Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House Review, April 2011

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Adam Simmonds (above) enjoyed a prestigious career before taking over as Executive Chef in 2007. In just three years at Ynyshir Hall his restaurant gained four AA rosettes, the best Restaurant in Wales for 2006, and a Michelin star. That he has taken longer to gain the same coveted accolade at Danesfield is not through any weakening of imagination or effort on his part, indeed quite the reverse, but more due to the mysterious workings of the Michelin inspectorate.

Anoushka Hempel’s transformation of the previously dark, study–like room into one whose lime washed oak paneling gives a mellow, lighter feel, is remarkable. The effect is enhanced by large mirrors and dainty standard lamps with conical shades, both in bright wood. The older features, which harmonise well, are preserved in the mock Elizabethan fireplace and frescoed ceiling, although the iron chandelier remains incongruous to this magical room. The serious attention given to renovation and decor, which also includes well-spaced tables and large armed upholstered chairs in cream and fawn, now provides a fitting backdrop to Adam Simmonds’ innovative cuisine. Thankfully, lights are not dimmed in the evening, allowing the dishes to be seen in their fully glory. Although the Orangery blocks the view at the back, this is an advantage given the glories of the room and food which should be the focus of attention.

Creativity, attention to detail and artistic presentation are the hallmarks of Adam’s cooking. Capturing flavours, so that the main ingredient shines, is fundamental. His dishes are light but rich, well balanced in tastes and textures, and sometimes with an element of surprise. Unashamedly complex and multi layered, a classical base of cooking is supplemented with modern touches and techniques which harmonise well. There are foams, purees and other flourishes, but here each has a purpose in highlighting, not overwhelming, the principal element. What amazes also is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of new ideas, leading to a constantly evolving menu. This has been tempered with a desire for consistency, thus a carte of five starters, mains and desserts enables the perfection of dishes which show real ambition.

Such food deserves the highest respect. How refreshing, then, to observe Brian Miller’s note that “Guests are respectfully reminded that the Adam Simmonds Restaurant is a fine dining experience and appropriate dress is required.” The move towards casual dress codes, in most high end restaurants (amongst front of house as well as diners) is a trend pleasantly bucked at Danesfield House.

Not that guests are expected view the restaurant as a temple of gastronomy and dine in hushed tones of devoted reverence; the real sense of enjoyment noticed on the night we visited was not expressed in a succession of ooohs and aaahs, but in a genuine quiet engagement with the pleasures of the table.

The strange trend in knocking the unsolicited arrival of amuses-bouches that is surely worthy of reconsideration is again pleasantly ignored here; Often brilliant ideas are conceived and generously offered in order to delight and stimulate informed discussion.

This applies to Adam’s playful version of a famous cocktail. Vodka jelly and Martini granite proved a most refreshing palate cleanser with only the gentlest hint of alcohol. This was followed by a second amuse-guelle, a chilled cucumber essence which distilled the sweet- savoury flavour of the vegetable perfectly, combining it with a slightly sour yogurt foam. Here, then, were two exciting and successful starts to the meal.

Three large Scottish scallops were roasted to a medium rare which preserved their succulence. Pickled carrot gave a gentle acidic contrast to the sweetness of the shellfish, while sand carrot puree, and carrot and cumin cake added substance, texture and a muted spicy warmth. Presented on a black slate, this dish was also visually stunning. (Wine: 2008, Chablis, Domaine Colette Gros, Burgundy)

Another starter of foie gras, served cold as a confit, bore all the mouth coating unctuousness required of this delectable piece of offal. Black fig puree and fig compote cut the richness and gave sweetness, enhanced by cubes of Pedro Ximenes jelly. Hazelnut crunch added the necessary texture to another well-judged, luxurious starter. (Wine:2009, Gruner Veltliner Rosenteig Kremel, Austria)

Next was an intermediate course of brill. The fillet been poached gently to preserve its brilliant white colour, only seen in the freshest of fish, and maximize its beautiful turbot-like taste. The succulent flakes of melting flesh were complimented with the carefully prepared broad beans, peas, pea shoots and morels, the combined flavours of which burst with the freshness of Spring. The silky, if transitory qualities of yeast foam, no mere decorative adornment, served to bring the elements of this vibrantly coloured, well balanced dish together. (Wine: 2008, Pinot Cuvee Silver Lake Willi Opitz, Burgenland)

Similar painstaking effort is seen in the main courses. A canon of new season spring lamb was cooked sous-vide to enhance its inherent tenderness and sweetness. Curried beignets amongst the garnishes added a spicy element that complemented the meat well. The addition of sweetbreads added a melting creaminess. This dish overall, with a sophisticated combination of ingredients, provided the perfect example of Adam’s attention to detail, creativity and labour intensity in producing the end product with (importantly) the deep, clear and clean flavour of the lamb remaining paramount. (Wine:2007: Bourgogne, Domaine Heresztyn, France.)

The other main course proved to be an embarrassment of riches, as reflected in its eclectic presentation. A roasted lobster tail was precisely timed to enable is inherent sweet, juicy qualities to enjoyed to the full. To serve the lobster pieces alongside veal sweetbreads might appear culinary heresy to some, but here is another surprising combination which works. The clean tasting, soft lobster stood up well against the veal sweetbreads with their creamy taste and crisp texture.

Shredded celeriac, pasta and dried almonds provided substance and textural contrast, and lobster consomme, poured at the table, gave added depth of flavour. Finally, a generous garnish of autumn truffle with its heady, earthy aroma, lifted the dish to lofty heights. (Wine: 2007: Macon Fuisse, Domaine Thibert, France)

Cheese, chosen from a selection from, England, France and Italy, were all in prime condition. Especially noteworthy were the Roquefort, Mont D’Or and Cherwell from England. Two dainty quennels of sorbet, one apple, the other celery, might divide opinion as to their suitability. If they are to cleanse the mouth after each type of cheese is eaten, then they are effective. However, the lingering richness of eating cheese is instantly destroyed by this act of epicurean severance.

Given that desserts follow cheese in the French order of eating, surely the sorbets – which are excellent in taste and texture – constitute a brilliant way of cleansing the palate.

Desserts were as refined as the previous courses, revealing superb technique and exquisite presentation. A composite creation of Pear William was presented in forms of caramelized dice, mousse, dried slices and sorbet, all carefully executed in terms of taste, texture and temperature. Pureed and roasted nuts walnuts gave a richness and crunch which balanced the fruit. This was another brave dish, employing two ingredients, usually matched in a salad with Roquefort, to make a memorable dessert. (Wine: 2007, Recioto di Soave Vigna Marogne Tamellini, Veneto)

A milk chocolate mille feuille was a veritable tour de force of the chocolatier’s/patissier’s craft. Wafer thin leaves sandwiched a filling of well flavoured banana and rum parfait. (Wine:2007, Maury Domaine Mas Ammiel, Roussillon.)

All the incidentals of the meal –the sour dough bread, the biscuits and apricot bread served wih the cheese, petits fours and coffee – were excellent. So too was the knowledgeable, efficient and unobtrusive service, admirably overseen by Restaurant manager Karolina Koza. She also chose the wines from an impressive list arranged by country then region, with more Old World than New.

Overall, dining at Adam Simmonds restaurant is a real joy. To see a chef in very good form – not top form as he has so much more to give – finally recognized by Michelin is heartening and renews one’s faith in that august publication. That Adam is now cooking is grander surroundings with a wider hinterland of foodies than ever before, can only be to everyone’s advantage. We look forward to even greater accolades as his cooking goes from strength to strength.