Archive for January, 2018

AA Restaurant Guide January 2018 Press Release. New 3 and 4 Rosette Awards

Posted on: January 24th, 2018 by Simon Carter

This full press release is now made available directly by the AA on their website so this will be the last time that fine dining guide reproduce their press material, in future there will be a link provided via social media to the content.


UK restaurants awarded with the highest recognition of culinary excellence

The AA has been awarding Rosettes to restaurants since 1956, with the top award of five rosettes being introduced in 1991. The multi rosettes are awarded bi-annually in January and September, with success being determined by one or more visits by an AA inspector to an hotel or restaurant.

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms in Ormskirk, Lancashire has been awarded four AA Rosettes, only four months after achieving their third Rosette in September 2017. They are the only restaurant to be awarded this accolade in January’s set of honours.

Stephen Wilkinson, Area Manager at AA Hotel & Hospitality Services said “Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms has achieved so much in a short space of time. This would not have been possible without the careful planning prior to opening. Mark’s food continues to evolve but the focus has always been on balance and clarity of flavour whilst sourcing the best core ingredients. The team has an impressive kitchen garden which is a key resource for many dishes”.

Eight restaurants have also been awarded three AA Rosettes, including MasterChef: The Professionals judge Monica Galetti and her husband David’s London restaurant, Mere. Restaurants awarded three AA Rosettes are all outstanding restaurants achieving standards that demand national recognition well beyond their local area. Those achieving four AA Rosettes are among the top restaurants in the country. To achieve five AA Rosettes, the restaurants have to reach the pinnacle of the nation’s restaurants where the cooking compares with the best in the world. These restaurants exhibit breathtaking culinary skills, and set the standards to which others aspire, yet few achieve.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Hotel & Hospitality Services said “We are delighted to recognise these hotels and restaurants for achieving such high standards of culinary excellence which continue to demonstrate the growing strength and depth of British cooking across the country. Our congratulations go to all the dedicated teams within these businesses that have truly earned this level of recognition.

New four AA Rosettes:

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms, Ormskirk, Lancashire

New three AA Rosettes:

Benedicts, Norwich, Norfolk

The Burlington Restaurant, Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire

Carters of Moseley, Birmingham, West Midlands

Jöro Restaurant, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Mere, London

1851 Restaurant at Peckforton Castle, Peckforton, Cheshire

Samuel’s at Swinton Park, Masham, North Yorkshire

Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa, Malmesbury, Wiltshire

For press enquiries please contact

or call Midas PR on 0207 361 7860

About the restaurants:

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms Ormskirk, Lancashire

Imaginative cooking in a boutique bolthole

The ‘restaurant with rooms’ concept at Moor Hall is rather more evolved than the usual traditional approach consisting of a few modest rooms bolted onto a notable eatery. The seven rooms here – as plush as anyone could reasonably ask for – form part of a megabucks boutique transformation of a 16th-century manor into a foodie destination. It comprises a chic restaurant and state-of-the-art open kitchen in a modernist extension, with a soaring raftered roof and glass walls. With all this investment, the culinary draw has to be a biggie, so rest assured that the show stopping cooking of Mark Birchall, whose time at Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume means you will not be disappointed. Expect virtuoso creations built on ingredients that couldn’t be bettered.  The drill at dinner is five- and eight-course tasters, opening with home-grown carrots served in multifarious textures with ramsons and sea buckthorn cream, all turbocharged with

Doddington cheese ‘snow’. Next up, crab and turnip broth comes with anise leaves, hyssop and sunflower seed cream. Elsewhere, poached turbot is pointed up with garlic and mussel cream, salsify and sea vegetables, while Westmorland chicken is showcased in another complex workout: the roasted oysters, breast and crispy skin alongside hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, crispy kale, and an offal ragout. Desserts, too, are shot through with creativity: a riff on gingerbread delivers a masterful ice cream with candied parsnips and brown sugar tuiles, and a filo basket of mead-flavoured cream matched with caramelised Bramley apple, sour apple purée and marigold leaves. There’s also a more casual dining venue in a rustic-chic barn.

Benedicts Norwich, Norfolk

Revelatory cooking in the heart of Norwich

Norwich is now firmly established on the UK’s foodie firmament thanks to Benedicts, a switched-on operation where pared-back, Scandi-chic looks tick all the boxes of a big-city venue and make a suitably modernist setting for chef-patron Richard Bainbridge’s innovative contemporary cooking. Devotees of Great British Menu may remember that Bainbridge was the 2015 winner, so diners can be assured of exciting 21st-century food that’s brimful of revelations, courtesy of stimulating combinations of excellent materials.

A starter of moist and super-fresh crisp-skinned mackerel is balanced with bracing bursts of cucumber, sour apple and dill ahead of a main course that sings of spring: hay-baked Blickling Hall Estate hogget matched with spring greens, chervil root and wild garlic. Otherwise, there may be dry-aged Gressingham duck with salted plums, shiitake mushrooms, red onions and thyme sauce. To finish, the nursery comforts of Nanny Bush’s trifle with milk jam passed muster with the exacting standards of the WI ladies on the telly and remains as a signature finisher, or you might go for an equally classic and perfectly rendered lemon tart, its heavenly pastry encasing a zingy lemon custard. It all comes via a seasonal à la carte, six- or eight-course tasting options, or a daily-changing set lunch which offers remarkable value.

The Burlington Restaurant Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire

Seasonal menus in a lovely setting

The Devonshire Arms may sound like a cosy village pub, but is actually a country house hotel set in 30,000 acres of the Duke of Devonshire’s estate, with a swish spa and a restaurant that has put it well and truly on the gastronomic map. The Burlington Restaurant is the star of the show, where chef Paul Leonard delivers food of craft and creativity, making good use of the estate’s excellent produce (dining during the game season is a good idea) and the kitchen garden for herbs, vegetables and fruits. His dishes are colourful, full of presentational artistry and precisely composed flavours, producing a modern classic pairing of langoustine with succulent pork cheek, alongside Alexanders and celeriac purée. Main-course grass-fed Yorkshire beef is as good as it gets, the meat butter-soft and handled with respect, supported by onions and alliums in various guises, all lifted by smoked bone marrow and a sauce of great depth. The final flourish is a trip back to childhood comforts via an exceptionally light, baked egg custard pointed up with cherries and nutmeg. Superlative nibbles and amuses punctuate the whole experience in imaginative style. Simpler dining is available in the Brasserie, with its roughcast white walls and vibrantly coloured furnishings.

Carters of Moseley Birmingham, West Midlands

Modern British food interpreted with simplicity and skill

The unassuming location amid a parade of shops belies this high-flying neighbourhood restaurant’s ambition. Chef Brad Carter’s operation sticks to the contemporary template of calculated neutral décor, the buzz of an open kitchen, and relaxed, on-the-ball staff whose enthusiasm for the food is palpable. The moreish ‘pigs butter’ (whipped Tamworth pork dripping flavoured with caramelized onions) and splendid home-made sourdough are stalwarts to prime the palate, together with a barrage of on-trend ‘snacks’ – chicken liver cereal, Dorset clam with fermented ramsons, house charcuterie, raw kohlrabi with pine and salad burnet – before an array of bang-on-the-money dishes of inventive and clever pairings. Clarity and freshness define it all, from an opener of deeply flavoursome oat, spelt and barley porridge laden with pine mushrooms (foraged from Lapland) boosted by a broth laced with Moliterno al tartufo (truffled cheese), to top-drawer Skrei cod with leek and buttermilk. Elsewhere, meatier influences come into play. Dry-aged Cornish lamb is pointed up with vivid green wheat grass sauce and bone marrow, or there might be red deer with kabocha squash and quince. The imaginative approach continues through to desserts. For example, an unusual eggless ice cream infused with kombu seaweed and black rice, say, or chocolate ganache finished with dried cardamom, orange zest and minty shiso oil.

Jöro Restaurant Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Classy modern cooking in a shipping container

A converted shipping container off a roundabout on the outskirts of Steel City doesn’t sound too inviting a prospect, but Jöro’s urban edginess is bang in tune with the contemporary trend for neo-Nordic-influenced eating. Inside, the space has a minimalist feel with bare wood floors and tables decorated with flowers and baby vegetables, and the buzz of an open kitchen adding to the convivial vibe.

Despite the urban surrounds, the kitchen team maintains a close bond to nature, working with local farms and foragers to provide a steady flow of seasonal materials – a ‘surprise’ box from one vegetable supplier means the kitchen builds the menus around what turns up that week, and the small plate concept encourages diners to try a salvo of different dishes. Expect pin- sharp techniques and combinations that pack a punch, starting with a perfect piece of mackerel in miso-boosted broth alongside kohlrabi pickled in buttermilk whey, intensely sweet and

smoky wood-fired onions, and roasted yeast purée. Salt-baked celeriac Lincolnshire poacher cheese, black truffle and elder capers is another winning partnership, followed by mallard with red cabbage ketchup and blackcurrant jam. The good ideas flow through to a sweet dish uniting brown butter and muscovado parfait with parkin, apple and Pedro Ximenez jam.

Mere London W1

Smart Fitzrovia joint for a master chef’s first solo venture

Monica Galetti (former Michel Roux Jr/Le Gavroche protégé, though better known to TV audiences as a feared MasterChef: The Professionals judge) has opened her own restaurant with husband David (also a former Gavroche alumni [sommelier], like many of the key staff here). Okay, first up, the name; Mere is pronounced ‘Mary’, being both the French for mother and also Monica’s mother’s name. Next, the location – set at the less frenetic northern end of restaurant-jammed Charlotte Street and certainly adding to its profile. It’s classily understated though; an impressive wooden door immediately shouts sophisticated, grown-up restaurant, and inside doesn’t disappoint. On street level, there’s a smart bar with eye-catching champagne-inspired artwork, while downstairs, the design ramps-up in the unexpectedly light dining room, thanks to its double-height glass frontage and wine-box covered outer wall, allowing pavement light to flood down. As in the bar, there’s a fashionable colour palette of cool blues and greys, but accented here by warming golds, and featuring contemporary Samoan pieces by Monica’s artist cousin.

What really shines is the cooking; contemporary French (classically underpinned, of course) yet sprinkled with touches from Monica’s Western Samoan and Kiwi heritage. The expected consummate skill and attention to detail are obvious, though it comes with a light, refined, yet relatively straightforward approach, backed by flavour and panache. Take an opener of springy tender octopus, with a sweet-sharp tomato reduction and caper condiment, finished with parsley oil, or perhaps a star-turn squab pigeon mains (soft pink roasted breast and crispy skinned leg), with peach (adding a balanced sweetness), girolles and Earl Grey. Desserts might continue with signature ‘banana and coconut’ (cream pie with roasted bananas and rum caramel). Service is informed, professional but relaxed, while the wine list is a corker.

1851 Restaurant at Peckforton Castle Peckforton, Cheshire

Fine cooking in a grand hotel

Peckforton may look like a medieval castle, but the clue to its true vintage lies in the restaurant’s name. Built straight out of the imagination of a wealthy Victorian gent, this mightily imposing building, replete with turrets and crenellations, still does justice to the lofty ambition of its originator. It’s 21st-century incarnation as a hotel and wedding venue features pampering treatments, events, luxe bedrooms and a host of outdoor activities on hand.

The 1851 Restaurant has made the hotel a dining destination, too. The slick and stylish dining room matches the modern thinking in the kitchen, with its sparkling glassware and cutlery and a shimmering wall of wine bottles as you enter. Chef Jason Hodnett has a knack for coaxing out the max from flavours – in a starter of hand-dived scallops partnered with shellfish-packed ravioli and roast leek consommé, or in a main course showcasing wood pigeon – the tender roast breast matched with a confit leg bonbon, beetroot in various colours and textures, sweetcorn granola and purée and the tart-balancing note of blueberry. Another virtuoso workout of flavours and textures closes the show – English strawberries playing the lead role in parfait and consommé form, together with milk sorbet, lavender and sweet herbs.

Samuel’s at Swinton Park Masham, North Yorkshire

Dynamic modern cooking in a glorious country estate

With its baronial tower and castellated walls hung with creeper, Swinton Park makes quite an impression. Within, there’s no let-up in its opulent public areas festooned with antiques and family portraits, and millions have been lavished recently on grafting on a glitzy spa. Samuel’s restaurant is the jewel in its culinary crown, a suitably grand space, with its high gilded ceilings, carved fireplace and views onto the 20,000-acre estate.

Chef Mehdi Amiri celebrates the produce from Swinton’s four acres of walled kitchen garden and the local area, serving delicately herby Swinton Farm trout tartare with dill sorbet and cucumber, or there might be goat’s cheese mousse supported by quail’s eggs, beetroot, orange and hazelnut. Ingredients are of the first order and the kitchen’s technical skill is apparent in main courses: perfectly timed and rested venison (from the estate) comes with chestnut, cabbage, squash and blackberries – there’s even a baby onion filled with confit venison – all pointed up with a rich jus, or immaculately handled roast monkfish matched with black trompette mushrooms, truffled cauliflower gratin, dill pasta and cep beurre blanc. Waiting at the end, an exquisitely crafted dessert involving a spherical white and dark chocolate semifreddo with salted caramel, amaretto, and vanilla yoghurt sorbet.

Whatley Manor Hotel Malmesbury, Wiltshire

Luxury spa hotel cooking

A feeling of anticipation builds as the gated entrance opens into Whatley’s cobbled courtyards of honeystone Cotswold buildings – and that’s as it should be, because the Victorian manor house has long sat in the top flight of the UK’s country house hotels. The principal dining room is an understated modern place, with cream walls, bare floors, and a good measure of space around each table. Niall Keating now leads the kitchen team here, and his blend of refined

contemporary cooking with Asian influences has created a new dining experience. Delivered via a 12-course tasting menu, (including a vegetarian version) phenomenal precision and flavours are there from the off, in a spiced cracker pointed with lime and Parmesan, then the purity of raw oyster with seaweed mignonette dressing. Produce is, naturally, as good as you can get,

and flavours and textures come razor sharp – tempura eel with kimchi aigre-doux, or pigeon with kohlrabi, spiced date purée and wood ear mushrooms, while fish puts in an appearance as halibut supported by charred alliums, pear and shrimp. A trio of desserts offers ideas such as apple with caramel, passionfruit and honeycomb, and wine flights of revelationary pairings line up to enhance the whole experience further.

Top End Dining Analysed: Chef Tom Clarke, L’Ortolan (Jan 2018)

Posted on: January 23rd, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

exterior lortolan

The purpose of this article is not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now ‘me too’ sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining.  This is something slightly different, something not seen before, this is an attempt at a new concept.  Discerning foodies will recall that at The Michelin Guide GB&I launch event for the 2018 Guides, a slide was briefly discussed by Michael Ellis (WW Director of Michelin Guides), a slide which for the first time highlighted the five criteria followed by inspectors in the awarding of Michelin Stars.  Michael Ellis confirmed these under interview on that day, as a reminder these are:-

“The first and most important criteria is the ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique – a piece of fish, for example, might have a window as small as 30 seconds where it is perfectly cooked, before that it is undercooked and after that time it is overcooked. Our inspectors are looking for this mastery; albeit something the average diner may not realise but is in actual fact critical to the consistent quality of the experience and a key factor should the restaurant be seeking Michelin star recognition. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours; the plate must be in balance, so the sauce is not, for example, overpowering the flavour of the fish or that the seasoning of the dish is found to be exactly as it should be. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are all of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

So fine dining guide decided that it would be a great idea to sample a Michelin starred restaurant’s output and then interview the chef to discover how they believe their efforts meet those criteria described by Michelin.  This would involve the chef analysing each dish prepared, against each of the five criteria.

Tom Clarke

First stop Michelin starred L’Ortolan restaurant, the only such garlanded eaterie in or around Reading.  Chef Tom Clarke (above) has some broad influences and inspirations to his cooking; including Asian cuisines, where he particularly appreciates the flavour impacts of certain ingredients which Tom suggests can add great value to strong tasting menus. Naturally, Tom is grounded in the classical style, forged at Le Manoir and further developed under his former mentor Alan Murchison.  At interview, Tom appears fairly quiet but very quickly shows his confidence when discussing his home subject, and clearly within burns a desire to succeed shared by all these elite level chefs, indeed one harnessed by a quiet but unmistakable competitive spirit.  So to the food but first an overview of a couple of criteria that span the menu – consistency and value for money.

The accent at L’Ortolan is on tasting menus, supplemented by a set menu at lunch time and an a la carte that looks like it has two, two and two choices – in fact there is a separate vegetarian choice on request that effectively brings this up to three, three and three.  What I was about to discover over a 40 minute conversation with Tom Clarke was that the level of preparation and multi-stage complexity found in the food, was such that limiting the choice may help ensure consitency of such elaborate dishes. This not to suggest that food is over engineered, far from it, the guiding theme of enhancing flavour results in uncompromising dedication to deliver the processes that meet the optimum flavour punch, admittedly sometimes this is complex, but that is why customers pay for a craftsman’s work, the true wonders of Michelin cooking and the flavours delivered.

L’Ortolan owner Peter Newman has provided Tom Clarke and team with the best of technology to help with recipe, ingredient and cooking process management for the team.  There is a L’Orotlan database and a set of iPads for the kitchen to serve as a productivity tool for the chefs while tracking what is happening for the business ensuring the long term efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of the restaurant.  Larder, garnish, sauce and pastry are digitally documented, plus each dish that is on the menu along with all methods and recipes.  A resulting affect is that in the event of a chef leaving, a stronger foundation is in place to pick up where that chef left off for a new chef on the team.  Further, there is clarity of actions required for the kitchen at all times rather than referring to written recipe folders or whatever form of manually written documentation that may happen to have been produced.

In terms of value for money, perhaps the most typical kitchen target is GP on a plate, like any top end restaurant these targets are a moving challenge, why?  The costs of ingredients are themselves fluctuating on a regular basis; Tom sites vegetable, fish and dairy costs.  For example, over a year, a 10 kilo block of butter was £42 but is now £72 so this forces the kitchen to be creative and find ways to deliver the same or better end product while using less dairy.  So, for example, Tom will finish with rendered beef fat for beef or rendered duck fat for duck and not use butter.  Wild sea bass is £30 per kilo; langoustines, scallops or turbot and so on are all reaching price points where the restaurant might struggle to source the right quality that would enable combining these ingredients on the same plate.  To avoid any compromise on quality in L’Ortolan dishes, the focus is to therefore have the highest quality sourced core ingredient stand out through its individual quality, further enhaced by creative cooking technique.

I have to say none of these honest observations of kitchen cost management were evident in the end products on a plate, which you will see and read below, were quite stunning in conception, deftly skilled in their execution and delivered by a Michelin starred kitchen on full throttle!


The opening starter dish comprised yellow fin tuna which has proven to be of consistent quality when sourced from different areas via Kingfisher.  Tom marinaded the tuna for a couple of hours in a mixture of soya sauce, mirin, kecap manis and wasabi.  The tuna was then taken out of the marinade and sealed off quickly before chilling down.  The marinade was then reduced down to make a glaze in which the tuna was rolled with sesame seeds. The idea was flavour enhacement upon flavour enhancement.  The cracker was for texture, which was a sushi rice cracker made with crab stock to provide an adiditonal but complimentary layer of flavour.  Torched water melon for freshness, compressed in sushi ginger giving the sensation of the flavour of having sushi, freshness and acidity of pickled mooli and lemongrass to lift everything and kecap to bring it all together.

foie gras

A goose liver parfait rolled in pain d’epices crumb, along side a pan fried goose liver so you have the texture, taste and tempature contrasts of the liver. Pineapple gel, poached pineapple in caramel then torched provides some acidity and sweet wine jelly with a pain d’epice meringue, pineapple meringue, pineapple and coriander chutney and coriander cress. Smoked duck ham add a further dimension of flavour and texture.


Torched mackerel with Bonito gel and wasabi buttermilk.  The Cornish mackerel was marinated along with soya and blowtorched for a smoky flavour and caramalisation. Dried Bonito flakes were used to make a stock which was then made into a gel which covered the mackerel to provide a flavour punch – again the theme is flavour enhacement on top of flavour enhacement and you get both elements in your mouth together.  Wasabi buttermilk provided heat and freshness and was created via the process the kitchen developed for making their own in house butter.  Some texture is provided by puff rice with seaweed powder for saltiness gives further seasoning.


L’Ortolan had a truffle evening a few months ago and from that came this concept for a beef dish.  King oyster mushrooms cooked whole and then cooked down in rendered down beef fat with aromats, then broken down to look like a bone marrow.  Traditional truffled pomme puree, seasonal carrots, seasonal girolles and confit shallots.  Then the blade of beef is marinated in red wine with plenty mirepoix for 24 to 48 hours to tenderize it, make it juicier and more flavoursome.  Tom then sealed it to get smokiness into the meat and then waterbathed for 16 to 18 hours.  The sauce is reduced red wine and shallots with port and parsley and so on…to really pack in the flavour!


Peanut mousse with a wafer and a feuillantine chocolate base and some gold leaf; coffee and banana work well together with peanut so coffee ice cream sitting on dyhadrated banana and a peanut brittle.

Overall Tom Clarke’s food is well engineered; everything has a purpose to deliver the theme of depth of flavour punch upon depth of flavour.  In his maturity the plates are generally getting less technically complex to look at but the skill and craftsmanship in bringing out the true enhanced and deep flavours of his star ingredients goes from strength to strength.  For this reason, for me, the beef and mackerel dishes shone through.  This is surely a penny dropping.  The best food from a great restaurant can look simple but taste sensational, why does it taste sensational? Because countless hours of technical achievements have brought things together in the processes behind the scenes to give the customer the optimum end product experience.  This possibly signals to the Michelin aspiring world exactly what they should be aiming for…