no less worthy Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick, where he was Head Chef, that he was discovered by Richard Corrigan, who ordered the whole of the menu in a busy lunch service!

Alan Barrins

Whilst Richard has a general oversight, ensuring that seasonal produce such as game – including the acclaimed grouse pie – are available, Alan has a large degree of freedom in menu construction, taking the best from his varied experience to put his own stamp on the final product. He hopes to take the restaurant further, developing the underused bar area and creating sharing dishes such as whole terrines, casseroles and roast suckling pigs, especially for the private dining rooms.

With a brigade of up to 12, Alan’s kitchen can provide for 120-130 covers, maintain a consistently high level of cooking. This is no mean achievement given the extensive a la carte menu which features 11 starters, 12 mains, and 6 desserts. Menus also change each month. Particularly busy times are Friday lunch, and Sunday lunch where a highly competitive price is charged for three courses (with five options at each stage). At dinner, trolley dishes such as rib of beef and suckling pig allow for an element of old fashioned theatre in the highly refined service.

The magisterial wine list is arranged primarily by wine characteristics, rather than by region or grape. This makes for interesting reading, particularly as the sommelier mixes and matches the idea according to peoples’ general understanding of wine tastes, grapes and regions: A style we may find expanded upon by other restaurants in due course. The wines chosen by the sommelier for our meal skilfully matched the chosen dishes.

Restaurant Manager Magdalena Gorska is affable and welcoming, helping to put diners at their ease. Her experience at Claridges, not to mention Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous Chelsea restaurant and the Savoy Grill has stood her in good stead for the more personal service which she prefers and can offer at Corrigan’s. Exchanging her training as a sommelier for management, she is a knowledgeable front of house, engaging and likeable. Leading an efficient, friendly and unobtrusive team, she ensures the service operates as a well-oiled machine, but one with personality and humour.

fine dining guide returned to Corrigan’s on a Thursday evening in March to sample dishes from the carte. Menu descriptions are understated, allowing for an element of surprise when the dish arrives.

An aperitif of champagne – NV Paul Dethune, Ambonnay Grand Cru – was the perfect accompaniment for canapes of olives stuffed with soft cheese, crumbed and deep fried, and mushroom vol au vents exuding the heady fragrance of shaved truffle.

Well baked Irish soda bread and baguette had crisp crusts and firm crumb.

Cooking dishes employing luxury ingredients is hard to achieve unless the raw ingredients and cooking time are perfect. Both were amply demonstrated in a Shellfish cocktail starter which featured poached lobster and crab dressed in Marie Rose sauce. Beautifully fresh, the generous chunks of lobster retained their succulence whilst delicate flakes of white crab meat were sweet and bursting with freshness. These were topped with a giant prawn tempura –again perfectly timed – which added warmth and crispness. These elements were lifted by lemon – properly wrapped in muslin – and suitably accompanied by Melba toast. Here was a traditional simple starter raised to lofty heights, allowing the main components to speak for themselves.  (Wine: 2012 Pouilly-Fume Cuvee d’Eve, Dom. Des Berthiers – Loire Valley, France)

Corrigans Seafood Cocktail

A seared veal sweetbread benefitted from a caramelised crust encasing a meltingly soft, creamy interior. Accompaniments of sweet onion puree contrasted with crisp grilled calcot, both adding a deep earthiness to the dish. Capers and cornichons, cut the richness of the offal, giving an acidic bite, whilst a reduced red wine jus brought the whole dish together.  (Wine: 2013 Gruner Veltliner, Loiserberg, Loimer-Kamptal, Austria – pungent, peppery)

Corrigan's Sweetbread

A precisely timed main course of roast saddle of rabbit was soft and moist. Wrapped with its liver and kidney in Parma ham, the dish would have been improved if the offal was served separately as it tended to overpower the delicate flavour of the flesh. Carrot puree and al dente white asparagus were suitable garnishes, adding sweetness and texture, whilst three cornered garlic gave colour and a herbal freshness. Crispy chicken skin and a rich jus completed the composition. (Wine: 2011 Bourgogne Rouge, Pinot Noir, Domaine Rion, – Burgundy, France.)

Corrigans Rabbit

It was pleasing to see the humble lamb rump, an under used cut often used in set lunch dishes, appearing as a main course on an a la carte menu. This is one of the few ingredients that is prepared sous vide (at 40-60 degrees for five hours I am told), then finished in the pan. The result was wonderfully flavoursome and unctuous, a real triumph of meat cookery. Served with its sweetbreads – delicious but not needed given the very generous portion of rump – the dish was enhanced by a rich jus spiked with golden raisins, adding sweetness to balance the earthy flavours of sauted wild mushrooms and roasted salsify. (Wine: 2012 Chianti Classico, Isola e Olena – Tuscany, Italy)

Corrigans Lamb

A side dish of potato gratin was rich, well-seasoned and not over creamy. Crisp green beans with garlic and preserved lemon proved an excellent combination.


Finally, the skills of the pastry section were shown in the two desserts chosen for their relative lightness.

Rhubarb crumble soufflé – properly made with crème patissiere unlike many contemporary versions – was well textured and flavoured. The ginger crème Anglais worked well with the slight tartness of soufflé. Happily there was no attempt to pour the sauce into the soufflé, a practice I have never understood as it spoils both elements. Velvety smooth ice cream, again served separately, gave another temperature dimension to this accomplished composite dessert

Corrigans Souffle

A trio of ice creams – Vanilla, Cornflake and apple and Calvados – proved another appropriate dessert after two generously portioned savoury courses.

Good expresso, macaroons and Bailey’s chocolate truffles completed a memorable meal.

Overall, Corrigan’s Mayfair is firing on all cylinders. Dining here is not cheap, but prices on the carte reflect the superb quality of the produce, the skill in cooking and the excellence of the service. More accessible options, perhaps for those dining for the first time, are the weekday lunch Market Menu (£29 for three courses) and the Sunday Lunch. However, for special occasions, the extensive choice from the carte – perhaps even dining in the Kitchen Library – is not to be missed. Fine Dining will certainly visit again, perhaps in the autumn season to sample the abundance of game dishes for which Corrigan’s is renowned, and will follow the restaurant’s progress with interest