Archive for August, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Beehive, White Waltham (August 2016)

Posted on: August 28th, 2016 by Simon Carter

DomChapmanBeehiveFoodies in the Maidenhead area face an embarrassment of riches when dining out. The 2016 Good Guide lists no less than 11 entries within a few miles radius of the town centre. Disregarding the four restaurants with Michelin stars, the standard of cooking amongst the rest is remarkably high; indeed, it has to be given the well-heeled, knowledgeable diners who live in this affluent area.

Foremost in the competitive market of food-led pubs is the Beehive in White Waltham. Since opening in August 2014 it has attracted serious attention from locals and those from further afield. This is largely because its chef patron Dominic Chapman has a distinguished pedigree with many loyal followers. He benefits from an impeccable background in hospitality: His family has owned the acclaimed Castle Hotel in Taunton for over 65 years and his father is a chef and author. Having cooked in the kitchens of heavyweights such at Rowley Leigh (at Kensington Place) and Heston Blumenthal (the Fat Duck in its early days and the Hind’s Head – his first head chef position), he was awarded a Michelin Star, three AA rosettes and 6/10 in the Good Food Guide during his seven years at the Royal Oak in nearby Paley Street.

The challenge of running his own place proved irresistible, hence his move to the Beehive.  Here, he has maintained the sense of community successfully nurtured over 15 years by the previous owners. The annual cricket match in June, complete with hog roast, refreshments and live music, helps to cement this. Locals can pop in for a drink, not deterred by the need to have a meal as is the case in many pubs with restaurants. Alicia Corlett’s extensive experience in high end restaurants, enables her to lead a front of house team which is both relaxed and professional. A good memory for names and faces ensures a warm welcome to those revisiting. Service is knowledgeable, solicitous and unobtrusive.

The food offering is flexible, with a wide choice from the bar and a la carte menu.  Bar snacks including Scotch eggs and Lincolnshire Poacher “Welsh Rarebit” are £3.50 with larger dishes like steak sandwich with tomatoes and rocket at £10.95.

I once had withdrawal symptoms for a hamburger and did not regret my choice of a one course meal. The juicy, well-seasoned patty, proper fries and delectably crisp onion rings in panko breadcrumbs outclassed anything similar produced in those high end chains which are now so fashionable.

On the restaurant menu, the provenance of meat and fish is clearly displayed, indicating the importance of top quality ingredients sourced from a network of trusted suppliers, built up over the years. Starters are priced from £6. 95 to £10.95, mains from £14.95 to £24.00, and desserts from £6.95 to £8.00. These are realistic and affordable, given the excellence of ingredients and the skill in cooking. A choice of eight dishes in each course ensures there is something for all tastes. Three daily specials, one for each course, make decisions even harder. There is no need to choose three courses, although once the menu is scrutinised, few can resist.

Dishes on a summer menu range from those which have comfort food appeal, such as “Fish n chips”, mushy peas and tartare sauce or Stream Farm chicken, ham and leek pie with mashed potato, to more sophisticated, fine-dining offerings such as Peppered haunch of Denham Estate venison, creamed spinach and sauce poivrade.

Although a sound classical base underpins the precise cooking, clear flavours and textural harmony of the dishes, a degree of international influence can be seen in dishes such as Fillet of Sea Bream with Tarka Dhal, cucumber, red onion and coriander salad.

Desserts are primarily British classics such as Blackberry trifle or Bramley apple crumble with custard, but no less distinguished. A highly refined version of Baked Alaska was enjoyed on an previous visit.  Presentation is clean and unfussy often with a rustic theme.

On a previous visit, I savoured a signature dish is Lasagne of wild rabbit with Wood Blewits and chervil. The silky smooth pasta, encasing the moist, flavoursome pulled rabbit dressed in a rich, creamy sauce enhanced by the earthiness of wild mushrooms and the gentle aniseed fragrance of chervil, made this a dish that would be hard to take off the menu.

A recent impromptu lunch on the hottest day of the year proved memorable more for culinary delight than the heat and humidity.

A starter of chicken liver and foie gras parfait had been properly marinaded, seasoned and sieved. The velvety texture and intense, creamy flavour of the pureed offal made it a model of its kind. A lively – over sweet? – fig chutney helped cut the richness, whilst a scattering of chopped chives added a welcome, gentle onion note. Lightly toasted sourdough was probably a better vehicle for spreading the delectable parfait than the billed toasted brioche, which sometimes can make this classic combination a little TOO rich.


For a main course, a generous fillet of beautifully fresh roast Scottish halibut was accurately timed to produce a caramelised top and succulent, flaky flesh. The accompanying gnocchi were deftly executed cushions of soft potato with burnished crusts. A “casserole” of peas, radish, broccoli, tomatoes, wild mushrooms and spring onion added flavour, texture and colour, whilst the whole dish was bought together by a well-judged lemon butter sauce. All the elements worked well together, showing a culinary intelligence in dish composition. Visually also, this tour de force of fish cookery was stunning.


For dessert, a greengage tart has crisp flaky pastry and smooth, fully flavoured vanilla ice cream. The use of seasonal produce – and it is a very short time for greengages – is axiomatic for chefs at this level.


After two years, the ambience, service and, most importantly, the cooking, are now finely tuned, all contributing to a very enjoyable dining experience. The Beehive is invariably busy with regulars and is building a reputation as a destination restaurant. The garden where al fresco diners can watch matches on the cricket pitch opposite, is an attractive addition in the summer.

Overall, The Beehive has deserved the success it has already achieved. With entries in the Michelin GB and Ireland, in the Good Food Guide, a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Adviser, and other inclusions for being amongst the top pubs with restaurants in the country, its future looks assured. Fine Dining Guide will visit more regularly and will follow its progress with interest.

Waitrose Good Food Guide 2017: Press Release

Posted on: August 24th, 2016 by Simon Carter

The Waitrose Good Food Guide 2017 Press Release has been distributed for use from midnight on the morning of Thursday 25th August 2017, ahead of a launch in the shops from September 5th 2017.  The press release is reproduced in full below and is a comprehensive introduction to the Guide.  It includes highlights, the top 50 Restaurant List for 2017, Editor’s Awards and Editor’s Comments.

Good Food Guide reveals Nation’s best restaurants:  No. 1 restaurant serves up five years of perfect tens.

Unusual gourmet locations include a motorway service station with top trucker tucker, a restaurant in a yurt and a bike shop café. The nation’s best desserts uncovered.

The Good Food Guide has announced its top eateries and award winners today.  Alongside the finest dining establishments in the country the guide, owned by Waitrose, celebrates some more unusual discoveries including a café located in a motorway service station, another in a bike shop, and a restaurant in a yurt. And, for the first time, The Good Food Guide has revealed where the nation’s best dessert menus can be found.

Perfect 10s


Chef Simon Rogan’s restaurant L’Enclume, in the historic village of Cartmel in Cumbria, has been crowned “number one restaurant” for the fourth year running, also securing five years of perfect tens. The Good Food Guide (GFG) awarded the restaurant top billing due to the “soaring sophistication of Mr Rogan’s cooking”, highlighting the 17-course tasting menu which offers “clever elements of technical wizardry to keep the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ going,” with “the cooking forever breaking new ground”. Many ingredients  are local and grown on L’Enclume’s own 12-acre farm. 

Rogan said, “It’s amazing news to be number one for the fourth year running. I’m really grateful to The Good Food Guide for their faith in awarding us top spot once more, and appreciative for the enormous effect it has on our business. It’s a huge achievement but could not happen without a massive team effort. For me, it’s a privilege to lead this outstanding group of people. There’s no doubt that L’Enclume is approaching the most creative period in its history, and achieving the quality I dreamed of when I first opened its doors.”

The guide has also announced a brand new ‘perfect 10’ in the form of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, Cornwall, which appears at no. 2 in the Top 50. Editor Elizabeth Carter praises his seafood restaurant as “a role model of its kind – no pretensions or gimmicks, just first-class food and knowledgeable, welcoming service – and there is no doubt in my mind that Restaurant Nathan Outlaw deserves its place as one of the best restaurants in the country.”

Responding to news of the accolade, chef Nathan Outlaw said, “I honestly thought I was dreaming when I found out. Over those years of continuously cooking and serving our customers we have always tried our hardest to do our best and when you get recognised like this it means the world to us all.”

Unusual eateries

The GFG, along with its team of anonymous inspectors and loyal readers, also uncovered a range of foodie finds in unconventional settings and structures.

The foodie bible features three restaurants housed in shipping containers: Cook House in Newcastle; Craftworks Street Kitchen in Truro, Cornwall; and Kricket in Brixton, London.

Then there’s a “modern marvel” in a service station – Gloucester Services on the M5 is an “independently run motorway pit-stop” with a gourmet café that is “committed to locally sourced food”.


 Also new to the GFG this year is a reader discovery, Shuck’s at the Yurt, a restaurant housed in a quirky tent in Norfolk. The yurt eatery is located in a beautiful orchard and run by husband and wife team Phillip (Head Chef) and Beth Milner.


And in Bristol, you’ll find a brilliant brunch menu and tasty tapas at Spoke and Stringer, a seriously cool café which is part of a bike and surf shop. 


Elizabeth Carter, who is celebrating ten years as Consultant Editor of the Waitrose Good Food Guide, said: “From yurts to campsites, bike shops to shipping containers, the vessel in which a good restaurant sails is no barrier to entry in our guide. We look for great food wherever we can find it – and that’s sometimes in highly unusual places. With an army of Good Food Guide readers on the ground, and our inspectors scouring the length and breadth of the UK, we check out as many recommendations as we can to make sure that no stone is unturned and no good eating opportunity missed; and this year we’ve found some excellent cooking in some very unexpected places, giving even greater choice to our readers.”

Beth Milner, joint owner of Shuck’s at the Yurt, said: “We are absolutely delighted and overwhelmed to be featured in the Good Food Guide through recommendation from our customers. As a new business it means so much to be recognised for our great food. We hope to go from strength to strength and have exciting new plans for 2017 from our unique setting in the beautiful Drove Orchards.”

Kristian Crews, owner of Spoke and Stringer, said: “It’s exciting to be a part of The Good Food Guide as we are still a start-up business and it gives us an opportunity to share our amazing food, venue and identity with a wider audience. We have a very active, lifestyle-orientated menu which lots of people stop by for to enjoy after the gym, with our evening menu also popular with cyclists.”

Sarah Dunning, CEO of The Westmorland Family, which owns Gloucester Services says, “What an honour to be featured in this guide.  Our motorway service areas champion interesting food from their locality and beyond and we are lucky to be able to connect many small, local food producers with the British travelling public.  Good food is very important to us and it’s great to be recognised for what we do.”

Editors’ Awards

Waitrose has also announced the Editors’ Awards from the 2017 Good Food Guide. These awards recognise restaurants and chefs who have shown excellence in their field. This year, Chef of the Year has been awarded to James Close from the Raby Hunt in Darlington, Durham.  Restaurant of the Year has been named as Orwells in Shiplake, Oxfordshire and Best New Restaurant Entry is Forest Side in Grasmere, Cumbria. A new award for this year is Best Front-of-House, which celebrates the best restaurant customer service in the UK. This has been awarded to Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London. 

Just Desserts

For some, dessert is the best course on the menu and for the first time the GFG has revealed where the nation can tuck into the very best puddings. 

Top recommendations were awarded to the North of the Border Tart, which can be found at The Whitehouse, Lochaline, also winner of Scotland’s Local Restaurant of the Year. The tart is “filled with dried fruits, cherries, nuts and whisky. Nothing fancy, no towers, or twirls or crisps, just a really comforting pud.”  

The unusual Warm Blood-orange, Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt and Wild Fennel Granita can be found at the Clove Club, London. The inspector noted it “came with shards of dehydrated milk-froth – like eating a crisp, malty cloud. The whole thing was seriously delicious.”

Sometimes traditional is best. At the Village Pub in Barnsley diners can find the “finest sticky toffee pudding”, described as “a dark, moist, treacly sponge swimming in a runny toffee sauce, and rich as muscovado, with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.”  

The exceptional dessert menu at Orwells in Oxfordshire may be why it won Restaurant of the Year in the guide’s Editors’ Awards. Its take on caramel apples, “a cylinder of chopped, braised apple encased in a wafer of pastry, itself wrapped in a thin layer of apple jelly” with “salted-caramel and a milk ice cream” was described by one inspector as “extraordinary.”

A golden era for restaurants

This year, the GFG also celebrates the tenth year of editor Elizabeth Carter at the helm. Carter said of the last decade:”I’ve certainly seen changes in the UK restaurant scene in my ten years as consultant editor – what a golden era for restaurants it has been. London will always have an extraordinary wealth of top restaurants and chefs but I love the fact that the restaurant scene is flourishing beyond the capital; more affordable start-up costs outside of London have made our great regional cities viable dining destinations. 

“At the same time, dining out everywhere has become less structured, less formal, with more flexible opening times and menus, and with a much broader choice of quality venues in the lower price bracket. It means we’ve all had to come to terms with exposed ductwork, hard seats, small plates and communal tables – but well worth it when you consider the all-day eateries, cafés, pizzerias, seafood shacks and pubs of genuine high quality offering everyday eating at everyday prices.”

goodfoodguide2017webThe Waitrose Good Food Guide 2017 Editors’ Awards

Chef of the Year

James Close. The Raby Hunt, Durham

Chef to Watch

Ben Murphy. The Woodford, South Woodford, London

Restaurant of the Year

Orwells. Oxfordshire

Best New Entry

Forest Side. Cumbria

Best Front-of-House

Pollen Street Social. London

Best Small Group

Dishoom. London

Local Restaurant of the Year

Wine & Brine. Moira, Armagh

Top 50 Restaurants

The Good Food Guide’s annual Top 50 restaurant ranking is highly regarded by chefs and restaurant-goers alike, with particular attention paid to those chefs and restaurants who make it into the Top 10. The Top 50 recognises the very best talent in the country; a place on the list represents a huge achievement, with each position earned by its score in The Good Food Guide, editor appraisal and strength of reader feedback.  A top score of 10 means “Just perfect dishes, showing faultless technique at every service; extremely rare, and the highest accolade the Guide can give.” Straight into the Top 50 at no.37 is Forest Side, Cumbria and also new in the Top 50 are Castle Terrace, The Greenhouse, Simpsons, Orwells, Restaurant Marianne and The Whitebrook.

1 L’Enclume, Cumbria (10)

2 Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall (10)

3 Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottinghamshire (9)

4 Pollen Street Social, London (9)

5 Hibiscus, London (9)

6 The Fat Duck, Berkshire (9)

7 Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London (9)

8 Hedone, London (8)

9 Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Tayside (8)

10 Fraiche, Merseyside (8)

11 The Ledbury, London (8)

12 Midsummer House, Cambridgeshire (8)

13 Le Champignon Sauvage, Gloucestershire (8)

14 Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London (8)

15 Fera at Claridges, London (8)

16 Le Gavroche, London (8)

17 Marcus, London (8)

18 The French, Manchester (8)

19 André Garrett at Cliveden, Berkshire (8)

20 The Peat Inn, Fife (8)

21 Whatley Manor, The Dining Room, Wiltshire (8)

22 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh (7) New to the top 50 this year

23 The Kitchin, Edinburgh (7)

24 Bohemia, Jersey (7)

25 The Greenhouse, London (7) New to the top 50 this year

26 The Waterside Inn, Berkshire (7)

27 Casamia, Bristol (7)

28 Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, Cornwall (7)

29 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London (7)

30 Artichoke, Buckinghamshire (7)

31 Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire (7)

32 Restaurant Story, London (7)

33 Gidleigh Park, Devon (7)

34 Restaurant James Sommerin, Glamorgan (7)

35 Simpsons, Birmingham (7) New to the top 50 this year

36 Sketch, London (7)

37 Forest Side, Cumbria (7) New to the top 50 this year

38 Murano, London (7)

39 Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh (7)

40 Ynyshir, Powys (7)

41 Adam’s, Birmingham (7)

42 The Raby Hunt, Durham (7)

43 Freemasons at Wiswell, Lancashire (7)

44 Orwells, Oxfordshire (7) New to the top 50 this year

45 Restaurant Marianne, London (7) New to the top 50 this year

46 Hambleton Hall, Rutland (7)

47 The Whitebrook, Gwent (7) New to the top 50 this year

48 Llangoed Hall, Powys (7)

49 Lake Road Kitchen, Cumbria (6)

50 The Dairy, London (6)

The Good Food Guide will be available to buy at Waitrose from 5th September priced at £12.99 (rrp £17.99). The guide can also be preordered now at

Chef Interview: Matt Worswick, Pennyhill Park (August 2016)

Posted on: August 18th, 2016 by Simon Carter

Matt Worswick has joined Exclusive Hotels and Venues as Head Chef at the currently Michelin two starred The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, filling the vacancy left by the departing Michael Wignall.  Matt has settled in very quickly, bringing his own personality and style to both food and dining experience.  As he carries the restaurant forward Matt takes time to talk to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide about his past, present and future.  Interview took place at Pennyhill Park in late July 2016.


Describe a particular moment when you realised being a chef was possibly your future?

I grew up in a terrace house in Liverpool, which certainly wasn’t an all apron strings and AGAs, making scones of a Sunday, type of lifestyle. Yes, there was solid, good home cooking on the food front but it wasn’t an obvious inspiration for a cooking career. It was when I visited my grandmother in the Isle of Man that I took a genuine interest in the creative side of food. She grew her own vegetables and in fact made her own sorbets (which was quite something back in the day), so it was my first exposure to such fresh and interesting food.

Initially, I responded to an ad in Caterer magazine for a kitchen job in Lancashire that said ‘no experience necessary’ so I thought “I could do that!” (laughing). I fell in love with the kitchen immediately – the fast pace and creativity – it was also a place where a big personality could breathe compared to an office (the latter was never for me!).

Tell us a summary of the most influencial aspects of your professional background.

For four years I worked for Kenny Atkinson at St Martin’s on the Isle in the Isles of Scilly, the restaurant gained a rising star, then a Michelin star a year later. A really positive experience, Kenny gave me proper training, mentoring and guidance, he looked after me really well and helped me grow up!

I then worked at a couple of places before spending two years working for David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage as sous chef. This provided a real exposure to a different style of food, created in a no-hiding-place kitchen, working for one the great chefs this country has ever produced.

David thinks about food in a unique way and was a leader rather than follower of fashion, foraging as well as using lesser cuts, from the 1980s onwards. This was partly driven by his natural passion and partly through the practicalities of the recession of the early years. Generations ago great, great grandmothers would have known how to pick a hedgerow but that knowledge faded and became a lost art. Now it has come back in the UK and globally but partly through food fashion rather than necessity.

I would say that the best part of Le Champignon Sauvage experience as a chef is that you have to constantly see the big picture from prepping to cooking, from washing pots to creating dishes. In that situation you quickly learn your strengths and weaknesses and become more rounded as a chef quickly through necessity: Nothing like a large brigade kitchen where you might get lost in the mix, every minute at (Le) Champignon (Sauvage) you had to be on your game. David (Everitt-Matthias) provided finishing school for me before I too got my first head chef role and I like to think he remains a very good friend and mentor to this day.

At Glenapp Castle we were three chefs for 40 covers, breakfast, lunch and dinner, so again it was very tough. I was delighted that the (Michelin) star was awarded nine months after arriving as head chef at Glenapp (Castle).

How would you describe the experience for customers at Matt Worswick at The Latymer?

First of all Pennyhill Park is family owned and that feel extends to the whole Group including the management style at each property, this is something that makes it a very attractive place to work. It could easily be very corporate but it absolutely isn’t and with the MD’s twitter handle being @Foodhero (Danny Pecorelli) you can’t go wrong! (laughing)

The whole restaurant experience is wrapped at beginning and end by a visit from the kitchen (which will often be me) to introduce dishes. At the moment this is four dishes on the tasting menus: The snacks, lobster dish, tomato dish, sometimes pre-dessert and the petits fours. Nobody can explain the dish more passionately than the chefs themselves.

It’s also good to get customers’ feedback directly but in addition answer any questions they may have about the food. I want the restaurant to be fit for a special occasion but a relaxed and accessible one; if we know it is someone’s anniversary then it’s on the briefing and the kitchen will know so I will engage with customers accordingly and hope through that they enjoy their occasion to the best level that we can provide!

How would you describe your style as a chef in terms of kitchen team management?

Developing a dish is very much a team effort. I will always listen to the team and analyse whether an idea is suitable for the season and suitable for the restaurant. I’m not a fan of describing a style as the objective is simple – a potential dish for the menu must taste great and be an enjoyable experience to eat! Yes much of it is classical with influences from the UK and elsewhere but I will stick to a certain end product that fits with my cooking personality.

I do drive the menu but simply for the practical reason that I have the most experience! If everybody has a say then everybody has a sense of ownership then everybody cares so everybody is motivated. It makes sense to manage the team that way.

What do you think of the recent trend of tasting menus in top end restaurants?

It is a valid format for a dining experience but you have to assess your market, for each restaurant it is different, for us it works well.

The diner gets properly immersed in fine dining if they come and enjoy the full ten courses with the enhanced, showcased service. We serve two lunches and five dinners per week and have exclusively tasting menus here so a brigade of ten chefs is ideal to deliver the high quality and consistent offerings that we are aiming for with our customers.

Would you say you have any particular signature dishes?

I’m really pleased with all the dishes across the menus but at the moment the Celeriac and Octopus dishes probably stand out. Perhaps any dish could be on for as long as seasonally possible but a few will last the test of time and therefore qualify as signatures.

Are you an active social media participant and what do you think of twitter, facebook and Instagram?

Yes absolutely active across social media. It happens to be free but you have to be sensible and careful! I believe it’s great for getting your message out there as well as assisting recruitment, networking in the industry and making contacts.

Yes it can be detrimental in the wrong hands but I think I’m sensible and understand that I work within a Group where there is a brand to protect and enhance. I try and make my account personal to make it more appealing, for example pictures of developing dishes as part of a day-in-the-life in a top end restaurant.

What do you think of Trip Advisor?

Its not so much what I think of Trip Advisor but more about customers and getting as many happy ones as possible!

If a customer comes and I get a good review on Trip Advisor then yes I’m pleased – not pleased with Trip Advisor but pleased with the happy customer. Likewise for a poor review I would not be unhappy with Trip Advisor it would be about what went wrong with that customer experience.

It’s a hot topic and people talk about it to the point that it may affect whether people come to a restaurant. We’re in the hospitality industry so we have to take note of what is on that site but at the same time I don’t have the energy to argue or get angry on social media should the results not be to my liking.

Overall sites like Trip Advisor and OpenTable (via the customers in the restaurant) are potentially good platforms but we understand that the websites are still relatively young so some processes may become clearer, for example reality checks to ensure genuine reviews. I like to focus on making happy customers by evolving a consistent, high quality offering and then those sites tend to take care of themselves in a positive cycle.

What are your views on the ‘Guides’ – Michelin, GFG, AA?

Overall they are a benchmark, they give you recognition and a platform. Do I sleep well the night before the annual Michelin announcements? No, not really, but more excitement than anything else, the prospect of being in that band of chefs with such accolades is definitely exciting. Yes they do matter. I put it this way, if my great, great, great grandson decides to be a chef and looks me up, these guides will position what was achieved and hopefully make them proud.

Which other chefs do you most admire and why?

David Everitt-Matthias is inspirational in so many ways, not just for his talents as a great chef’s chef but also for his dedication, he has never missed a service and that’s been going on for approaching 30 years.

What are your plans for the future?

Refurbishment for the restaurant for the turn of the year and make it a little more colourful, to reflect my personality. I also wish to keep a happy team growing with me into the future and looking forward to what the next day brings.

Restaurant Review: The Royal Oak, Paley Street (Aug 2016)

Posted on: August 14th, 2016 by Simon Carter

Royal Oak Paley Street with Owner Nick Parkinson (Centre)


Owned by Nick Parkinson, and backed by his father Sir Michael, The Royal Oak in Paley Street has progressed from a country pub also serving food to a sophisticated fine dining destination restaurant. With its origins in the 17th century, the original building’s white and black frontage with picture windows gives way to a classic pub interior with a bar and reception area, wood burner fireplace, low beamed ceilings and wooden floor. The warm, cosy ambience is ideal for dining in colder months, but in spring and summer guests might prefer a table in the extension, the far end of which is sectioned off as a private dining room. With doors opening onto the new pebbled courtyard featuring large planters and waterfall designed by Richard Vines, and a high pitched beamed ceiling, this is a brighter more airy space. Throughout both parts of the restaurant, well-spaced polished wooden tables, elegant high backed leather chairs and an eclectic mix of artwork, some from Sir Michael’s private collection, make for a comfortable and relaxed dining experience.

Being just five minutes’ drive from my home in Maidenhead, I have taken The Royal Oak for granted. To my regret, having visited only a few times since it opened in 2001, I neglected to submit reviews of the excellent meals I enjoyed during the time when Dominic Chapman and his successor, Michael Chapman (no relation) were head chefs. Now that James Bennett is in charge of the kitchen, a recent meal showed he is emulating the achievement of his predecessors who gained a Michelin star, three AA rosettes and a strong showing in The Good Food Guide.

A major restaurant guide might encourage its inspectors to sample the set lunch menu, as consistency should be evident across ALL menus on offer, whether lunch or dinner and regardless of price is crucial. True, luxuries may not feature, but it is the skill of the chef that is being tested. At The Royal Oak, the dishes on the set lunch menu are the same as the carte, so this distinction does not apply (apart from the higher price at dinner). At £30 for three courses, £25 for two, Monday to Saturday, the lunch offer is a real bargain, made more agreeable by the generous choice – six options in each course – and large portions. Main courses are fully garnished, although side dishes are available. A range of snacks such as quail Scotch egg and smoked eel with apple and horseradish is also on offer.

The quality of the artisan breads more than justified its £1.50 charge. Warm glazed buttery Marmite brioche was outstanding in its balance of sweet and savoury flavour. Delicious too were the slices of rosemary and potato and caraway and rye, with their crisp crumb and firm crumb. Equally accomplished was the fennel flatbread which provided a flavour and textural contrast. My only reservation is that their irresistibility could lead to gorging oneself before the first course arrives!

A starter of Lobster raviolo, was generously filled with succulent pieces of the seafood, although the pasta was a touch too thick. This did not detract from the full crustacean flavour, enhanced by an intense bisque , (the taste of which extended to the foam) and a fondue of leeks, samphire and fennel. A cold quenelle of cherry tomato added colour, flavour and a contrasting temperature, although the dish would have been equally accomplished without it.


A tasting portion of tagliatelli was precisely cooked al dente and coated in a sauce of crème fraiche, herbs and summer truffle, the heady fragrance of which pervaded the whole dish. Although this portion was slightly claggy, perhaps due to the amount of crème fraiche needing adjustment.  This rich, indulgent and luxurious dish will be difficult to take off the menu.


A main course of Navarin of Spring lamb proved a model of its kind. It featured two well seasoned cuts, the sweet, slow cooked shoulder and a cutlet, accurately cooked and rested, the fat well rendered and the flesh a blushing pink. Baby carrots, turnips, and onions retained the crisp texture and vibrant colour, wilted chard gave a gentle, spinach like bitterness, and Jersey royals a creamy richness. A light lamb jus brought the elements together well.


Finally, a crème fraiche mousse was lightly set and not too sweet. Garnished with dainty gariguette strawberries, shortbread discs, nastursiam flowers and a quenelle of mint ice cream.  The balance of this beautifully presented dessert was perfect.


Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal, made even more enjoyable by professional service that was at once welcoming, solicitous, knowledgeable and unobtrusive.

Clearly, James Bennett’s cooking is worthy of greater attention, so visits to The Royal Oak will be more frequent in the future. Although the occasional tweak may be of benefit, the clear flavours, harmonious combinations and clean presentation show classical skills of a high order. In an area of intense competition amongst high end restaurants the focus on consistently producing a quality product is essential. In this respect, Nick Parkinson can rest assured that this prerequisite for success will be maintained by his latest head chef.

Restaurant Review: La Trompette, Chiswick (Aug 2016)

Posted on: August 12th, 2016 by Simon Carter


The much loved Michelin starred La Trompette continues to thrive in an area packed with competition from all types of cuisine, including another restaurant with a Michelin star. The 2013 refurbishment and extension (featuring a private dining room), completed during the recession, showed it had not lost any of its appeal.

The winning Platts-Martin formula of set menus with a wide choice, in effect an a la carte offering at a fixed price, has stood it in good stead. £29.50 for weekday lunch (£35 at weekends), and £49.50 for dinner are realistic and offer exceptional value for money at this level. Relaxed, contemporary surroundings in tones of brown and cream, with a terrace for al fresco dining and all week opening, both at lunch and dinner, are extra attractions.


Executive Chef Rob Weston has impeccable credentials having taken senior roles in the Michelin starred kitchens of Marco Pierre White, Guy Savoy, Michel Roux Jnr and Phil Howard – he was Head Chef at The Square for 15 years. Similarly, the career of Head Chef Olly Pierrepont has seen him cooking for Raymond Blanc, John Campbell, Simon Rogan and Chris Staines amongst others. The combined illustrious CVs guarantee a quality product in the carefully sourced, seasonally changing menus. Both chefs “cook what they love to eat”, preferring to be in the kitchen rather than being distracted elsewhere. Their skilled and versatile cooking is based on classical foundations with strong flavours, balance in tastes and textures, innovation tempered with restraint and clean presentation. Cooking methods with precise timing and accurate seasoning pay respect to the inherent quality of the ingredients, allowing purity of taste to shine.

Menus for dinner usually feature seven options in each course, with a good choice of fish dishes for both starters and mains. Lunch menus are slightly shorter. A recent innovation is a five course tasting menu, a snip at £49 for lunch, £70 for dinner.

I visited on a weekday lunchtime to find the restaurant busy – as usual – and keen to sample the tasting menu.

Two amuse bouches showed imagination and attention to detail. A delicate seaweed and tapioca cracker topped with pickled sardine needed gentle handling before producing a melting flavour explosion in the mouth. Equally enticing was a warm pork croquette with its crisp coating and satisfyingly fatty inside.

Trompette Amuses

In a well balanced first course, the mild flavour and firm texture of raw Albacore tuna and bonito were enlivened by the meaty, juicy qualities of bull’s heart tomatoes marinated in herbs, the fragrance of which pervaded the whole dish. Avocado added a creaminess cut by the slight sourness of crème fraiche.


Hand rolled linguine dressed in Parmesan butter had a beautiful silky texture and a rich, creamy depth of flavour. The intense fungal aroma of Australian black truffle generously shaved on top raised this simple pasta dish to extravagant, ethereal heights. This luxurious dish will be hard to take off the menu!


An accurately grilled monkfish tail retained its lobster-like taste and meaty texture. Contrasting flavour and texture were provided by nutty black venere rice, sauteed octopus, and pea puree, the whole dish being brought together by a rich jus of almonds and raisins. Visually, also, this dish was stunning.


Barbequed short rib of Ayrshire beef, served off the bone with a classic veal based sauce had a soft, melting texture. This unctuous piece of meat, the most flavoursome of all cuts, showed the benefits of long, slow cooking. Potato galettes were crisp and buttery, girolles gave an earthy aroma and peppery flavour, wilted chard added a gentle bitterness and parsley puree a herbal note, all the accompaniments working well together.


Rhubarb soufflé with a crumbled top was light, well risen, and intensely flavoured. The secret – previously used at The Square – lay in a base of pureed rice pudding, which holds more of the fruit mixture, rather than the classic creme patissiere. The accompanying smooth rhubarb ripple ice had a well-judged balance of sweetness and acidity. Personally, I prefer to eat the two elements separately, enjoying the contrast in temperatures; for me, the practice of dropping the ice cream into the soufflé spoils the taste and texture of both.


Good coffee and truffles ended a memorable meal. This was enhanced by informative, solicitous and unobtrusive service overseen restaurant manager Patra Panas, whose charm and quiet authority enable the front of house operate like a well-oiled machine, but one with character and personality. Her key ally in this is Tanguy Martin, who recently joined the team after being named UK Moet & Chandon Sommelier of the Year. He follows in the footsteps of a series of noted sommeliers who have maintained an impressive wine list, strong in both Old and New Worlds. Although I did not opt for the wine flight, the recommended glasses of Macon Villages and Chianti Classico for the savoury courses were ideal. I’ll be back for the full works next time!

La Trompette delights in the consistency of producing an excellent product of which the whole team can be justifiably proud. The buzz of contented diners contributes to the sense of gastronomic excitement. Whatever the reason, a meal there is always a special occasion, and certainly worth a drive down the M4 from Maidenhead. I first reviewed it in 2004, and have visited many times since; it just gets better and better!

Restaurant Review: White Horse, Duns Tew (Aug 2016)

Posted on: August 9th, 2016 by Simon Carter


North of Oxford and a modest distance from junction 10 on the M40, The White Horse Inn at Duns Tew sits in a commanding position on a bend in the road through this picturesque Cotswold village, and is a welcome haven at the end of a busy day touring the local countryside or shopping in Bicester.

The main dining area is situated in the oldest part of this atmospheric 17th century hostelry and a low ceiling, subdued lighting, two foot thick walls and an open fireplace conjure times past. Furnished with an eclectic mix of sympathetically styled wooden period tables and chairs I would be almost unsurprised to see my grandfather, who hailed from this part of the world, walk through the door with his dog. Moreover, to the right of the bar can still be found an example of the now rare ‘snug’ bar. With its stone walls and lower level floor it is rumoured to predate the rest of the inn by some hundred years and is large enough for small private parties.


The bar itself has seen extensive but sympathetic renovations and is, I note, amongst its other beverages, enthusiastically embracing the current taste for locally distilled gin! From the back of the bar doors lead to a modestly sized but carefully maintained paved outdoor seating area with wooden furniture and borders full of flowers, and as I discovered, is a trap for the evening sun.

whitehorseroomsThe bedrooms in the main building are located above the bar and are cosy with comfortable beds and an interesting collection of shabby chic furniture together with original features such as the wrought iron fire place still in situ. Decorated in natural shades such as sage green, the walls are hung with a mixture of prints and original watercolours of local Cotswold scenes. Throws on the beds match the schemes and add a finishing touch to relax the weary traveller. The compact ensuite bathroom with complementary Ebony toiletries has everything one needs, especially a hot, easy to operate shower to end the day. It has to be said, however, that these rooms are reached by an outside staircase so an umbrella is an essential piece of kit!

Additional light and airy sleeping accommodation has recently been created from what once were outbuildings. These rooms are at ground level and feature floor to ceiling glass panels with large French windows, and could have been more suitable for those with limited mobility had they been fitted with walk-in showers rather than baths.

Chef Alex at the White Horse in Duns Tew takes a pride in sourcing the best ethically reared local produce as far as possible. For instance, whole Pedigree Dash Wood Zwartles lambs from Home Farm in the same village are butchered in the kitchens, showing there are no short cuts are taken in meat preparation. Similar care is taken with vegetables harvested from the restaurant’s own gardens and from the well known Oxfordshire supplier North Aston Organics. This ensures that seasonality is followed

Menus not only change with the seasons but may be adapted each day. Mediterranean and Asian influences are evident amongst some the dishes offered. The idea is to allow a reasonable choice but to ensure consistency in the kitchen. The restaurant’s Supper Menu offers six starters, (£7.50 to £8.50); 6 mains (£12.50-£22); three desserts (£6.50) and Stilton and crackers (£7.50). There is also a special Village Night menu on the first Thursday of each month

Fine Dining Guide visited on a mid-week evening in late July, in what turned out to be a busy service both in the restaurant and bar area.

Chicken liver parfait was a well rendered classic: the marination and seasoning were spot on, whilst the texture was silky smooth. Cornichons added the necessary contrasting acidity and crunch, homemade chutney gave sweetness, whilst toasted ciabatta proved a welcome change from the usual sourdough or wholemeal encountered elsewhere. Overall, an accomplished starter, although the portion could have been more generous.


A vegetarian starter showed invention and intelligent use of seasonal vegetables. A flavoursome, well balanced broad bean pesto bruschetta was enhanced by the judicious use of grated parmesan.


A hearty main course of Turkish spiced roast leg of Zwarties lamb saw tender and succulent chunks of meat dressed in a hearty casserole of tomatoes, courgettes and olives. Finishing the Middle Eastern theme was couscous which soaked up the juices nicely, yoghurt and a scattering of pomegranate seeds for sweetness and colour.


Asian influences were seen in the cooking of wild salmon. Accurately timed with crisp skin, the fillet was sprinkled with sesame seeds. With the rich, delicately flaking flesh, the virtues of wild over farmed were clearly evident. The noodles and stir fried bok choi proved fitting accompaniment, with the soy and ginger dressing finely tuned so as not to overwhelm the salmon.


Desserts did not reach the same level as the savoury courses, but just needed tweeking.

Chocolate brownie had good flavour but was dry. The texture could have been improved with a crisp top and soft, gooey centre. Vanilla ice cream and salted caramel worked well with the brownie, although the scoop was rather small.


Better was the Lemon soufflé pot, topped with strawberries. There was a good balance of sweetness and acidity in this light textured, refreshing dessert. Shortbread was rich and buttery, as it should be.


Service was friendly and welcoming. We appreciated chef Alex coming out for a chat. Overall, despite the occasional flaw, the food at The Horse is well worth a visit, its standard being above many of the food led pubs in the Cotswolds. The signature dish of Korean Chicken wings, described in detail by Alex but sadly not on the menu the evening we visited, is one good reason for a return visit.

Restaurant Review: Matt Worswick at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park (Aug 2016)

Posted on: August 9th, 2016 by Simon Carter


The Latymer at Pennyhill Park is a low ceilinged, oak beamed panelled dining room lit by mullioned windows and wall lights and furnished with heavy high backed chairs and luxurious velvet banquettes. The seating and décor might seem too traditional for the modern cuisine of contemporary chefs. Happily, a thorough makeover is planned for January 2017.


In Matt Worswick, Danny Peccorelli, owner of the Exclusive Hotels and Venues group, has found a worthy successor to Michael Wignall, who achieved two Michelin stars at the Latymer. The highlight of Matt’s distinguished career to date was, at the age of 26, being awarded a Michelin Star in 2013 as Head Chef of Glenapp Castle. He previously worked with David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, (two stars), and Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay, (one star), thus his experience in distinguished kitchens is unquestioned. Matt is a chef who actively enjoys being behind the stove, like his mentor at Champignon Sauvage who nurtured his love of foraging and use of less popular cuts of meat and offal

Taking over the reins as Head Chef in March 2016, Matt quickly stamped his mark on the cuisine, creating tasting menus which demonstrated the full range of his influences and talents. To ensure consistency, five or seven course tasting menus at £35 and £50 respectively are available for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and a ten course dinner tasting menu (£100) Wednesday to Sunday. Prices are realistic given the quality and quantity of the ingredients and the expertise in cooking. Particularly good value is the lunch offer of five courses with two “tasting” glasses of wine, half a bottle of mineral water and tea or coffee for £49.

Matt has the confidence not to state the exact provenance of his ingredients, a feature which has become tediously fashionable on contemporary menus. The use of top quality, regionally sourced, organic and seasonal ingredients is axiomatic, true for any chef at this level. That they are treated sensitively, allowing their natural qualities to shine is fundamental to the success of any dish. Matt prefers classical techniques and International influences to cutting edge gadgetry and excessive experimentation; thus innovation is tempered with restraint. More importantly, Matt’s dishes reveal bold depths of flavour, the result of accurate timing, well-judged seasoning and harmonious combinations of taste and texture. Colours are vibrant and presentation is artful without looking contrived.

Menu descriptions are terse and understated, allowing for an element of surprise which may also include a touch of theatre in presentation. How refreshing, also, to see the chef himself presenting some of his dishes and giving the same time to each table – a rarity among high end restaurants.

A trio of amuse bouches with French and Middle Eastern influences; Pig’s trotter cromesquis with piccalilli gel was a dainty porcine treat with crunchy coating and warm, succulent filling. A well flavoured parmesan gougere had crisp choux pastry filled with a truffle puree exuding a heady aroma. Best of all was a delicate cornet of brik pastry filled with smoked baba ganoush, the pureed aubergine being complemented by cardamom yoghurt. The meticulous attention to detail of these delectable morsels augured well for the dishes which followed.


Our tasting menu began with Matt’s signature Octopus dish. The virtues of long slow braising in a water bath, producing a pure, clean flavour and soft, almost melting texture were clearly evident. Oriental elements of miso, ginger, coriander, sesame puree and pickled kohlrabi were carefully balanced to enhance the seafood.  Wine: Sake Umetso No Kimoto 80, N.V


A giant, hand dived Orkney scallop was precisely timed to produce a caramelised crust and soft, succulent flesh. Its inherent sweetness was balanced by the gentle bitterness of barbecued leek and burnt onion. A generous topping of caviar helped season the dish and gave contrasting temperature rather than being a mere indulgent flourish. Wine: Dajoar Zenit Riesling Feinherb, Bender, Mosel, 2014


Next, a deceptively simple tomato dish was raised to lofty heights by adept combination and original presentation. Heritage and San Marino tomatoes were semi dried and charred to intensify their natural sweetness and paired with ultra soft, creamy burrata, instead of the ubiquitous mozzarella. Dressed with basil cress and basil oil, this classic Italian flavour combination was enhanced by a “snow” of tomato essence dipped in liquid nitrogen. This lifted the dish, adding contrasting texture and temperature, also providing a stunning colour contrast on the plate. Wine: Bressan Pinot Nero, Venezia, Italy, 2010


The delicate texture and gentle sweetness of butter poached lobster reflected accurate timing that paid due respect to this luxurious crustacean. Its accompanying bisque had a deep, rich intensity and smooth texture – a model of its kind. Peas and mint worked well, adding freshness and texture. This was enhanced by the spectacular presentation at the table when mint dipped in dry ice formed a low level cloud which cascaded across the table, heightening the herbal fragrance.


Herefordshire beef fillet, cooked medium rare, was well seasoned with a good sear. Paired with an unctuous slice of tongue which reflected Matt’s love of offal, this was a marriage of the popular and less attractive cuts, delicious but of contrasting tastes and textures. Giant snails braised in beef jus added richness and texture. The protein elements stood up to the smoked almond pesto, the bold flavours complementing each other. However, perhaps the most accomplished element on the plate, and the undoing of many lesser chefs, was a single pomme soufflé – light, crisp and perfectly formed! Wine: 50th Gran Reserva, Marques De Riscal, Rioja, 200


Desserts maintained the same high standards, revealing the strengths of the pastry section.

An intense strawberry sorbet topped with meringue and elderflower granita combined fruity and muscat aromas with smooth and crystalline textures. Basil and basil oil provided a herbal foil to the sweetness, showing the versatility of this soft herb and helping to make this dessert a celebration of the tastes of summer.


The richer second dessert, chocolate and caramel delice, was a masterclass in the use of chocolate. A light, creamy mousse on a crushed nut and caramelised sugar base was enveloped by a rich, dark and glossy ganache topped with gold leaf. Yogurt sorbet gave a gentle sour note which cut the sweetness, whilst milk crumble gave added texture. Wine: Malvasia Passito Vigna Del Volta, La Stoppa, Italy, 2009


Good coffee and delicious petit fours completed a memorable meal, enhanced by welcoming, efficient and non-obtrusive service. Sommelier Sean  Arthur expertly presented the matching wines with a knowledge that belied his years.

Matt Worswick has made a distinguished start, creating dishes of which he can be justifiably proud. There can be little doubt that the Latymer will continue as a destination restaurant, attracting discerning foodies locally and those from further afield. That Matt will emulate his achievement at Glenapp Castle can only be a matter of time, given the quality of the cooking sampled. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return to sample another tasting menu, but in the meantime will follow his progress with interest, anticipating well deserved recognition in the major 2017 restaurant guides.

Restaurant Review: Ragged Cot, Nr Cirencester (Aug 2016)

Posted on: August 9th, 2016 by Simon Carter

ragged cotJust a short drive west of Cirencester, The Ragged Cot, owned by Stuart Hanson, is a stylish destination gastropub with rooms. Having started life over 400 years ago as a sheep-cot, the rag stones were at some stage re-modelled to build a small dwelling. By the mid-17th century it had developed into a busy coach house which was still popular during World War 2, and much frequented by the RAF personnel stationed nearby. In more recent times, and with considerable sympathetic modernisation and extension, it has achieved its present welcoming incarnation.

To the left of the bar the original part of the inn remains a cosy, intimate area, ideal for a small private party, whilst the main dining area is a much more recent build and elegantly continues the atmosphere of the old whilst embracing contemporary design. Guests sit at stripped hard wood tables in a variety of sizes and designs and on chairs which also differ considerably, but with a continuous theme of leather running throughout. Two sides of the dining room are given over to glass doors which look out onto a well-tended paved area with wooden seats, parasols and large planters of flowers, all inviting a relaxed pre or post meal drink.

Elsewhere the walls sport an eclectic mix of decoration, from a highly polished Rolls Royce vintage aircraft engine case over the large fireplace, to stuffed trophy animal heads and an early slot machine. Shades of charcoal through to pale grey and biscuit pick out and compliment the natural colours of the stonework and create a beautifully relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy good food.


The Ragged Cot is contemporary style mixed old-world charm, and an excellent inclusion on a visit to the Cotswolds. Its proximity to Gatcombe Park ensures a healthy mixture of tourists – who can stay in one of the comfortable nine rooms – and regular locals amongst its clientele

A recent addition in the SHED lounge, which offers comfortable seating and lighter bites for those not wanting a full meal.

In the main restaurant, Chef Thomasz, in line with the kitchen’s philosophy, sources produce as far as possible locally, with a good choice of fish. The menu offers a wide range: six starters (from £4.50 to 7.25), mains (From £15.95-£16.95), Cot classics, including burgers, char grilled streaks

(£21.50 to £25.96}, two salads, five desserts (£5.50- £6.95) and a cheese boards.(7.50)

Fine Dining Guide visited for an early evening midweek dinner in late July. The main restaurant which has forty covers became busy very quickly, reflecting its popularity. (There is space for 25-30 in the bar area with a maximum of 180 in all areas including the terrace seating.)

Restaurant Manager Sam Neal was welcoming and informative, overseeing the front of house service with understated efficiency. Kosmina, who looked after our table did so with charm and courtesy. Such service makes all the difference, especially if the food dies not live up to expectations. Happily this was not the case as we found the cooking accurately timed, well balanced in flavours, textures and well presented.

A starter – a partial deconstructed version of a classic – saw succulent prawns paired with batons of Granny Smith apple, a combination which gave a lively freshness with soft and crisp textures. A well-made Marie Rose sauce was served separately so as not to overwhelm the main ingredient. Roasted fennel added a mild aniseed note and delicately dressed leaves completed this attractively presented dish.


Ham hock and black pudding terrine was an accomplished porcine treat. Moist, succulent and well seasoned, its richness was balanced by a home-made spiced chutney of tomato and plum.


A main course of pan friend breast of local chicken wrapped in bacon was moist and packed with flavour. Spinach and Dauphinoise potatoes proved suitable accompaniments, whilst the whole dish was lifted by a rich port and chorizo reduction.


Another main course, a 10 oz Sirloin steak from the grill, was accurately timed to a medium rare and well seasoned to accentuate its flavour. It was also good to see the fat well rendered, something often neglected in lesser establishments. Triple cooked chips were a model of their kind, crunchy on the outside and soft in the centre. Roasted tomatoes, button mushrooms, and beautifully crisp onion rings and mixed leaf, completed this generously portioned main course. Only the mild pepper corn sauce, which needed more punch, stopped this dish from being perfect.


Desserts maintained the high level of cooking. Refreshing lemon and blueberry sorbets were smooth textured and balanced in acidity and sweetness.


Chocolate and fudge mousse was light and not too rich, the fudge balancing the chocolate. Homemade shortbread had a buttery richness and crisp texture.


Overall, The Ragged Cot, both in terms of quality of food and service, soars high above the average quality of food led inns. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return, possibly for an overnight stay, to maximize the opportunities for lunch, dinner and breakfast!