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Restaurant Review: Hillfield, Chef Adam Fisher, Pennyhill Park Hotel (May 2023)

Posted on: May 28th, 2023 by Simon Carter
Adam Fisher

[Chef Adam Fisher]

Hillfield Restaurant at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot is now in the capable hands of Chef Adam Fisher.  His diverse experience, ranging from the Ginger Fox in Brighton to the German Embassy in Belgravia, and most recently the Barn at Coworth Park, has amply prepared him for his current position.

He is now free to focus more on the fundamentals of seasonality, sustainability, “hyper-locality” and “farm to fork, nose to tail” in his cooking. With the ultimate aim of gaining a Michelin Green Star, produce from the Pennyhill Park estate, Surrey Hills, and the extensive kitchen garden will greatly assist in the drive to lower the restaurant’s carbon footprint. Indeed, the aim is to source most of its products, including foraged items, from a 25-mile radius. The provenance of the main ingredients, such as Windsor Great Park rabbit or Haverstock Park buffalo mozzarella, is proudly acknowledged on the menu.

Firmly grounded in the techniques of classical cuisine, Adam Fisher’s tasty dishes are often playful and imaginative yet can be complex in their preparation. The precise timing of meat and fish, the balance of flavours and textures in harmonious combinations, and attention to detail are evident in abundance. The presentation is clean and precise, without superfluous garnishes. Many fine dining elements are present, although the chef modestly prefers to see his cuisine as a transition from classic brasserie style to touches of high gastronomy through accomplished restaurant cooking.

The à la carte menu offers a good range of starters, mains and desserts with realistic prices to reflect the excellent quality of the ingredients and the skills and creativity demonstrated in the kitchen.

A delightful tartlet of crisp, thin pastry, and sweet white crab meat garnished with caviar provided the perfect accompaniment to our aperitif.

Two starters showcased both classical and contemporary approaches to Adam’s cuisine.

A generous slice of a dense, three-layered terrine, featured the deep, smoky gentle saltiness of ham hock, the well-seasoned, moist, soft texture of Cotswold White chicken, and the unashamedly silky richness of duck liver, perfectly marinated using the Ritz recipe. Finished with chorizo jam which balanced the savoury elements, this was a highly accomplished dish

Equally appetising but more innovative was Adam’s signature dish – a savoury éclair. Crisp choux pastry was filled with sticky, slow-cooked beef short rib enriched with bone marrow. Truffle hollandaise added a creamy texture and contrasting flavour while pickled mushrooms gave the necessary acidic element which cut the dish’s overall richness. A generous shaving of truffle added a heady fragrance to this unapologetically decadent, truly creative offering.

A special offered also revealed an imaginative approach based on Bunny chow, the popular South African street food. Here, a crisp bread roll was hollowed out and filled with plump mussels, shallots, chives, garlic, sea vegetables and a little cream to bind them together. This flavoursome seafood dish showed how relatively humble ingredients could be elevated to high end satisfaction and standards.

Meat cookery continued the theme of skilful and thoughtful cooking.

A saddle of Muntjak deer was precisely cooked and rested to maximise the flavour of its fine-grained, lean meat. A faggot created from the leg meat provided a contrasting texture and richer flavour, while baby turnips, barbequed carrots and leeks with their own purees gave deep, earthy accompaniments. Finished with a lip-smacking barbeque sauce based on reduced veal jus, this dish was ideal for a game lover.

The neck of lamb, appropriately slow-roasted for this muscular cut, was strong and slightly gamey in its flavour. It worked well with the herbal notes of cooked lovage, and the robust qualities of beer-braised onion. A delicate celeriac gratin with its puree added to the earthiness of the garnishes and a punchy port jus brought all the elements together with a touch of sweetness. Too full to sample the desserts, which we would confidently expect to reach the same standards as the savoury courses, we reflected on how satisfying was the visit to Hillfield at Pennyhill Park. The experience was enhanced by the relaxed, spacious and comfortable dining room, the highly knowledgeable and unobtrusive service, and the opportunity to chat with Adam Fisher. We wish him well in his ambitions and will follow his career with interest.

Chef Interview: Tom Scade, Vineyard Hotel, Nr Newbury (Jan 2023)

Posted on: January 17th, 2023 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed to provide an alternative to ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing noise about top end dining.  This is something slightly different.  In this feature, Tom Scade of The Vineyard Hotel, near Newbury, will analyse dishes against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. How so? At The Michelin Guide GB&I launch event for the 2018 Guides, a slide was briefly discussed by Michael Ellis (then WW Director of Michelin Guides), 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 he explained:-

“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. 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.”

The Michelin Guide UK newsletter in autumn 2022 gave an update to these criteria. Value for money no longer appeared and was replaced by ‘the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine.’ One might argue that this new measure is significantly more subjective that the other four, meaning that any attempt to objectively quantify the success or otherwise of the chef in attempting to achieve a Michelin Star, will always reside with the interpretation of the inspectors of The Michelin Guide.

At the tender age of 16, Tom Scade won a scholarship to Royal Academy of Culinary Arts apprenticeship training in Bournemouth. His placement saw him travel to London to work for Keith Stanley at Langan’s Coq d’Or, where he remained for the following three and a half years. Tom gained invaluable experience across all the sections. To this day, he remains a firm believer that it takes a year simply to learn how to work in a professional kitchen.  Ideally, this should be followed by annual promotion across each of the sections, thus enabling a new challenge and a short term, but necessary, discomfort in order to learn and improve skillsets.

Tom’s personal gastronomic journey of learning, took in every aspect of hospitality, from working pubs where he saw all sides of the business, right through to the greatest of hotel restaurant kitchen institutions (The Ritz).  This was complemented by a spell working for a multi-Michelin starred inspirational chef in Martin Blunos.  In 2018, Tom was recognised as the winner of Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire before coming third in the world finals later that year.  Since June 2019, he has been in his current role at The Vineyard Hotel.

Tom is essentially engaged to deliver one of owner Sir Peter Michael’s passions, that is the marriage of fine wine with the art of gastronomy. Sir Peter, who was the founder of Classic FM, is a lover of wine, food, music, art and good company.  He acquired The Vineyard Hotel property in 1996, launching under its current guise in 1998.  Beautiful pieces of art and sculpture from Sir Peter’s private collection feature around the hotel, alongside a visually stunning cellar stocked with premium wines, many of which have come from Sir Peter’s own vineyards in California. 

Tom Scade sees the kitchen as progressive, having had the requisite time to stamp his way of doing things, he notes, “With each passing six months the food is that much better, with consistency the mantra!” As we turn to those five Michelin criteria against Tom’s chosen dishes, consistency is a key criterion.  In fact, the practices and procedures employed facilitate regularity both across the menu and over time. As well as the ubiquitous, precise recipe books, Tom sees the importance of the intensity of the kitchen team working through the morning, ensuring a relatively smooth and peaceful lunch service. Simply speaking, everything that is prepared is brought together.  “It is this way because too much cooking à la minute can lead to inconsistency,” explains Tom. “Proper pre-planning leads to confident repetitive execution,” he adds. The Vineyard’s relationships with suppliers are also fundamental to consistency across the menu and over time as they enjoy the same size, quality and freshness of product on an ongoing basis.  A colleague at The Ritz (Premier Sous Chef, Deepak Mallya) instilled the need for detail in recipes to ensure the precise end product was achieved time and again (from each stock produced to the exact number of peppercorns in a sauce). Having the experience to have learned from your mistakes is also vital – “If young Jonny behind me has split the hollandaise it wouldn’t matter because I have split a hollandaise plenty of times and know how to correct it.”  In this way there are no panics and the kitchen always retains its focus. 

Tom believes that a chef must express their personality on a plate, as it is fundamental to the chef’s career satisfaction.  “I couldn’t imagine going through the motions and painting by numbers,” says Tom.  He cites Martin Blunos, as having moved to Bristol and for a short while continued to produce what had been offered at a London kitchen.  He duly gained a Michelin Star.  It was only after he had a cooking epiphany and cooked from the heart – including his Latvian roots – that the second Michelin Star arrived.  This explanation fits with what then Michelin Guides editor, Derek Bulmer, described at interview in 2005: Namely that a protégé of (say Gordon Ramsay) could gain one star accurately reflecting Gordon Ramsay’s signature, to achieve a second would require their personal signature in the cooking. 

Customers may also witness menus, including tasting menus, where there is no common theme, signature or personality.  Indeed, it may appear that the output may be from three different chefs.  In this case, perhaps there has been poor harnessing of kitchen talent, neglecting to mould menu proposals into the “house signature.” Alternatively, the chef has reproduced some dishes that were created by other chefs, which he had encountered earlier in his working life.  Neither will go down well with Michelin according to their own criteria.  The over-riding personality of the Vineyard kitchen is California influenced with a local, fresh produce orientation.  Sir Peter Michael’s wine may also lead the scope for dish creation, sparking spontaneous ideas for flavours on a plate, with precise, clean understated dishes.  Tom is classically trained and there’s no escape from that at The Vineyard – “proper cooking” – A bouillon tastes amazing with the right mouth feel, because it has calves’ feet rather than a gelatine based shortcut.  This typifies the way Tom avoids too many chemicals and takes the classical route to true mouth feels and flavours.

The first dish is the trout dish, which has been on the menu since day one, currently locally sourced River Kennet trout, from Berkshire Fish. They are more focused on angling and less on the commercial catering side. For this reason, the kitchen gets the pick of the trout and sometimes they are so fresh they must be kept for a day. Cucumber, horseradish and Caviar are the classic flavours that shine through with this dish.  The fish is cured in “California sunshine,” including lemon verbena, grapefruit, sumac and so on.  It is lightly cooked and sliced, served with horseradish (grated and purée’d), diced apple and a covered in a veil of cucumber jelly. This is finished with oscietra Caviar sourced through Laura King. The processes and combinations elevate a humble fish into a clean, precise and delicious dish.    

The second dish is the venison, which is locally sourced from Yattendon.  Vickers Game is ten miles from The Vineyard and Tom works closely with their butcher.  The best way to cook the loin of venison is to simply pan roast with plenty of foaming butter and aromats, before being sliced and served with turnips and cèpes.  The trimmings are cooked down with brown butter creating a caramelised purée.  On the side is a mushroom mash; mushroom trimmings from throughout the day are roasted down and infused with cream, the mash is topped with preserved elderberries that have been hand-picked and enhanced by venison jus. The accompanying red wine sauce is an homage to John William (Ritz), “if I couldn’t cook a good red wine sauce there’d be a problem,” smiles Tom.

The front of house is well served with efficient, knowledgeable but unobtrusive staff who also understand the imperative of gentle conversation with an engaging smile.  Consistency across the whole hotel food and beverage operation is a mantra, highlighted by the customer food and service experience in the main dining room.  The Vineyard remains a self-described wine-led hotel.  The cellar boasts 30,000 bottles which are ably managed by Head Sommelier, Romain Bourger, once a winner of UK Sommelier of The Year and now proudly invited to be a judge of that competition.

Tom’s ambition is to drive forward The Vineyard Hotel’s gastronomic offering in the context of the hotel strategy. The onset of lockdowns through Covid, led to a rethink of the hotel dining concepts with the construction of a spectacular outdoor marquee that allowed guest dining through difficult times.  The offering was more informal and relaxed with attendance numbers impressively exceeding expectations.  The success of this improvisation will likely see its return in summer 2023.  At the same time, the hospitality industry’s move toward informality has seen the creation of ‘The Vine Bar’ lunch offering of small plates to be shared with beautiful wines.  This too, has proved an inspired step forward. The culinary focus, however, remains the top-end dining offering in the main restaurant. The evidence of the meal at The Vineyard, enhanced by interviews with Tom, demonstrates a chef with a great touch, a mastery of classical technique and an eye to relevance in the present and future

The Great Shefford: Sam Cary & Joshua Khan Interviewed (Feb 2022)

Posted on: January 31st, 2022 by Simon Carter

Joshua Khan and Sam Cary have formed an exciting partnership at The Great Shefford Pub.  Joshua’s strong vision and business acumen are ideally complemented by Sam’s accomplished track record as an ambitious young chef grounded in multi-Michelin-starred restaurants.  The building which houses The Great Shefford originates from 1848, and was acquired by Joshua in late 2019. The site had been known as the rather dreary locals’ pub called The Swan Inn. Post a full refurbishment, the new venture launched just prior to the pandemic, closed through lockdown rather quickly, then reopened again in late July 2021.  Sam joined the operation in September 2021.

The subsequent development of “Sam’s Table,” which sees a high end dining experience tailored for six to eight guests, is an exciting addition to an impressive à la carte menu in a dining room offering 50 covers.  There is also the aptly named Racing Lounge, (a glance around the décor will confirm the link) for up to 30 covers, which is aimed at those guests who are seeking simpler or more comforting fare.  Traditional pub visiting locals who want a drink also form part of the vision, with seating space for up to 20 in a consciously distinct bar area.   In summer, guests may also look forward to a large, semi-covered outdoor terrace, alongside the Lambourne River, with capacity for up to 100, for both dining and drinking.  The atmosphere of the building is of being sympathetically restored with a significant emphasis on the Newbury horse racing fraternity.  The main dining room and Sam’s Table are light and airy with pleasant riverside views.

[The Great Shefford Dining Room leading to Sam’s Table]

Necessity has proven the mother of invention for charismatic restaurateur Joshua Kahn, as at times in the face of adversity, he has managed to enjoy quite an extraordinary history of success.  His current interests lay in three high end pubs, alongside The Great Shefford is the The King Charles Tavern in Newbury and The Broad Face in Abingdon.  Qualified as a medical doctor abroad, Joshua arrived in the UK with but £600 to his name and unable to transfer his qualification.  His first role was as a form of labourer, earning £150 a week, moving heavy containers around for a catering company.  Joshua and his wife would pay £100 a week in rent and live off the remainder.  During that time (2002-2003), they would see the beautiful restaurants on Clapham High Street and Joshua would think “One day we will own a quality restaurant and make the pricing affordable and reasonable to many!”  A worthy ambition and one that by a happy sequence of events he was able to realise within two short decades.

After finding a role as a clerk at Nat West Bank, through chance and perseverance, he worked his way up, making use of his multi-lingual translation skills (Joshua is familiar with seven languages).  Over time, he gained a network of major banking contacts, one of whom encouraged him to manage the development of a hospitality concept.  From 2011, that contact came through and the opportunity arose to work with chef Ollie Couillaud at The Lawn Bistro in Wimbledon Village. Joshua’s appetite for hospitality was whetted, his natural passion and enthusiasm ignited, driving him ever onward to the portfolio of businesses he owns today.

[The team at The Great Shefford: Centre, restaurateur Joshua Khan, Centre Left, Chef Sam Cary]

While growing up in a small village near Chippenham, Sam Cary had always wanted to be a chef.  His parents did their best to steer him in the direction of Motorsport engineering.  The nostalgia of his grandmother’s roast dinners would always draw him back to food.  Having embarked on a career in cooking, Sam has enjoyed some great food mentors such as Tom Kerridge and Niall Keating.  Sam remembers learning from Tom Kerridge about the art of maintaining the required pace of a high powered kitchen.  He also took onboard the importance of discipline, accuracy and professionalism.  “The sheer quality of fresh produce was also a privilege to work with,” explains Sam. 

With regards to Niall Keating, Sam recalls, “the reinforcement of attention to detail and working with local suppliers such as the amazing estate reared beef.”  In between working with these two Michelin two star giants of the UK industry, Sam spent two years from 2015 cooking in Sydney, Australia.  The experience expanded his cultural and cooking horizons, including from a professional perspective making use of a Japanese (Hibachi) grill.  Sam explains that the grill is a significant feature of The Great Shefford kitchen: “It provides great smoky subtlety of flavour to a dish,” and further, “the grill takes a whole different level of skill and instinct.  The chef must control the heat through managing the coals, to deliver the best impact on flavour!”

After joining The Great Shefford, Sam found a pleasing array of food suppliers in place –  Vicars Game for meat and game, Fisher’s of Newbury for fresh fruit and vegetables and fish suppliers are Kingfishers, and so on.  Joshua adds; “We consider anything within a 20-25 miles radius as local – it aids the whole community and is a happy circle, supporting artisan suppliers wherever possible!”  In terms of menu rotation,  Sam aims to get the balance right between monthly and seasonal: The former keeps the kitchen on its toes while naturally allowing the use of artisan suppliers: The latter makes optimum use of best quality products that change with the seasons.

[Outstanding turbot and beef cheek dish with yeast beurre blanc sauce]

A star dish of wild turbot makes the unlikely match of the fish with beef cheek.  At first glance, while merely reading on a menu (before tasting) this may appear at best a bold combination – the natural depth of flavour of the lovingly reduced offal might be anticipated to overpower the relatively delicate flesh of the fish.  Turbot, however, as arguably the king of fish is more than sufficiently robust.  In reality, the end product is beautifully constructed with components naturally enhancing one another and brought together by the expert application of a yeast beurre blanc sauce.

This dish was so impressive, that fine dining guide asked Sam to analyse its construction by the five criteria for a Michelin star. [These criteria were first announced by Michelin at the London launch of Michelin GB&I 2017 and are as follows: The first is the provenance of ingredients (to include quality, freshness, flavour and texture). The second is mastery of cooking techniques. The third is equilibrium and harmony in flavours. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.]

In terms of provenance, the beef cheek is sourced from Vicars Game and the wild turbot is acquired daily from Kingfisher. Cooking techniques see the customary Michelin restaurant multi-stage process of construction and cooking.  The turbot is brined for 40 minutes in a 10% salt, 5% sugar fish brine, before it is cooked sous vide at 52 degrees for seven minutes.  The whole dish is a couple of days in preparation and execution; the beef cheek is slow cooked at 88 degrees for 12 hours in a red wine based sauce, braised down, picked down, which sees the sauce heavily reduced, creating an intensity of flavour. After setting, the beef cheek it is portioned and finished by frying in panko breadcrumbs.  Sam admits to being influenced by Niall Keating, formerly of Whatley Manor, with the savoury yeast beurre blanc sauce that accompanies the turbot.  Balance and harmony arrive through serendipity, or rather chef intuition, combined with trial and error in the combinations of components in the dish. In terms of consistency of kitchen output, the sauce is considered by Sam to be the trickiest to deliver as it comes down to taste – the small team of chefs (three) are encouraged to master their palates and taste, taste, taste to get the dish right every time.  Consistency is aided by following the timings, quantities and processes found in a recipe book that is maintained in the kitchen.  Value for money is more a philosophy of proprietor Joshua Khan’s than represented in any particular dish – Joshua is determined to make the highest quality (Michelin star standard) food available at accessible prices, none more so than that witnessed in the generous à la carte pricing of this dish.

Sam and Joshua both see the inspector-led guides and their recognition for Sam’s cooking as important for The Great Shefford. Indeed, the confidence of the kitchen was evident in the Sam’s Table tasting menu.  So much so, that it would suggest that when The Michelin GB&I Guide, the newly re-launched Good Food Guide and AA Restaurant Guide next make announcements, there will be the inclusion of The Great Shefford to the satisfaction of Joshua and Sam.

[The Great Shefford: A food led pub with room for a proper locals’ bar area]

An essential part of The Great Shefford experience is the service.  This was well informed, charming and unobtrusive in equal measures: Georgina Caras ably directed a small team of front of house that helped make the experience both enjoyable and completely satisfying.  So, the early signs look bright for Joshua Khan and Sam Cary and with the hope of the lifting of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps 2022 offers the prospect of the most exciting year to date for both restaurateur and chef.  fine dining guide looks forward to returning and following their undoubted success with interest.

Interview: Daniel Crump & Margriet Vandezande-Crump, (Dec 2021)

Posted on: December 3rd, 2021 by Simon Carter

Married couple Daniel Crump and Margriet Vandezande-Crump have rapidly developed a strong industry reputation as modern restaurateurs combined with a customer led devotion to front of house.  Here the couple speak to Simon Carter of fine dining guide about their lives and professional journeys to the present day and beyond.

Daniel Crump grew up with his mum and sister in the Torbay area.  At the age of fourteen, Daniel took a part time job as a kitchen porter, washing dishes at Orestone Manor.  This would quickly inspire the young would-be restaurateur to open his own café in the family garage.  Assisted in this venture by his father figure grandfather, he acquired the necessary second hand furniture and equipment to make Dan’s Café. “I was selling hot chocolates and cappuccinos to local school kids at three tables in a quiet cul de sac garage,” explains Daniel.  After getting involved in a charitable campaign through the local Herald Express, the café  was placed in the public eye. Unfortunately, this led the council to take a closer look and close it down as it held none of the appropriate licenses or certificates to run as a hospitality business.  There was some backlash however, with parents of the local kids who frequented the café protesting the council decision, which stirred up further interest in the local press.  “Sadly, the café was never to return,” reflects Daniel.

In his final two years at secondary school, Daniel was invited to spend one day a week on work experience.  He jumped at the chance and continued his association with Orestone Manor.  Every Friday he carefully shadowed the restaurant manager, making notes on the role.  Daniel also experienced The Elephant in Torquay (which today has a Michelin Star under Simon Hulstone), as well as time invested at The Imperial Hotel. After leaving school he worked at various hotels, restaurants and pubs in Devon and then around the country before going to London.  A real eye opener came when working the opening of Petrus, followed by a year in front of house at Roussillon in Pimlico.

Margriet Vandezande-Crump initially studied hospitality management in Bruges, a course which included an introduction to wine.  Margriet developed her love of wine through family, who were often holidaying around Europe from their home in Belgium.  They visited interesting regions from Champagne to Cognac.  She then joined the Yachts of Seabourn where she and Daniel would meet.  Daniel had reached 21 when he turned to The Yachts of Seabourn. “A £360m yacht with 200 staff for 400 guests, you had to complete a month’s academy and pass all the tests before you were even allowed in the dining room,” explains Daniel.   At the end of their second year’s contract with the company, the couple decided that they would move to London.  Daniel confesses to have always been a Gordon Ramsay enthusiast, “for me it was the pure dedication and passion to succeed at something, if you want to achieve the heights at anything you have to live and breathe your subject relentlessly.”  In 2012, Daniel was offered a trial at his idol’s ‘home’ Gordon Ramsay RHR. At the age of 24 he was proud to be made head waiter of the restaurant.  “I felt completely at home there, everyone knew they had to really care or they simply wouldn’t survive,” he explains. In terms of a career long mentor,  “I have looked up to Jean-Claude Breton since day one at Gordon Ramsay, he was my boss and mentor, but we are still in regular contact and while he’s still ‘the boss,’ I like to call him a friend,” says Daniel.

While Daniel had joined Gordon Ramsay, Margriet took a role at restaurant Trinity in Clapham, working for chef Adam Byatt.  Over the next two and a half years she was promoted to assistant restaurant manager, while being sponsored to complete Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2. Margriet found Simon Bezuidenhout, then manager at Trinity, an inspiration in her career development as he was able to manage the blend of personalities that worked at the restaurant.  This allowed him to achieve the best out of each individual as well as maximise team performance every day. “We gelled so well, the old team still meet up frequently and we are good friends to this day,” explains Margriet, “Simon also helped me improve, I learnt so many aspects, from enhancing wine knowledge through to calculating gross profit.” She was then approached to work at Petrus for a year, where Margriet completed her WSET Level 3.

The Oxford Blue at Old Windsor was their next adventure.  Chef Steven Ellis had been approached while at Gordon Ramsay RHR to open his own restaurant, who in turn asked Daniel and Margriet to run the front of house.  Across the next four years, as well as excelling at front of house, the couple learned much of the skills required to be successful restaurateurs. At the same time, Margriet had completed the Introduction to The Court of Master Sommeliers.

After a period of careful search, they acquired the freehold of The Greyhound in Beaconsfield. From April to November 2019 the site was completely refurbished, “we opened a month before Christmas, started brilliantly, then three months later the global pandemic struck, bringing with it the lockdowns,” shrugs Daniel.   Upon reflection, Margriet highlights that “social media played a vital role during this time, allowing us to remain present, active, visible and relevant.” To which Daniel adds, “The outreach has been incredible, we’re fortunate to be followed by thousands of people and keeping them updated with what we have been doing has been key.” The flip side is key, too and the couple take constructive customer feedback through digital media very seriously.  “All information that can be used to help us improve is eagerly taken on board,” says Daniel. During the initial opening of The Greyhound, Margriet became a certified sommelier with The Court of Master Sommeliers.

Coming out the other side of the pandemic has seen The Greyhound flourish, with an ever growing loyal customer base.  Daniel’s front of house philosophy is that each table represents a bubble, “and as you step into that bubble – say a table for four – it is your world and that you must leave that bubble in a happy and satisfied state,” he explains. Creating the comfort that makes the guests want to come back is a fundamental objective of service. Naturally, each guest is an individual and each will have their own feelings as to what makes them comfortable, “some may like to chat, some may not, it’s our job to figure out how best to manage each individual,” points out Daniel. 

In terms of staff management, the couple see the old adage of teaching skills to those with the right attitude.  “They are provided the tools to grow through responsibility in their key interests,” explains Margriet.  Team members will experience constructive criticism as well as praise and encouragement, “most importantly we will lead them, so that it becomes a confident second nature to everyone to be doing the right things,” outlines Daniel.  As a case in point, assistant manager Andrew, has been with them the entire journey. “As well as his passion for service, Andrew showed a real interest on the beverage side so we sponsored him through WSET Level 2, I now take him to wine tastings, he speaks to suppliers and makes the wine orders, he’s thriving as my right hand man,” explains Margriet. 

The couple have a strong focus on staff training, providing an hour and half of daily education.  In addition, there’s daily briefings based around feedback from the previous service as well as expectation setting of the services going forward.  All areas may be covered including providing practice on the fundamentals; like holding a chair, taking an order, crumbing a table, checking the rest rooms within a minute and a half and so on.  Margriet will include wine tasting and analysis, particularly of those wines that are matched with the tasting menu of the day, thus enabling accurate explanations of those decisions to guests.  The staff are given a form of exam monthly, which allows Daniel and Margriet to understand the status of staff knowledge.  “It might be fifty questions on wine, beer, cider, cheese, tea, coffee or service,” explains Daniel. “Then we’ll drill down to specifically cover Bordeaux or Burgundy or South West wines that feature on the list, or if it’s cheese, individual cheese knowledge,” he adds.  The restaurateur philosophy of the couple, which considers front of house and back office, finds that the two aspects of the business both require discipline along with the overarching concept of putting the guest experience first.

A significant component of that experience is the wine and trends in this area have expanded the possibilities to restaurants, Margriet explains, “the Beaconsfield customer base enjoy the classics – Bordeaux and Burgundy – but are not afraid to be a little adventurous.”  As an example, the tasting menu sees veal sweetbreads matched with a Sivi Pinot from Slovenia which has been thoroughly tasted and analysed with the team. In this way guests enjoy something they would not have chosen themselves. Guests are thirsty for knowledge transfer and this is enabled through including examples of organic, biodynamic, vegan, vegetarian or lower alcohol wines on the list.  All these things represent increasing relevancy in the top end restaurant world.  With respect to inspector led guides, like Michelin, the AA and The Good Food Guide, the couple see themselves as using all of them to help discern their dining out choices and so expect their guests to do likewise. “They’re a benchmark of quality and as such it’s a privilege for any restaurant to be included in these publications,” adds Daniel.

Looking to the future, the couple are launching The Greyhound Hospitality Programme (GHP) aimed at school students.  The idea came from Daniel’s experience at school and how much work experience helped him in his personal and professional development.  They will visit local schools and do a Q&A session with students on hospitality before choosing one or two to come and join them with a bespoke programme.  Should they have the right profile they will offer them something at The Greyhound or help place them in their hospitality careers, “either way maintaining contact,” says Daniel. Daniel Crump & Margriet Vandezande-Crump have made The Greyhound a warm, friendly and welcoming restaurant that takes every aspect of being a restaurant very seriously, above all it is utterly professional.  A shining industry example of best of breed in so many attributes.  fine dining guide will follow their progress with interest and long may that progress continue!

Chef Interview: Ryan & Liam Simpson-Trotman, Orwells (Nov 2021)

Posted on: November 22nd, 2021 by Simon Carter

Since 2007, Ryan & Liam Simpson-Trotman have successfully combined their relationship outside of work with their professional lives as top end restaurant chefs.  With contrasting paths to mastering their craft, each brings a temperament and skill set to balance the other.  Indeed, the output from their kitchen demonstrates a consistent balance and harmony on a plate, a maturity of composition and a mastery of numerous cooking techniques.  Here Ryan & Liam discuss their work and lives with Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide.  

[Liam, left and Ryan, right]

Ryan Simpson-Trotman grew up in Nuneaton with parents and brother Callum.  His original work experience was following a dream to design cars at Jaguar but was quickly influenced one summer by a trip to France with his aunt: the food and lifestyle were so appealing that he was enrolled in Hinkley College to start his culinary training, the final two years of which was to be in Roanne, France. In all Ryan spent six years in France covering the great kitchens of Le Maison Troisgros through to Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire.  The latter allowed him to return to the UK at The Gallery Restaurant at Sketch.  A sous chef opportunity arose at The Elephant in Torquay under Simon Hulstone which had a Michelin Star. 

Liam Simpson-Trotman tells a more homegrown story; born and bred in Liverpool, the son of a fruit and veg market trader, he was originally inspired by a geography teacher at school and considered teaching as a profession.  However, having passed all his GCSEs, two more years at school did not appeal.  By this time Liam was cooking three course meals at home with his brother and sister as waiters and dishwashers, “I’d prepare some soup, chicken and made the best chocolate fondant,” exclaims Liam, smiling.  Three years at Liverpool college followed, which he enjoyed as “you were treated like an adult rather than a naughty school boy.”  Gary Manning at 60 Hope Street was his first head chef, whose restaurant had three rosettes.  At the age of 19 Liam left Liverpool for Dartmoor and at the time, the Peter de Savary owned Bovey Castle.  Living on the moor, walks, trips to the beach and meeting Ryan within the first two years are his abiding memories. Liam was also inspired as a customer by the fine dining experience of the Michelin One Star John Burton-Race at The Angel in Dartmouth, where the quality of the seasoning stood out. “It wasn’t until I was twenty-one at Bovey Castle that I really got seasoning,” explains Liam, “taste, taste, taste, I was told by the head chef and one day I just came into work on garnish and seasoning just fell into place.”  Ryan’s perspective on seasoning came at Le Maison Troisgros, “I’d always thought of seasoning as salt and pepper but here the balance of salt, sugar and acidity with appropriate texture became clear to me,” he explains.

Ryan and Liam are in agreement that the older generation have proven the most inspirational mentors, starting in their childhood, where family time sat round a table for dinner was the norm.  Watching parents, aunties and uncles, or grandparents being creative with food.  Liam’s grandmother would always be boiling or stewing, fish or pork, through to making dumplings or even pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.  Ryan’s family enjoyed hunting, shooting rabbit and game or fishing and he experienced game pie and fresh fish. Reflecting on cooking generally, Ryan suggests, “I might have just cooked an omelette as a kid, but the pure love of food has always provided an inspiration from within.”   Years later, when Ryan & Liam met, they shared in common the inspiration of owning David Everitt-Matthias’ book Essence. Ryan adds, “I loved going to Books for Cooks in Portobello Road,” and also enjoyed the published work of Michel Bras and Bernard Loiseau.  The quality of what they cook today also comes from an accumulated respect for the chefs they have worked for combined with respect for the natural ingredients – whether it is produce from the garden, through to a piece of fish or meat, they pride themselves on delivering dishes that exhibit the best of their true flavours.

In 2007, the pair were six months into their relationship, when they briefly moved together to Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire, before in 2008 joining The Goose at Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, which achieved a Michelin Star within 18 months.   Since 2010, with £15,000 scraped together from family and friends, Ryan & Liam took on the lease from Brakspear of Orwells. The property had the benefit of living accommodation upstairs.  They have transformed the former pub into an award winning restaurant. Located in Binfield Heath, between Sonning and Henley, it is  best described as somewhere off the beaten track.  However, in true Michelin parlance, Orwells is well worth the detour. The nod to the red guide is intentional – a ‘brigade’ of two chefs, delivering exemplary output service in service out to maybe thirty covers – all of which is complemented by an ever growing satisfied customer base. When considered together these observations make the omission of a star by Michelin quite a baffling one.  This is not lost on most who visit, including those in the kitchen.  “We’ve never cooked better food, we’re at a high level, so much better than over ten years ago at The Goose (where we had a Michelin Star),” suggests Ryan.  In terms of produce, they will source the best available; sometimes this involves local artisan suppliers and an accent is placed on these, although sometimes it will be from abroad and where fish is concerned there is a preference for line caught or day boat. “We’ve got a great relationship with our suppliers and that makes menu decisions easier,” explains Ryan.

In terms of menu rotation, it is more than seasonal at Orwells, should a dish last a full three months then it will have evolved significantly over the period.  Ryan & Liam prefer to be constantly challenging themselves creatively and providing new dishes to guests on a regular basis.  This means that as well as rotating more than seasonally, they eschew the practice of maintaining three signatures per season.  Indeed, the old school ‘Michelin Institutions’ might go the step further of bringing back sixty percent plus of the menu year on year.  Ryan considers it a myth that their practice makes mastery of consistency more difficult; “we take the best produce available at any given time, whereas were we forced to maintain a dish for an extended period, then the quality of produce may vary, which will affect the level of consistency,” he explains, “as one example, Turbot has a period where it is full of roe, so it would be a compromise were it a signature during that time.”

The pair now have a significant amount of profile raising media work under their belts, having appeared on Great British Menu (GBM) five times between them (Ryan three times and Liam twice) but their favourite appearances have been with James Martin.  “It’s relaxed, Ryan and I just cooking, chatting about Orwells and really having fun with James,” says Liam.  In other media encounters the chefs have got to know Wolfgang Puck and Pierre Koffmann, an opportunity that both have enjoyed.  Liam’s overarching view of media work is a sense of pride, in particular having represented the North West (Liverpool) twice on GBM, “I was actually quite emotional about it, it was a real honour to be in that position!” He says.  As well as TV, digital and print media and word of mouth are all seen as crucial in equal measures.  “We take good care of our customers and seek to harvest and protect the word of mouth enjoyed by the restaurant,” considers Ryan, “The Good Food Guide has been very good for us, too” adds Liam.  Giles Coren, Tom Parker-Bowles and Kathryn Flett have all visited, the former led to their joining the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  In addition, social media has become increasingly important, “particularly Instagram for the visual imagery and Facebook for a variety of customer demographic,” suggests Liam.  The pair also maintain a distribution list of over six thousand contacts for a regular email update newsletter

[Orwells Interior]

Ryan’s infectious enthusiasm and general excitement about his daily routine breathe confidence that the pair would achieve whatever ambitions they should choose to pursue.  As Liam points out, “Ryan has his dream of owning and running a fine dining restaurant, I always dreamt of having a high quality pub.”  By the spring of 2022, the pair plan to make both dreams come true as they schedule the opening of The Plough pub, having acquired the freehold of the now derelict Plowden Arms, a stone’s throw away in Shiplake.  The venture is very much in the planning stage and the message is watch this space for updates as the project completion date draws closer.  In terms of the future, the pair believe they can increasingly contribute to the development of young chefs.  They see with 16-20 year old chefs, that one of three things can happen; they experience far too rough a time in kitchens that puts them off the profession, second, they want to rise through the ranks too quickly without mastering the fundamentals, third that they have a pre-(mis)conception that hospitality is not a viable career or profession.  Ryan & Liam feel they could offer the knowledge and experience to fix all three of these things and provide high quality personal and professional development for would be apprentices.  This may involve working alongside colleges or providing their kitchen as a training ground. 

So, while Orwells goes from strength to strength, the future is full of growth and opportunity, one that their loyal customers look forward to, as the culinary journey offers a satisfying and rewarding experience.  Ryan & Liam will continue to develop their cooking, as a natural professional evolution is in their nature, leading to the exciting expectation that the next visit will exceed those ever impressive meals that have gone before and long may that continue….

AA Media: Rosette Announcements (Oct 2021)

Posted on: November 1st, 2021 by Simon Carter

London. 27 October 2021. The AA has announced its 2021 Rosette Award winners in a virtual ceremony today, recognising those restaurants achieving the highest culinary standards in the UK. Three restaurants have been awarded four AA Rosettes, while a further sixteen have been awarded three AA Rosettes.

Restaurants receiving four AA Rosettes are Forest Side (Grasmere, Cumbria), Mana (Manchester) and Tuddenham Mill (Newmarket, Suffolk), while those awarded three AA Rosettes include Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay (London), new Glaswegian dining destination UNALOME by Graeme Cheevers (Glasgow), and French bistro L’Ortolan (Shinfield, Berkshire).

Establishments with three AA Rosettes are all outstanding restaurants achieving standards which demand national recognition well beyond their local area, while those awarded four AA Rosettes are considered among the top restaurants in the country.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media said “As the hospitality sector reopens after a challenging year, it is an honour to be able to recognise those restaurants achieving the highest levels of gastronomic excellence. All 2021 Rosette winners deserve to be celebrated, with each one demonstrating the exceptional culinary standards being offered to diners across the country.”

New four AA Rosettes:

Forest Side, Grasmere, Cumbria

Mana, Manchester

Tuddenham Mill, Newmarket, Suffolk

New three AA Rosettes:

Chutney Mary, London, SW1

Farmyard, Norwich, Norfolk

KOL Restaurant, London, W1

Myrtle Restaurant, London, SW1

Ormer Mayfair, London W1

L’Ortolan, Shinfield, Berkshire

Pentonbridge Inn, Pentonbridge, Cumbria

Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay, London, SW1

Roots York, York

SO LA, London, W1

Station Road, Fort Augustus, Highlands

The Bow Room Restaurant at Grays Court, York

The Clock House, Ripley, Surrey

The Grill at The Dorchester, London, W1

The Princess of Shoreditch, London, EC2

UNALOME by Graeme Cheevers, Glasgow

Now in its 65th year, AA Rosettes have been awarded to restaurants since 1956, with the top award of five Rosettes being introduced in 1991. The allocation of multi-Rosettes is determined by one or more visits by an AA inspector to a hotel or restaurant.

The announcement of the latest AA Rosette winners accompanies the release of The Restaurant Guide 2022 on 28th October 2021. The Restaurant Guide 2022 features all current AA Rosette holders, recognizing the top dining destinations across the UK and Ireland.

To discover more top restaurants go to

About the restaurants:

Forest Side, Grasmere, Cumbria

As the name suggests, Forest Side occupies a verdant setting and the spacious dining room celebrates views of both the garden and surrounding forest. Elegant but rustic, linen napkins and local pottery wares are a talking point, as are tables fashioned out of old floor boards. Paul Leonard’s exciting modern approach includes 8- or 4-course tasting menus that evolve with the seasons. Expect solid technical skills and big flavours conjured from high quality local ingredients. Raw aged Cumbrian deer turns up with smoked fresh cheese, wood sorrel and swede before moving on to native lobster barbecued over forest pine with tomatoes, elder and fennel. Top drawer Lakeland Dexter beef appears with alliums from the garden and forest, with preserved raspberry, meadowsweet and custard a stand-out dessert. The carefully chosen wine list is full of interesting bottles and the knowledgeable sommelier is on hand should choices become too tricky.

Mana, Manchester

Situated on a cobbled street in Manchester, Mana has a minimalist look with high ceilings and picture windows. Dramatic darkwood tables are unclothed and an open island-style kitchen is populated by chefs sending out some highly accomplished Nordic-influenced cooking. Multi-course menus deliver dishes that are highly technical, intelligent and masterfully constructed to balance flavours and textures, with fermentation and fire contributing to the skills set. Expect to find the finest raw materials underpinning the likes of unpreserved caviar with sorrel and caramelised cream; a trimmed oyster with iced dill, English Wasabi and macerated oyster leaf; ‘fillets’ of Devonshire blue mussel with garlic ‘cooked for two months’; smoked Scottish sea trout with ‘inoculated’ grains, and 100% outdoor raised Dexter Beef with ‘all the artichoke’. The sweet end of the menu brings wild fig soft serve with marigold and fermented honey, and ‘still-hot’ doughnut with Islay whisky custard.

Tuddenham Mill, Newmarket, Suffolk

From the outside, the weatherboarded 18th-century Tuddenham Mill looks solid enough to carry on its grinding career today, but a peek inside the doors reveals a seductive modern boutique hotel. Meticulous renovation means its heritage remains intact – the fast-flowing stream that turned its waterwheel is now a thriving wildlife habitat, while the impressive cast-iron wheel that was once its beating heart is atmospherically lit within glass walls to form a centrepiece to the first-floor restaurant. With its framework of exposed beams, bare black tables, gauzy curtain partitions and views over the millpond, it’s a classy setting for chef-patron Lee Bye’s confident cooking. As a local lad, he’s in touch with his East Anglian roots and has an instinctive feel for combining ingredients from the surrounding region to good effect, thus a typical opener strikes a balance between no-nonsense and contemporary refinement via langoustines with caviar, beurre blanc and Japanese cresses, a simple yet stunning dish in terms of texture and flavours. Fish dishes such as Gigha halibut with wild nettles, smoked eel and cobnuts are equally well handled. Desserts are executed with memorable dexterity, bringing entertaining plays of flavour and texture in ideas such bitter chocolate marquise served with tiramisù cream and honeycomb. Again, it sounds straightforward in terms of the simplicity of the dish, but a beautifully smooth, rich chocolate flavoured marquise and the well-balanced subtle flavour of the tiramisù cream is a great combination.

Chutney Mary, London, SW1

New meets old at this stylish St James’s restaurant with its hybrid of classical and modern décor. The smart doorman sets the tone at this classy venue, likewise the glittering Pukka Bar for cocktails. But its main dining room is the real jewel in the crown complete with mirrored columns and soft lighting. The creative Indian cuisine runs to inspiring combinations with luxurious touches and well-dressed presentation. Baked venison samosas, tamarind and date chutney might precede halibut tikka with dill and green chilli. A dark chocolate ‘bomb’ filled with milk chocolate mousse and passionfruit sauce is a skilful dessert.

Farmyard, Norwich, Norfolk

The philosophy at this modern and minimalist restaurant in the heart of the city is quite simple – find the very best Norfolk produce and serve it in a relaxed bistro setting. From the sourdough to the handmade butter, everything is made from scratch, with meat, fish and vegetables cooked over charcoal for added flavour. From the daily-changing menu, a tender piece of belly pork with Chinese-style XO sauce and BBQ onions might lead on to roasted rump of lamb with celeriac, mushroom and fenugreek. Finish with a home-made chocolate bar with miso caramel, candied peanuts and milk sorbet.

KOL Restaurant, London, W1

This hot-spot new Mexican feels unlike dining anywhere else in the capital. Warm tones and textures, beams, leather seating, eye-catching lighting and displays of heritage items create an engaging authentic buzz, reinforced by a centrepiece open kitchen. Uptempo, yet relaxed, Lastra’s kitchen turns out labour-intensive, prettily plated super-modern dishes on a repertoire of tasting menus (with a choice at mains) that express Mexican culture and innovation through British ingredients, while also championing wild foods and seasonality. Bright, fresh, colourful flavours dance on the palette with chilli used hyper-skilfully in many forms; witness a ‘tostada’ course of chalk stream trout with pasilla Oaxaca, courgette, berries and wild garlic.

Myrtle Restaurant, London, SW1

First solo venture from Irish-born chef Anna Haugh (known to a wider audience from her TV appearances on the BBC’s ‘Morning Live’ or ‘Saturday Kitchen’), Myrtle sees her deservedly step out into the limelight after working in some of London’s top kitchens for celebrated chefs like Philip Howard, Shane Osborne and Gordon Ramsay. Small, two-floored, light-filled and relaxed, Myrtle speaks with a soft, endearing Irish accent, with Haugh’s intelligently simple yet refined, elegant dishes driven by top-notch Irish produce: witness, Clonakilty black pudding wrapped in crispy string potato with Bramley apple and pearl barley, and to follow, Oat-crusted hake with smoked mackerel chowder and spinach.

Ormer Mayfair, London W1

Befitting of a hotel restaurant with a swanky Mayfair postcard, Omer ticks all the ‘luxury’ boxes with its marble tiles, distressed mirrors, linen-clad tables and sumptuous green leather chairs. Chef Sofian Msetfi offers a range of tasting menus at lunch and dinner, each showcasing his precise and technically skilled modern British dishes. Start with warm Ibérico ham jelly, Parmesan, Bramley apple and nasturtium before a meltingly tender rump and confit breast of Dorset lamb with cucumber and dill. Kentish strawberries, kefir and extra virgin olive oil is one way to finish, or perhaps the board of seasonal British cheeses.

L’Ortolan, Shinfield, Berkshire

A country-house style restaurant set in an elegant red-brick former vicarage with Gothic-style front door and bow-fronted windows, L’Ortolan is a name synonymous with modern British gastronomy since the 1980s. Now, talented young chef James Greatorex is the man in ‘whites’, delivering sophisticated, highly detailed, aspiring contemporary cooking via carte and tasting menus. Dishes come dressed to thrill, with flavour, texture, balance and precision to the fore; witness ‘melting’ citrus cured Cornish mackerel teamed with cucumber and buttermilk, or ‘sparkling fresh’ Cornish cod ballotine with clams, sea herbs and watercress. Fine-dining standards like canapés, bread, pre-desserts and petit fours round of a polished act, alongside professional and informed service.

Pentonbridge Inn, Pentonbridge, Cumbria

Just on the English side of the border but closer to Scottish towns, this fully refurbished inn has built a sound reputation for good food. There’s a blend of modern and traditional inside, with exposed brick, log burning stoves and a stylish decor. Much of the produce used for the imaginative menus comes from the owner’s nearby estate and gardens. Solid technical skill underpins the dishes, which are big on flavour and precision presentation. Cornish crab with quail egg caviar and leek and potato foam might precede Cartmel Valley red deer, crispy haggis, neeps and tatties with bone marrow sauce.

Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay, London, SW1

Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay is very much a fine dining environment with service of the highest order. The dining room has a circular dynamic with a glass wine cellar in the middle. It’s comfortable, modern and light; think leather chairs and white linen, and pastel tones jazzed up by splashes of claret. All crockery, cutlery and glassware is of the highest standard. The menu may start with an organic egg with sweet corn, bacon and black truffle, continue to Cornish cod with violet artichoke, pine nuts, courgette and olive, and wind up in a delicious hazelnut souffle with salted caramel ice cream. Outstanding wine list.

Roots York, York

Sister restaurant to Tommy Banks’s celebrated Black Swan at Oldstead, this relaxed restaurant in the heart of York occupies a characterful 19th-century building. Light wood panelling, coloured glass windows and an open kitchen combine to create a relaxed and informal setting overseen by a well-drilled team. A seasonal tasting menu is the only option on offer, many of the dishes showcasing produce from the chef’s family farm. Menu descriptions are concise but hide the amount of work and skill involved. Inventive flavour pairings are evident in dishes such as ‘trout, carrot, whey’ and ‘monkfish, smoked butter, pickled mussel’.

SO LA, London, W1

Victor Garvey brings an authentic piece of California to this intimate Dean Street restaurant, where an abundance of greenery and warm lighting evokes memories of The Golden State. The contemporary cooking of America’s Pacific West Coast is served up with a dash of theatre. The cooking of top drawer ingredients is elegant and precise, as in a dish that celebrates Scombridae (the mackerel, tuna, and bonito family) in its raw, cured and smoked forms. It might be followed by a pairing of langoustine, foie gras, mushroom, ginger and dashi. Lemon, vanilla, yuzu, meringue and crème fraîche is a refreshing finale.

Station Road, Fort Augustus, Highlands

Station Road is on the edge of Loch Ness, near the Caledonian Canal, so the surroundings are impressive to say the least. The kitchen here seeks to reflect these surroundings and does an outstanding job. Locally sourced seafood and other produce feature alongside foraged ingredients on an imaginative menu.

The Bow Room Restaurant at Grays Court, York

The Bow Room Restaurant is part of the historic Grays Court, the oldest continuously inhabited house with links back to the 11th century. The 90ft-long gallery is delightful and features a bay window with views out to the city walls and the hotel grounds. The impressive kitchen garden supplies the all-day food options, which features exciting contemporary British dishes. Menu descriptions may be terse but they disguise the huge amount of skill involved. Wild sea trout paired with cucumber, pea and mint is one of the successful flavour combinations, as is a dessert of lemon, gooseberry and elderflower.

The Clock House, Ripley, Surrey

The namesake signature clock above the front door of this imposing Georgian building certainly draws the eye on well-healed Ripley’s pretty High Street. Inside is equally elegant, with on-trend pastel shades and clean lines set against stripped-back old wall timbers and tall street-side windows. A relaxed vibe extends to the informed, sunny-natured service, while chef Paul Nicholson’s thoroughbred modern cooking delivers via a roster of fixed-price menus, including tasting options. Simplicity, lightness of touch and flavour reign supreme in dressed-to-thrill dishes of panache; take ‘sparkling-fresh’ line-caught plaice with coco beans, pork and fennel to a Bakewell dessert with cherry and almond, while formal-code amuse-bouche and in-house bread are equally classy.

The Grill at The Dorchester, London, W1

The revamped restaurant at the heart of The Dorchester presents a contemporary reworking of the legendary British grill room first established in 1931. The chandeliers, parquet floor and intricate gilded ceilings provide a glamorous backdrop for a meal here, with some diners seated close to the action in front of the open kitchen. Start with veal sweetbread, potato pancake, bacon and cabbage before a precisely cooked piece of first-rate Cornish turbot with borlotti beans and grelot onion. Yoghurt soft serve, apricots, London Honey and almonds is a clean and refreshing finale, although the soufflés are as good as ever.

The Princess of Shoreditch, London, EC2

Dating back to 1742, this popular place is a lively pub with three rotating ales on hand pump, around 40 bottled beers and canned craft beers and a range of wines. On the pub menu there’s steamed Scottish mussels in chilli, garlic and parsley; and shepherd’s pie and roasted root vegetables. There is a 42-seater candlelit dining room accessed via a spiral staircase where the regularly changing menu might feature 35-day aged Hereford rib of beef to share with maple glazed carrots and buttered kale, followed by spiced sultana ice cream, honeycomb and orange jelly.

UNALOME by Graeme Cheevers, Glasgow

After working for Martin Wishart in Loch Lomond, Graeme Cheevers has returned to his home city of Glasgow to open his first solo restaurant. A light-filled corner site on Sauchiehall Street, it’s a classy dining room with brass and muted greens, a polished parquet floor and minimalist table setup. The kitchen is completely open, allowing diners to watch the focused chefs conjure tip-top Scottish produce into modern British dishes underpinned by classic technique. Veal sweetbreads, asparagus, pickled walnut and preserved lemon might lead on to a precisely cooked fillet of bass with caramelised onion and vin jaune sauce.

About AA Media

AA Media connects the UK with travel ideas and rated hospitality businesses. It includes AA Hotel & Hospitality Services, which rates and publishes information about the hospitality industry, including hotels, guest accommodation and restaurants. They introduced the renowned star rating scheme for quality in 1908 and have inspected restaurants for the Rosette award since 1956. Every year, they publish a well-established range of lifestyle publications such as the camping and restaurant guides.

Radio Interview (February 2021)

Posted on: February 7th, 2021 by Simon Carter

Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide participated in a radio interview with the Independent FM station ‘iNCAPABLE STAiRCASE’ You can hear the interview here, Simon appears 47 minutes into the broadcast or 40 minutes form the end:-

A tip – to rewind or replay parts of the interview you will need to reload the page to reset the widget. Thank you.

AA (Rated Trips) New Rosette Awards Press Release (Nov 2020)

Posted on: October 27th, 2020 by Simon Carter

London. 27th October 2020. The AA has today announced its latest round of Rosette Award winners, celebrating dining destinations with the highest quality culinary offerings in the country. Four British restaurants have been awarded four AA Rosettes, while an incredible twenty-six have received three AA Rosettes, a record number for a single announcement.

Receiving a prestigious four AA Rosettes are The Latymer, Pennyhill Park (Bagshot, Surrey), Muse (London), Ocean Restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel (Jersey), and The Ritz Restaurant (London). Restaurants awarded three AA Rosettes include The Old Stamp House (Ambleside, Cumbria), housed in the former office of William Wordsworth, Frenchie Covent Garden (London), cousin of the original Parisian eatery, and Great British Menu winner Shaun Rankin’s eponymous Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall (Ripon, North Yorkshire).

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media said “This has been an immensely difficult year for the hospitality industry, and yet restaurants across the country have continued to provide incredible dining experiences to the public despite these considerable challenges. The dedication and hard work of the teams behind these establishments is inspiring, particularly during this time, and we are pleased to be able to celebrate them with the announcement of these AA Rosettes.”

Three AA Rosettes are awarded to restaurants achieving standards that demand national recognition beyond their local area, while those which receive four AA Rosettes are deemed to be among the best in the UK and Ireland.

New four AA Rosettes:

Ocean Restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel, Jersey

Muse, London, SW1

The Ritz Restaurant, London, W1

The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey

New three AA Rosettes:

The Vineyard, Newbury, Berkshire

Driftwood, Portscatho, Cornwall

The Old Stamp House, Ambleside, Cumbria

The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, Gloucestershire

Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, Highland

Hide and Fox, Hythe, Kent

The Barn at Moor Hall, Ormskirk, Lancashire

Davies & Brook, London, W1

Frenchie Covent Garden, London, WC2
Hide Above, London, W1

Les 110 Des Taillevent, London, W1

The Betterment by Jason Atherton, London, W1

The Dysart, Petersham, Greater London

The Northall, London, WC2

Trivet, London, SE1

Mana, Greater Manchester

Where The Light Gets In, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Murray’s, Towcester, Northamptonshire

Minster Mill, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders

The Haughmond, Upton Magna, Shropshire

The Boat Inn, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Interlude, Lower Beeding, West Sussex

Goldsborough Hall, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, Ripon, North Yorkshire

The Pheasant, Harome, North Yorkshire

AA Rosettes have been awarded to restaurants since 1956, with the top award of five Rosettes first introduced in 1991. The multi rosettes are traditionally awarded in January and September each year, with success determined by one or more visits by an AA inspector to a hotel or restaurant.

To discover more top restaurants go to

About AA Hotel & Hospitality Services

In 1908, the AA introduced a new scheme to highlight ‘leading hotels’. It followed this in 1912 by adding star ratings, inspired by a similar system for rating brandy. In 1956, the AA introduced the Rosette awards – the first nationwide awards for recognising restaurants. Today, the AA continues to provide establishments with professional ratings and they are a valued symbol of quality for both consumers and the hospitality industry.

About the restaurants:

4 Rosettes

The Ritz Restaurant, London W1

At the Ritz Restaurant the experience features tailcoated waiters serving cloche-covered plates of luxurious food. Why not start with a glass of bubbly in the art deco Rivoli Bar to prepare your senses for the extravagant opulence of the dining room – a space to rival Versailles Palace, with its rich Louis XVI-inspired decor of murals, painted ceilings, statues and glittering chandeliers reflecting from mirrored walls. An army of waiting staff pulls off a correctly polite performance with theatrical classic tableside service that avoids any hint of stuffiness. Auguste Escoffier would find no fault with the whole show, although the odd Gallic eyebrow might be raised at distinctively contemporary reworkings of classics – the likes of hay-smoked veal sweetbreads with caramelised shallot and Madeira sauce. Next up, Dover sole is pointed up with new season leeks, cauliflower and caviar at dessert stage, a rather refined take on Yorkshire rhubarb with vanilla custard closes in style.

The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey

The Latymer is one of the top restaurants in the country, set in the creeper-covered Victorian manor at the heart of the 123-acre Pennyhill estate whose grounds encompass a high-powered hotel with elegant gardens, wild woodland, a less wild golf course and a swish spa. It’s a genteel and luxurious space with panelled walls and rich floral fabrics all contributing to a formal and elegant setting for food of thrilling modernity, with contemporary cooking techniques showcased on six-course tasting menus. Expect complexity, as in a highly evolved dish matching pumpkin in various guises with quail’s egg, cep powder and ice cream, or Orkney scallop with celeriac, truffle, apple and smoked eel. Another outstanding idea brings pink venison loin alongside cauliflower and almond ‘couscous’ and blackberry and bitter chocolate foam. A dessert of Itakuja chocolate délice and mango sorbet delivers wonderful flavours and textures. The wine list is a global wonder that matches the food in ambition and attainment.

Ocean Restaurant at the Atlantic Hotel, Jersey, Channel Islands

The Ocean Restaurant is the jewel in the crown of The Atlantic Hotel, a boutique retreat amid exotic palm trees in a conservation area overlooking the wild dunes of St Ouen’s Bay. The timeless sea views are best savoured from the louvred windows of the dining room, a gloriously light and airy setting with a soft-focus palette of blue, white and beige, and modern artwork on the walls. Chef Will Holland’s stellar cooking is the real draw. You might open with accurately seared scallops with salt cod brandade, carrot remoulade and sweet-and-sour carrot purée, a sensational marriage of sweet and salty savour. That could be followed by juniper-roasted venison loin with a breaded bonbon of the meat, smoked bacon choucroute, salsify and pickled blueberries, in a glossy, deeply resonant bitter chocolate jus. The showstopping finale is chocoholic heaven of cacao streusel coated with Guanaja, with 70% chocolate gelée and coffee ice cream.

Muse, London SW1

Tucked away close to Belgrave Square, Muse sees Tom Aikens’ return to the capital’s fine-dining scene, offering a multi-course tasting menu inspired by childhood memories and moments and key people form his celebrated career. A bijou, 25-cover space, Muse splits over two floors of a character mews house; there’s a few seats for cocktails and a cold kitchen downstairs, while upstairs the main action takes place, with high chairs at the marble-topped kitchen counter and dining tables and curving banquette behind. It’s intimate but relaxed, softly lit and decorated in warming pastel tones. Friendly staff and chefs bring out a succession of strikingly presented dishes to talk through, with names like ‘Conquering the Beech Tree’ or ‘Playing with fire’ supported by evocative menu descriptions, while ingredients are listed minimally (‘langoustine, pork fat, burnt apple’ or ‘Beef, Norfolk grains, Barsham stout). This is fine-tuned cooking from a flavoursmith; innovative, story-telling dishes full of flavour, balance, finesse and artistry.

3 Rosettes

The Vineyard, Newbury, Berkshire

There’s no vineyard at The Vineyard, although owner Sir Peter Michael’s world-class Californian winery supplies some pretty remarkable wines in a cellar that runs to a staggering 30,000 bottles. In fact, the super-slick operation is a stylish and sybaritic celebration of the world of wine and gastronomy, with side orders of spa pampering, luxurious accommodation and chic public areas. On the food front, Orkney scallop with chicken, grapes and marigold delivers precision and innovation in equal measure, while Berkshire Downs lamb is matched with Savoy cabbage and smoked onion purée. Expert sommeliers guide the way through that astonishing cellar, starting with around 100 available by the glass.

Driftwood, Portscatho, Cornwall

Independently owned, this beach-house-style hotel stands in seven acres on the Roseland Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Roseland, by the way, gets its name not from the flower, but from the Cornish ‘ros’, meaning a headland). A pretty woodland path hairpins its way down to the South West Coast Path and a private cove on the turquoise waters of Gerrans Bay. The restaurant, with a terrace, is bright and airy and a fitting context for technically innovative and exciting food from Olly Pierrepont. Local materials star, with expressive seafood dishes a particular strength. All but one bedroom has sea views and those on the ground floor have decking, much enjoyed by stargazers and sunseekers. There’s super-attentive service, impressive knowledge of both food and drinks from the staff, including excellent wine recommendations.

The Old Stamp House Restaurant, Ambleside, Cumbria

William Wordsworth was Cumbria’s ‘Distributor of Stamps’ back in the 19th century, and this is where he plied his trade. Today, the organic and foraged ingredients on show make this is a thoroughly modern sort of restaurant and it has become quite the foodie destination. Situated below street level and accessed via a small set of stairs, chef Ryan Blackburn and his brother Craig, who works front of house, have created something special here. Dishes are explained as they are placed. Chefs normally make a point of bringing some of the dishes themselves – Ryan likes to present a personal appearance to his strong local following. Recommendations are freely made for both food and wine indicating a deep knowledge of the product. Cumbrian local produce leads the way, with 6 or 8-course tasting menus and a smaller lunch menu. The presentation is always thoroughly creative.

The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, Gloucestershire

The Feathered Nest is a born-again country hostelry that’s seriously worth a detour. There’s pretty accommodation, too, if you fancy staying the night. The Cotswold-stone building looks good inside and out, with a contemporary country-chic interior (stone walls, flagged floors and antique furniture), the feelgood factor ramped up by real fires in winter, and bucolic views from the terrace and garden. Expect a modern British menu that fizzes with good ideas and appealing combinations – Orkney scallops with pork cheek, caramelised apple, celeriac and crackling for starters, then a big-hearted main course of Cotswold fallow deer with salt-baked parsnips, black pudding hash, braised red cabbage, parsnip and vanilla.

Hide and Fox, Hythe, Kent

Hide and Fox is set in the new One Tower Bridge development, just a stone’s throw from the bridge itself, on the ground floor of a new residential building. It’s a modern split-level, glass-walled space with some tables on the ground floor and the majority on the mezzanine level. The menu changes seasonally, the head chef champions Welsh produce, and cooking is accomplished. A starter of cured and poached salmon with horseradish Chantilly, apple and ponzu is a simply presented, vibrant dish, while loin and belly of superlative Welsh lamb is showcased alongside crushed and puréed artichoke, mint and leeks.

The Barn at Moor Hall, Ormskirk, Lancashire

In five-acre grounds with a lake and accompanied by one of the UK’s top restaurants in a glass-walled modernist extension, this boutique hideaway already has enough going for it. But if you’re not up for the full-works, culinary virtuosity of the main attraction, this little sibling is no slouch, serving up sharp contemporary food in a casual, beamed setting. Start with perfectly timed smoked haddock with red lentil dhal, cumin foam, coriander and puffed rice, then move on to a full-bore plate of pork belly with heavenly crisp crackling alongside smoked apple, morels and roasted foie gras.

Trivet, London SE1

When a new restaurant is opened by a former head chef (Jonny Lake) and master sommelier (Isa Bal) of the Fat Duck, it’s bound to garner attention and high expectation. Trivet, tucked away opposite Bermondsey’s historic Guinness Trust building, is however, refreshingly understated. The modern, clean-lined glass-fronted space features a marble bar (with separate bar menu) and two dining rooms with a focal-point open kitchen, while light, Nordic-style woods and pastel shades add warmth and keep things smack on-trend. The kitchen’s carte-format menu bristles with appeal, with Lake’s clean, confident, innovative and flawless cooking bringing ingredients to life. Take salt-steamed turbot teamed with crosnes, Jerusalem artichoke and tarragon oil, while a baked potato mille feuille dessert (with sake and white chocolate mousse, and butter and sake gelato) catches the foodie attention. Service is relaxed, cheery and informed, while Bal’s unique wine list – presented following the journey of early wine makers – starts at 7,000BC.

Les 110 de Taillevent, London W1

Ornate high ceilings, tall windows, dark-green banquettes and a showpiece bar give this classy, low-lit wine-based outfit a romantic, high-end gloss. Sibling of much-worshipped Parisian restaurant with the same moniker, it offers diners 110 by-glass wines as part of its corking list that tops 1,500 bottles. Each dish is offered with four different wine pairings, in four different price brackets and measures (70ml or 125ml). Stellar chef Ross Bryans’ modern French roster comes underscored by a classical French theme and delivers in well-dressed, perfectly executed plates clean on flavour. High skill, flair and balance shine in dishes like sea-fresh Cornish turbot teamed with Jerusalem artichoke, peacock kale and headlining sauce Albufera, while a blackcurrant soufflé, with speculoos biscuit ice cream, wows with theatre and flavour. Charming service underpins all.

The Betterment by Jason Atherton, London W1

The Betterment is the Mayfair branch of Jason Atherton’s London operations, occupying a glamorous setting in the ultra-luxurious Biltmore Hotel in Grosvenor Square, so this is not one for tight budgets. It’s the sort of glitzy spot for putting your glad rags on in anticipation of some big-hitting dishes that tease out every molecule of flavour from pedigree ingredients. Roasted Orkney scallop with braised girolles and creamy Parmesan sauce opens in fine style, while short rib with Montgomery cheddar and bone marrow is lifted by the textures of croutons and diced apple. Almond financier with caramelised white chocolate, raspberry and red pepper sorbet makes a refined finisher.

Davies and Brook, Claridge’s, London W1

Davies and Brook is named for the two streets that form the corner location of Claridge’s, wherein this rather elegant dining room is ensconced. The look is clean-lined and contemporary, with high ceilings and specially commissioned artworks adding to the chic ambience. The food comes courtesy of chef Daniel Humm, whose high-flying New York reputation translates here as dishes of thrilling flavour clarity and intensity. Dry-aged duck in a fabulous sweet-and-perfumed glaze of honey and lavender with daikon ribbons and rhubarb purée is a dish to write home about, as is a sublime combo of poached lobster with swede and pear.

Hide Above, London W1

Hide Above is the top-end, first floor restaurant of chef Ollie Dabbous’s glossy drinking and dining venue. A magnificent oak staircase curves upwards to the sleek designer space where wall-to-wall glass gives great views over the snarl of Piccadilly traffic to the leafy canopy of Green Park. Five- and eight-course tasting menus bring on cooking of exceptional precision, taking in Cornish crab broth spiked with fennel and lime leaves, then roast scallop with buckwheat dashi, golden turnips, pear and pine. Roast suckling pig comes two ways: tenderloin with cauliflower purée, capers and raisins, followed by shoulder with mustard sauce, hispi cabbage and black pudding crumb.

Frenchie Covent Garden, London WC2

Smack in the heart of Covent Garden, Frenchie is the London outpost of chef-patron Gregory Marchand, who splits his time chiefly between his Paris restaurant and WC2. Cool, smart and buzzy, this relaxed modern French brasserie rocks, with spot-on service, innovative cuisine and on-trend good looks. The long street-level room comes with eye-catching lighting and a dining bar, while bare brick, wooden floors and marble or stainless steel tabletops embrace the mood, and downstairs features an open kitchen. Creative, ambitious modern French dishes have equal appeal; witness steamed Cornish cod teamed with mussels, cauliflower, dill and whey, or a classy praline and calamansi Paris-Brest finale.

The Dysart Petersham, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Greater London

The Dysart occupies a 1904 Arts and Crafts building with original leaded windows and wooden window frames facing south over Richmond Park. Sunshine streams in on bright days, and a low-key jazz soundtrack floats around the elegant room. Kenneth Culhane’s confident and sure-footed cooking delivers some fascinating, intricately detailed dishes full of subtle interplays of taste and texture. A sublime oxtail risotto made with gold-standard acquerello aged rice and enriched with bone marrow and pickled chilli gets off to a flying start, followed by a beautifully balanced plate of aged Devon duck with orange-braised chicory and prune sauce. Lemon verbena crème brûlée is a masterclass in simplicity.

Where the Light Gets In, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Where the Light Gets In occupies a hipster-friendly industrial-chic former warehouse that’s fully in tune with contemporary sensibilities and the industrial heritage of the town. Music is loud, the vibe is casual and chefs deliver dishes hot-foot to tables. A procession of small dishes – up to 15 – takes in current trends for fermenting, pickling and sustainability. Along the way expect to encounter the likes of pickled kohlrabi with verbena leaves, butter curds and gooseberry compote; preserved red mullet with tomato water and brown butter, and a hands-on taco-style dish of pork rump with fermented bread miso and preserved cucumber.

Mana, Manchester, Greater Manchester

Mana has at its heart an open island kitchen from where chefs send out some highly accomplished Nordic-influenced cooking. In tune with the Scandi sensibilities, the space is sparsely minimal, albeit in a classy mode with darkwood tables and all-round designer sleekness. Multi-course menus deliver dishes that are highly technical, very clever and masterfully constructed to balance flavours and textures. Expect to find the finest British materials underpinning the likes of Lindisfarne oyster, English wasabi and fermented cabbage; caramelised scallop chawanmushi; poached turbot with smoked eel, sorrel and dill, and salt-aged duck hung over burning charcoal with bread sauce.

Murrays, Whittlebury Park, Towcester, Northamptonshire

Murrays is the pole-position dining option at Whittlebury Hall, a plush neo-Georgian hotel with a Rolls Royce of a spa and serious golfing just a Ferrari’s roar away from Silverstone. While the slick front-of-house team help diners relax in the slow lane, the kitchen hits top gear with modern British cooking. A starter of Devonshire crab with Granny Smith apple and avocado grabs the attention with its layering of flavours and textures, while loin and sweetbreads of lamb with baby leek terrine and celeriac turns up at main course stage. For pudding, a high-octane confection of chocolate, gianduja and praline cream is a winner.

Minster Mill, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Minster Mill has plenty going for it: a rather glamorous Cotswold-stone boutique hotel by the River Windrush with a sybaritic spa and an atmospheric restaurant  replete with vaulted ceilings and original oak beams. The kitchen led by Tom Moody along with his team of highly skilled chefs sends out an appealing fusion of contemporary and classic British ideas built on top-quality ingredients. Thoughtful, sharply executed dishes kick off with a plump scallop, perfectly caramelised, topped with subtle tandoori spicing and balanced by the sharpness of yoghurt, cucumber and apple. Main-course brings 50 day-aged Belted Galloway beef with duck fat-roasted carrot and oxtail in onion petals. Finish with chocolate délice with peanut and popcorn ice cream.

The Haughmond, Upton Magna, Shropshire

The Haughmond had a smart makeover a few years back and there’s now a fresh and light contemporary country feel to this smart coaching inn. Family-run, it retains a nicely relaxed and pubby atmosphere, while drawing diners from afar. Classics are served in the bar, while the restaurant ramps things up a notch or two with bold, unpretentious cooking highlighting seasonal, Shropshire ingredients. Pan-seared scallops alongside turnip, curried squash purée and lentils is a good way to start, then follow with a ‘nose-to-tail’ serving of pork taking in ribs, faggot, belly, loin and cheek, all that piggy richness lifted with celeriac remoulade and pear.

The Boat Inn, Lichfield, Staffordshire

The Boat occupies a rather unassuming location just off the busy A461 but once inside it’s clear that this is a restaurant of substance with serious foodie chops. An open kitchen with a chef’s table takes pole position in a light, airy space that maintains a relaxed charm. And the menu? It has a sharp eye for the seasons and a love of big-hearted, well-matched flavours, as in Dorset crab with ribbons of kohlrabi, seaweed and wild cranberry, or pig’s cheek with squash and sumac. Elsewhere, there’s rose veal served with crisp sweetbreads and chanterelles and, for pudding, a lush chocolate gateau with caramel ice cream.

Interlude, Lower Beeding, West Sussex

Interlude occupies a glorious setting in the woodland gardens of Leonardslee Estate. The grand old house doesn’t lack for character with its high ceilings, ornate fireplaces, oil paintings and chandeliers, while the kitchen takes its cue from the seasons and makes full use of pickings from its own gardens, as well as foraging and tapping into the local food network for top-notch Sussex produce. Expect bright, lively flavours in epic-length tasting format, from beef tartare smoked with gorse flowers, to poached plaice with parsley purée and knotweed vinegar, or 28 day-aged Middlewhite pork with wild garlic and capers.

Goldsborough Hall, Goldsborough, North Yorkshire

Goldsborough Hall is a Jacobean stately home with blue-blooded pedigree: Princess Mary, one of the Queen’s aunts, lived in this 1620s mansion until 1929. Canapés are served in the lounge before guests are shown through to an intimate dining space of linen-swathed tables, a baby grand, and a splendid marble fireplace for complex, distinctly modern dishes. A delightfully poised starter matches whipped goat’s cheese with spicy parkin and pear and artichoke in various textures. Main-course Yorkshire dry-aged duck comes alongside smoked cauliflower, black garlic, hen of the woods mushrooms and onion, while salted caramel custard tart and stem ginger ice cream make for a simple, deeply satisfying finish.

The Pheasant, Harome, North Yorkshire

Although The Pheasant sounds like a simple pub – it was once the blacksmith’s and village shop overlooking the duckpond in the charming village of Harome – its current incarnation is a rather refined hotel with bags of smart country style and food that’s certainly worth going out of your way for. The contemporary cooking style produces technically adept, imaginative dishes, starting out with slow-cooked hen’s egg (from the village) with roasted pecan whip and smoked hen of the woods mushrooms, then a storming main course of Gigha halibut Véronique with salt and vinegar potatoes, charred gem lettuce, heritage beetroot and brelot onions.

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Shaun Rankin’s set-up in the Palladian splendour of Grantley Hall is unlikely to disappoint when you’re up for the full Five-Star Monty. When you’re done exploring the vast swathes of grounds, spa and elegant public rooms, Shaun Rankin delivers cooking of serious quality and distinction in opulent surroundings. There’s much to applaud, from chicken terrine with truffle-topped brioche and artichoke textures to an exquisitely constructed dish of venison loin with barbecued celeriac and blackcurrant gel. After that, terrine of quince and elderflower is matched with yoghurt ice cream.

Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, Highland

Albert and Michel Roux Jr have picked a top-flight venue at Aberlochy, the very epitome of a grand baronial castle set in a verdant valley at the foot of Ben Nevis. Views are spectacular, and there’s a real sense of history and opulence in the richly decorated public spaces, with all the high ceilings, antiques and crystal chandeliers you could wish for. The restaurant is intimate and extremely formal in approach – gentlemen will need their jackets – and complex dishes include wild rabbit terrine with game tea jelly, heritage carrots and pumpernickel, followed by duck breast and leg croquettes with balsamic beetroot and buckwheat.

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders, Scotland

Located only 40 minutes from Edinburgh, in the rolling hills of the Scottish Border country, Windlestraw is a beautiful Edwardian Arts and Crafts villa set in two acres of grounds and lovingly restored by its present owners. Service is both personal and attentive in the oak panelled restaurant where contemporary Scottish menus deliver the likes of ham hock terrine pointed up with cauliflower, piccalilli and prosecco-poached sultanas, followed by venison loin with roasted and puréed celeriac, preserved blackcurrants and chard. To finish, a refined take on the classic Scottish cranachan accompanied by a silky smooth whisky ice cream hits a high note.

Chutney Mary 30th Birthday, (Oct 2020)

Posted on: October 5th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Chutney Mary: Owners Ranjit Mathrani and Namita Panjabi with Director Camellia Panjabi (centre)

Chutney Mary’s place on the London dining scene over the last thirty years is well worth celebrating!  To take in the full scope of its achievements, it is important to step back and develop an understanding of the ever-changing dynamics of the market it has continuously helped to shape.  This must be coupled with consideration of the background to the opening in the context of the market at that time.

The 2020 global experience placed to one side, London is renowned as home to a great culinary diversity, making it a gastronomic destination of choice for the adventurous traveller. Perhaps only New York bears comparison on a global scale.  Generations of tourists, in ever increasing number, have made their way around the world, immeasurably broadening their horizons. From a food perspective, many have enjoyed experiences of authentic ethnic cooking in its indigenous setting.  A natural knock-on effect has seen the demand for similar offerings at home.  The experience of such places must also be equal to or better than those experienced abroad.  This forms just part of the reason for London’s  flourishing and vibrant restaurant scene.

We might reasonably hope that next year, discerning top end restaurant diners in London will continue to enjoy not only greater choice of cuisines, but also continue to dine out with greater frequency. One might argue that it is more than a function of economics – perhaps a cultural shift has been at play.  The 2019, well-heeled, younger demographic not only had greater disposable income to eat out more often but also chose to do so in a more adventurous way. The benefit of a cultural shift over a fluctuating economy is that should there have been a cultural evolution in dining habits, then demand is more stable in a downturn. Hopefully, a healthy competitive market next year will not only look like this but will also help maintain appropriate standards.

Rewind a few decades and London boasted relatively few top-end eateries, of particular sparsity were quality Asian restaurants.  As late as the 1980s, you might have found the occasional outpost of Asian glamour, such as The Bombay Brasserie off Gloucester Road or the royal Thai cuisine of The Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway.

It is worth noting that thirty years ago we were pre- World Wide Web. At that time, a would-be customer learned about available restaurants from print media, either via reviews in the broadsheet newspapers or from guide books.  At a certain point, the globally instantaneous, interactive and responsive, information superhighway of the digital world became pervasive.  The web phenomenon may well have exceeded travel as a demand pull for ethnic cuisine, where reviews abound, social media excites and knowledge transfer is everywhere.  Our appetites are whetted in everything we encounter in the multi-media online world. 

Chutney Mary Interior, King’s Road, 1990

So, looking back, it is harder than one might first imagine to step into the shoes of Namita Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani as they considered their options. To appreciate the landscape of that time, somewhere between Bibendum (for size) and Bombay Brasserie (for cuisine) was about the only semblance of an example business model. How brave and visionary those restaurateurs were in seeing a successful upscale, top-end, Indian restaurant.  Furthermore, one that was situated on the sophisticated, thriving and fashionable, King’s Road in Chelsea.  In 1989 Namita Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani formed Chelsea Plaza Restaurants which was later renamed Masala World. The company was formed to create Chutney Mary.

Chutney Mary was born in the summer of 1990.  The calculated risk paid off almost immediately, as it transpired that the new concept struck a chord with the adventurous local residential gentry, who were ready to experiment with a more sophisticated interpretation of Indian food.  A formidable following developed, not just locally, but also from a broad destination spectrum.  From the well-travelled, particularly Indophiles, to the curious local diner, Chutney Mary would regularly satisfy 150-200 guests per evening service within its one hundred-seater space.

The press reviews were united in their praise and admiration. The restaurant was also the recipient of awards from The Evening Standard (Eros Award), Harden’s, Square Meal and Tio Pepe Carlton.  Further, Curry Clubs Best Indian Restaurant in the UK award made The BBC Evening News.  From Fay Maschler to Zagat and from Tatler to The NY Times, journalists and critics commented on the ever evolving and consistent quality of the food, alongside “a look that is shimmering and seductive.”

Camellia Panjabi, Namita’s sister, would later join as a director of the company, which was to become the broader MWEat Group.  Camellia was a pioneer herself, with an Economics degree from Cambridge, working for Tata Group, she was tasked with making a success of the marketing of the Taj Group of Hotels.  Her passion was food and she worked on a project to bring the diverse cuisines of the continent into the Hotel Group in a luxury Indian cultural setting.  As well as enjoying success across India, one such outpost of The Taj Group was the 1982 launch of the aforementioned Bombay Brasserie in London.

Overall, her food project was a daunting challenge, as India constituted a country with around 1.2 billion people, 14 different languages, 29 States, 7 Union Territories, not to mention various cultures – thereby demonstrating contrasts in cuisine type at least as wide as those found between countries across Europe.  Furthermore, recipes from the south had to be eked out from families or private cooks across the country.  A by-product of this work was Camellia’s best-selling recipe book ’50 Great Curries of India’ which has sold around two million copies world-wide.  In 2013, Camellia was awarded an MBE.

Chutney Mary Interior, King’s Road, 1990

As Chutney Mary’s success expanded it garnered a global reputation and provided a blueprint for the influx of other Indian master chefs to feed the market that they had created.  One might argue that they enabled the space in which Atul Kochhar, Vineet Bhatia and Sriram Ayur were to flourish.  The latter coming to London at Quilon a decade after launching Karavali restaurant in Bangalore under the then strategy remit of Camellia Panjabi at Taj Hotels. Where trailblazers go, others will follow and this is an important aspect of the Chutney Mary legacy as it celebrates 30 years.

By 2015 the lease on the King’s Road premises had run its course. This provided the ideal opportunity to review the best location to suit the past, present and future of the Chutney Mary client base.  After an extensive search the current site on St James’ Street was found,  although it was not love at first sight for the owners.  An inspired interior designer, along with their Feng Shui consultant put their mind at ease and made them excited about the potential of the new premises.  A potential that has more than been fulfilled.  Certain aspects needed tweaking, including where to place a private dining room, the cloakrooms as well as stripping back all the décor.

There is a plush, upmarket long bar called Pukka Bar, serving cocktails, vintage champagne, artisanal gins and malts as well as small plates to casual visitors. The recent restaurant menu has seen starters replaced by small plates and a move toward lighter eating, principally to attract the lunch trade.  A grilled section is complemented by slow cooked curries, vegetarian dishes, sides and grains. The restaurant has always been busy and continues to attract a crowd even in these challenging times.  The dining room may be seen variously as one for special occasions, a discreet business meeting venue or a social meeting place for friends. The charming, friendly and informative service ably matches the quality of the food, while measuring and meeting their guests needs with care and attention. 

All this while remaining true to its principles; being innovative in so many ways.  It was the first to bring Anglo-Indian food of the Raj, including plated courses rather than sharing dishes.  It was the first to bring highlights of pan-Indian food, which was globally ground breaking. The recipes are cleverly adapted, using the latest techniques by master chefs, bringing a modern twist to the interpretation of dishes, that enhance flavour to the sensibilities of a London palate. 

Chutney Mary, St James’, 2020

There is a subtle evolution that retains old favourites, while forever encouraging the new and exciting to the menu.  Authenticity and complexity of the menu is provided by chefs trained and recruited as masters from their region of origin. 

Indeed, the painstaking and expensive recruitment process, is made even more complex by the need for a relatively flat kitchen management structure.  This is because the expert chef of one region will not work the ‘section’ of another expert chef’s region.  There is also often an under appreciation of the extent of cooking processes that go into Indian cuisine at these heights.  Uncompromising sourcing of produce of the highest quality is matched by detailed multi-stage cooking, with impeccable timing as an absolute necessity for consistency.  All are in abundance over the life of Chutney Mary and as such an ongoing requirement of the diligent and focused owners who regularly taste and review the menu for the benefit of their customers.

Prime Ministers past and present have been patrons of the restaurant, along with the obligatory smattering of celebrity to complement the loyal regulars.  The critic AA Gill was a notable friend of the house, quoted as saying “If there is a better pan-Indian restaurant in London than Chutney Mary I haven’t eaten in it.” A sentiment wholeheartedly echoed by fine dining guide and one that may equally apply to a loyal band of discerning customers. Congratulations to Chutney Mary, happy 30th birthday!  May there be many more to celebrate with you…

Homewood, Freshford. Jamie Forman Exec Chef (August 2020)

Posted on: August 30th, 2020 by Simon Carter

The beautiful golden brown and cream stone buildings of Bath, which were constructed using the Jurassic oolitic limestone bricks, provide a feast for the eyes as you drive through and onwards into the countryside.  Within ten short minutes you arrive in Freshford, a village which forms part of the bucolic setting of Homewood.

[Homewood, “we are open” in the new normal]

Back in 1998, as Homewood Park, the hotel was awarded a Michelin star and four AA Rosettes under the rising talent of head chef, Gary Jones.  Gary had an impressive CV, taking in The Waterside Inn, Le Manoir, Richard Branson’s Necker Island and The Maldives. Post Homewood, Gary went on to achieve greater recognition still at Waldos at Cliveden House and as Head Chef at Le Manoir, where he remains to this day.

In recent years the definition of what luxury means in the context of a country house hotel has somewhat shifted.  This is particularly true in the food & beverage department.  Once upon a time there was fine napery, smart uniforms and über drilled waiters, as the backdrop to a stiff and rather formal service, which delivered elegant plates of French inspired classical cuisine. Customers were led by the offering and understood that this was what a ‘special treat’ meant.

As part of a separate debate,  this fine dining culture may have been derived from how the bourgeoisie behaved in pre-Napoleonic France, where the wealthy had private chefs delivering food in a setting of formal grandeur.  The style of food and manner of service became a curiosity to the wider public. In the early 20th century, the newly displaced private chefs, took the opportunity to open the first independent luxury restaurants. In France, at least, ‘fine dining’ became accessible dining by the rationing of money rather than by birthright. 

In the UK, hotels like The Savoy or The Ritz were places where you ate if you had a title, indeed as late as the 1960s, you probably needed one to get a table. From 1967, with the Roux brothers giving birth to Le Gavroche, the accessibility of fine dining likewise changed in Britain.  The formality and process of what was being offered was unquestionably the experience that was new and exciting.  It was what people wanted for their money.  Guests would wholeheartedly respect and enjoy being ‘educated.’

[Homewood, The Dining Room]

Perhaps up until a decade or so ago this definition of fine dining in fine places prevailed. Where Michelin were awarding stars would back up this observation. The pace of change has actually been quite fast.  Various strands of customer needs have been coming together to change the face of offerings; customers eat out more often and at lower price points, which means that more relaxed dining is preferred; customers have diverse dietary preferences that make fixed repetitive menus difficult and costly to deliver; customers want social meeting places where you happen to have something to eat, with a more relaxed buzz to the atmosphere than the ‘old school’ of hushed reverence in a temple of gastronomy. This dynamic and expanding list of needs is on a path that has shaken luxury hotels, particularly country house hotels, to step up and change to attract the modern monied classes or face closure.

[Homewood: The Front Entrance]

The new Homewood has wholeheartedly embraced all these challenges and turned them into opportunities.  Ian and Christa Taylor acquired Homewood in August 2018 and immediately applied their ‘Kaleidoscope’ vision to the property. The words playful and eclectic can be applied throughout Homewood so much so that they appear a deliberate theme – playful topiary figures of animals and a rather surreal yellow submarine, greet you on either side of the driveway.  A stone statue of a monkey called Oswald sits at the front door holding a plastic tub of hand sanitiser.  Essentially Georgian with some Victorian extensions to the original 13th century frame, eclectic collections (within a grander collection) of paintings, furniture and objects fill the rooms at Homewood; from numerous chandeliers enhancing an already well-lit room; through to a reception boasting a collection of wall mounted clocks.  The dining room itself is decorated with a set of almost life size artistic pictures of a youthful looking Peter Gabriel, whose residential studios to this day are based in Box, near Bath. 

[Executive Chef: Jamie Forman]

Executive chef Jamie Forman has developed an impressive CV.  In the early 1990s, Jamie invested three years training at Stratford College before making an initial foray into professional kitchens under Clive Fretwell at Le Manoir.  The next step was four years at Lower Slaughter Manor, which had two Egon Ronay stars and one Michelin star under Head Chef Alan Dann.

From 2001, Jamie started his association with Ian & Christa Taylor, spending eight years in total at Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Campden, where he worked as sous chef for four of the eight years under the Roux Scholar Simon Hulstone. When Simon moved on to set up The Elephant in Torquay (where he quickly gained a Michelin star), Jamie took over as head chef at Cotswold House and was awarded an Espoirs or Michelin Rising Star.  His next adventure was the Dialhouse Hotel at Bourton on the Water before moving on to Holbrook House in Somerset.  Most recently prior to Homewood, Jamie was headhunted as Group Executive Chef for six hotels.  The first eighteen months of which saw him opening the £1.8m refurbished flagship, Burley Manor in the New Forest, where he directed the menu concept and recruitment of key staff.  In February 2019, Jamie was reacquainted with Ian & Christa Taylor for the project at Homewood.

[Homewood: The new outdoor dining terrace that inspired the Olio Menu]

Jamie’s dining concept and menu at Homewood is in keeping with the playful and eclectic themes of the owners’ vision for the property.  The menu is referred to as Olio, which when enquiring as to the meaning, was described as something having a Mediterranean feel.  This idea is perhaps in keeping with the new outdoor terrace and kitchen.  A look in the dictionary and Olio literally means either a highly spiced stew of various meats and vegetables from Spain or Portugal or more simply ‘a miscellaneous collection of things.’  The latter makes total sense as the menu encapsulates Somerset bites, small plates and sharing plates; a section covering Robata, Plancha or Skillet cooking apparatus for the larger, more traditional main courses; a section of woodfired flatbreads; further sections cover hearty salads, sides and desserts. 

The one menu for all occasions is actually a biproduct of the Covid-19 lockdown.  “We were toying with the idea of one menu for fine dining inside and the Olio menu for the terrace outside,” says Jamie. However, they noticed that post lockdown people were checking in at a wider variety of timings, and that these guests might like a small plate or something to share upon arrival before getting changed for dinner.  In fact, “having just the one broad menu has worked very well, not only with these guest patterns but generally striking a chord with what people want,” adds General Manager Ed Fitzpatrick.  Jamie’s philosophy is to acquire the best possible produce and prepare it simply, allowing the natural flavours to speak for themselves.  They will source scallops from the Isle of Skye with an eye on sustainability as well as quality, or source Bass from the likes of the well-respected Flying Fish company.

All tastes, appetites and age groups are catered for as witnessed by several multi-generational family gatherings at tables eating together, enjoying a relaxed meal over an extended Sunday lunch.  The menu and indeed the variety of settings offered – outdoor terrace, indoor dining room or lounges – hits all the right notes in the modern era.  Traditional battered haddock, ‘seaweed’ chips and crushed minted peas, or the option of a steak burger mean the menu could be part of a smart pub.  These are, however, complemented by the more ambitious dishes such as Seasbass “branzino” (an Italian or European Bass) which comes with the head and the tail, chermoula and lemon.  The salads, flatbreads and sharing plates mean there’s something for all appetites, eating preferences (whole dish or share) and occasions (relaxed or more formal). 

The Homewood kitchen was well employed during lockdown, with the provision of charity meals. These were launched on social media with an offering of £8 for fish and chips takeaway. An impressive 180 customers ordered on Saturday nights, with proceeds going to Royal United Hospitals Bath.  A Thursday take away comprising a burger night followed, with those proceeds going to the Holburne Museum and Bath festivals. “We underestimated the power of the targeted Facebook campaign we did to launch these offerings and the high knock on level of business we’ve experienced post reopening,” says Jamie.  Homewood also enrolled in the government backed, Eat Out to Help Out scheme offering up to £10 discount per person (based on 50% of food and soft drink orders), to boost weekday trade post opening and throughout August.

The service is excellent throughout the hotel, no more evident than in the dining room, where key staff are relaxed, friendly, informative, engaging and professional.  An overriding sense of happy energy pervades, which enhances the attractiveness of the soul of the building.

Overall, Homewood represents an exciting project, not just for Ian & Christa Taylor but for General Manager Ed Fitzpatrick and Executive Chef Jamie Forman.  With dynamic and fluid developments ahead, they seek to deliver a completely satisfying experience to guests in the modern era of country house hotel luxury. Fine dining guide looks forward to following their undoubted successes with interest.

Waterside Inn: Reopening in the New Normal (July 2020)

Posted on: July 22nd, 2020 by Simon Carter

The Waterisde Inn, Three Michelin Stars, Bray, Berkshire

During WWII, growing up in a room above their grandfather’s charcuterie, brothers Michel and Albert Roux were to embark on a culinary journey that would revolutionize the top end dining scene in Britain.  Having travelled on separate paths in the early stages of their careers, the brothers were to reunite to open Le Gavroche in 1967 and five years later launch The Waterside Inn, the latter on the site of a former pub on the idyllic banks of the Thames in affluent Bray, Berkshire. 

Both of these restaurants were to become gastronomic institutions, each climbing to three Michelin Stars. In the mid 1980s the pair were to separate the businesses with Albert continuing to focus on Le Gavroche and Michel take The Waterside Inn.  Today, Michel Roux Jnr has succeeded his father Albert at Le Gavroche while Michel’s son Alain is chef patron of The Waterside Inn.

Chef Patron Alain Roux

Since 2002, Alain Roux progressively took over from his father and is proud that The Waterside Inn has retained that ultimate Michelin accolade for 35 years, a feat unmatched by any restaurant outside of France. One of only five in Great Britain and Ireland, the current other holders are Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck.  The Waterside Inn is the first of these to open and offer their brand of top end dining in the ‘new normal’.

Aged 78, Michel Roux Snr passed away in March 2020, a matter of weeks before lockdown, from an illness unrelated to the pandemic. Alain reflects, “he lived an amazing life and he would have found the experience of the pandemic over the last few months really difficult. In particular, the implications for the hospitality industry that he loved so dearly, would have hurt him deeply.”

From the start of lockdown there was a pause when nobody could predict the future.  Staff were furloughed (except for a few in back office and maintenance). “It was ‘if’ we would reopen rather than ‘when’ or ‘how,’” says Waterside Inn Head Chef Fabrice Uhryn.  Gradually contacts in other countries like France were able to shed some light on expectations of guidelines and their implications. Kitchen and front of house staff were kept in touch via phone or Zoom.

Waterside Inn GM, Frederic Poulette, was participating on forums of restaurant GMs which met each Wednesday – the objective was to share knowledge on how to apply their individual needs to the potential and existing guidelines.  “We had to have a plan A and a plan B, one for 2m distancing and one for 1m+; we also had a Plan B minus which thankfully we have not yet needed,” explains Frederic. “I had never done a risk assessment before and for the sum of all the parts of the business it was a daunting undertaking,” he adds.

Fast forward to July and what does the experience look like to a guest in the ‘new normal’?

Waterside Inn, Dining Room

When guests arrive by car, they are met by Olivier, for decades the valet, who instead of taking the keys and parking the cars, directs the drivers to designated spaces. Having read the post booking email instructions, the guests will have left their coats in their cars. In the event of inclement weather, Olivier assists with an umbrella to the door.  Entering the building, the greeting and welcome are by a maître’ d’. Depending upon whether checking-in to stay or dining, the guests are respectively guided to reception or to a waiter.  There is a short walk to the dining room past the bar area, which is no longer used as a bar, due to both lack of space and the unmanageable number of touch points. Once seated, each guest is presented with their own paper menu booklet of the à la carte dishes; the booklet may be retained as a keepsake.  There is no QR code at the table, nor one at the entrance to facilitate track and trace. In fact, there are no apps for your phone at all, although as Alain Roux points out “all these things were carefully considered, as we felt a paper menu per person and a digital wine list struck the right balance.”  The wine list is presented from an iPad as an app, replacing the large paper tome.

All the front of house staff are wearing face masks. Of the decision, Frederic says: “The masks are important for two reasons, first to make the guests feel safe and relaxed, and second, to allow the staff to interact with the same relaxed formality that represents the style of the house.” The premise that you can see a smile in the eyes has been supported by the first week of guest feedback, indicating that for some, the mask becomes forgotten.

Waterside Inn, Dining Room

The restaurant dining room has four less tables to facilitate 1m+ distancing, the number of guests is capped to four per table and the private dining room reduced from twelve to six.  In effect, a comfortably 80 covers restaurant is reduced to 55 covers, which has a significant impact on revenues.  Costs are substantially higher due to the demands of the guidelines for re-opening in the ‘new normal.’ Although compromises in the front of house to customer ratio are not apparent, as Alain points out, “just monitoring the use of the cloakrooms through lunch and dinner service takes the cost of one full time staff member.” The role is needed as it ensures the correct number of guests are using the facilities at any given time and manages the waiting area so that customers feel properly attended to and comfortable. This also requires a compromise on use of space as pre-lockdown this waiting area was a pre-dinner drinks lounge.  A second lounge has been similarly reallocated to a waiting area for guests checking-in to the rooms side of the business.

Waterside Inn, Head Chef, Fabrice Uhryn

In the kitchen, the staffing implications are more obvious – clear Perspex screens shield stations from one another as well as between the pass and the front of house. There are visibly fewer bodies in the kitchen with around 13 compared to 26 at peak times pre-lockdown.  The chefs come in at different times, from 9am for preparation, from 12pm for service, then some change-overs for dinner service. Fabrice points out: “This allows 1m+ spacing in the kitchen; the fact that this is anywhere near possible is due to the kitchen redesign a decade ago.”  This process saw the whole order of work restructured with a clockwise flow round the kitchen.  An innovative change at the time, it replaced what looked like organised chaos in spite of a regimented structure to the classically hierarchical brigade.

“The cold room is one of the trickiest areas and requires additional processes to ensure overcrowding is avoided,” points out Fabrice. Washing down in the kitchen, front of house and housekeeping for bedrooms is taken to another level with extra attention given to high touch point areas.  Suppliers can no longer enter the kitchen and interactions are managed outside the building.

As Alain says, “The restaurant will not compromise on the quality and consistency on a plate to the customer,” so something has to give and that is the scope of the menus.  Gone for the moment is the set lunch menu ‘Le Menu Gastronomique’, the tasting menu ‘Le Menu Exceptionnel’ and the specials of the day. Kitchen tours for customers are no longer possible.  The changes are clearly explained on the website and indicated in booking emails.  This helps to set the expectations of the guests and therefore manage satisfaction.

Waterside Inn, Sample Dishes since July 8th 2020

The Waterside Inn has a significant proportion of regular returning guests who they have known and nurtured for a number of years, as Chef Roux notes, “rather than dine at The Waterside, they have a relationship with The Waterside.”  In the ‘new normal’ he is adamant that they will not dilute the warmth of welcome and hospitality that are in the family DNA. The definition of regular at these lofty heights may stretch from twice a year to once a quarter or more often but nevertheless the point is well made. From the first week of operation it would appear that the loyalty of these regulars has served them well, with over 400 covers through the door.

“For the opening service for lunch on 8th July, there was almost a celebratory atmosphere among the staff and guests,” enthuses Alain.  Over time the revenue to cost ratio must improve significantly, with the opportunity to do so determined by the relaxation of guidelines, but he adds “we took the government rules and industry guidelines and blended them to make our own sauce – it has been a great start and all the staff have embraced the challenge as an opportunity to come back stronger and do many things even better than before.  We’re delighted to be back! The new normal tastes better already!”

Press Release AA: Covid Confident Accreditation Scheme

Posted on: June 17th, 2020 by Simon Carter

AA Launches COVID CONFIDENT Scheme for Restaurants, Hotels, Pubs, B&Bs, Campsites, Self-Catering & Golf Courses

·       New COVID CONFIDENT accreditation will indicate that hospitality establishments have met the necessary criteria to reopen safely when lockdown restrictions ease

·       Industry backs AA scheme, with 19 hospitality trade bodies showing support

·       AA website,, to list all accredited establishments, with regular newsletter making it easy to find approved destinations once lockdown lifts

17 June 2020. The AA has today announced a new COVID CONFIDENT assessment scheme to help give customers confidence that accredited hotels, restaurants, pubs, B&Bs and beyond have the necessary protective measures in place to safely reopen once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Trusted by the public as a source of hospitality ratings and recommendations, and by the industry as a benchmark for quality, for over 112 years, the AA’s new COVID CONFIDENT assessment scheme has been backed by the hospitality industry, with 19 trade bodies supporting the initiative. The scheme will be a vital support for the hospitality industry in re-establishing and rebuilding consumer confidence as the UK prepares to come out of lockdown.

The AA COVID CONFIDENT accreditation will indicate to customers that an establishment has in place the necessary risk assessments, safety measures and staff training to reopen safely, in line with the Government and UKHospitality’s published guidelines.

Establishments eligible to apply for an AA COVID CONFIDENT accreditation include: hotels; restaurants; pubs; B&Bs and guest accommodation; camping, glamping and holiday parks; self-catering accommodation; hostels; serviced apartments; attractions; and golf courses.

The rigorous application process will include supplying a risk assessment, being able to provide clear evidence that relevant procedures and measures are in place, and that staff training has taken place. In addition, applicants must complete an online self-assessment and sign up to the COVID Confident Charter, a code of conduct that will include a commitment to continuing to update procedures and measures as guidelines change, and to submitting to future audits as required.

All establishments that are awarded an AA COVID CONFIDENT accreditation will be listed on the AA’s website, making them easy to find, with regular updates on the RatedTrips social channels across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #AACOVIDConfident. The public can also sign up to the RatedTrips newsletter for the latest updates on the COVID CONFIDENT scheme, UK travel and hospitality news, offers, features and more via:

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media, commented: “COVID-19 has had a profound impact upon all those working in the hospitality sector, and we’re acutely aware that customers are deeply concerned about how and when they will be able to safely return to restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, pubs and beyond. As lockdown lifts and the public begin to seek days out, short breaks, eating out and other experiences, the AA COVID CONFIDENT accreditation will support customers in finding approved establishments to visit.”

The scheme is open to all establishments. However, any establishment serving food will need to hold a food hygiene score of three and above to be eligible. The scheme is free to all establishments, with applicants encouraged to make a donation to Hospitality Action here under the option “AA COVID-19 Accreditation”.  

Industry bodies backing the AA COVID CONFIDENT scheme are:

  • ASAP, Association of Serviced Apartment Providers
  • ASSC, Association of Scottish Self Caterers
  • B&B Association
  • Glamping Association
  • HOSPA, The Hospitality Professionals Association
  • Hospitality Action
  • Hotel Marketing Association
  • Institute of Hospitality
  • Les Clefs d’Or, The Society of the Golden Keys of Great Britain and the Commonwealth
  • Master Innholders
  • PASC UK, Professional Association of Self-Caterers UK
  • People 1st
  • Premier Cottages
  • Pride of Britain Hotels
  • St Julian Scholars
  • Tourism Alliance
  • UK Housekeepers Association
  • Wales Tourism Alliance
  • WASCO, Welsh Association of Self-Caterers

The website lists over 12,000 AA and VisitEngland rated and recommended hotels, restaurants, pubs, B&Bs, self-catering cottages, caravan and campsites, and beyond, as well as offering travel inspiration via city guides, recommended things to do, information on local attractions, ideas for days out, and suggested places to visit.

Chef Interview: Roberta Hall, Little Chartroom, Edinburgh (March 2020)

Posted on: March 30th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Few restaurants in Edinburgh have received immediate critical and popular acclaim than The Little Chartroom on Albert Place, Leith Walk. Opened in the summer of 2018, it has garnered adulatory reviews by notable critics in the Edinburgh and national press, as well being awarded Best Newcomer 2019 in the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards. Placed in The Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards Top 100 list, and winning an Eating & Drinking Award from The List Magazine, it also has entries in the Michelin Guides of 2019 and 2020, and the Good Food Guide, 2020.  Joint owner and head chef Roberta Hall won the Young British Foodie chef award 2018 and Breakthrough Chef of the Year at the Food and Travel Awards. Her national profile will be further boosted this spring, as she represents Scotland in the BBC’s Great British Menu.

Welcoming, friendly, relaxed, honest and unpretentious, Roberta’s demeanour and personality mirror the engaging qualities of her intimate 18 cover restaurant. Fortunately, she found the time after a busy lunch service on Thursday 12th March to give an interview to Daniel Darwood of Fine Dining Guide.

[Shaun McCarron alongside co-owbner and chef Roberta Hall, The LIttle Chartroom restaurant]

Roberta’s father owned three butcher’s shops which expanded into a meat factory specialising in curing bacon and producing sausages and haggis, so an interest in food began at an early age. A love of baking in particular developed into a more serious interest in the profession during a week’s work experience, which she loved, at the Tower Restaurant in the National Museum of Scotland. This was followed by a part time job there, which became full time after she left school. Subsequently, two years at Glasgow cookery college provided a grounding in the basics but proved less appealing than practical experience gained in part time jobs in the evenings and her days off.

After working in the kitchens of Edinburgh’s Balmoral hotel, and eighteen months in Dubai at the world-famous Burj Al Arab, Roberta returned to her native Edinburgh in 2008 to work at Tom Kitchin’s Leith restaurant, where she stayed for three and a half years. It was here that she absorbed the chef patron’s totally fresh and passionate approach to food. She found his use of all parts of the animal, and his respect for, and showcasing of, the finest Scottish meat, game, fish and vegetables, truly inspirational. Equally driven with an infectious enthusiasm as a mentor was Dominic Jack, with whom she eventually left to set up The Kitchin’s sister restaurant, Castle Terrace. Her three years as sous chef, then three as head chef, helped to establish its reputation as a destination restaurant in central Edinburgh.

Nine and a half years under two of Edinburgh’s leading chefs have inevitably left their imprint on Roberta’s cuisine. Their uncompromising love of top quality, seasonal ingredients and their devotion to their craft are unquestioned. Whilst Castle Terrace’s more refined attention to detail involving more cooking processes contrasted with the less complicated, but equally accomplished methods of The Kitchin, both approaches, together with Roberta’s distinctive style, have been integrated into the food of the Little Chartroom.

Using regional and seasonal ingredients wherever possible, Roberta combines French techniques and her own creativity when elevating classical combinations to a higher level. The limitations of her small kitchen, with fixed top burner and pull-down oven, and the absence of a water bath and other specialised equipment, have not prevented her from producing dishes which surprise and delight. Moreover, the acquisition of a small Konro BBQ grill will enable her to experiment with the flavours of the southern USA, a more recent interest.

As her menu changes roughly every three weeks to embrace what is best in the market, there is no signature dish. However, much thought goes in ensuring balance on the a la carte menu, always offering meat, fish and vegetarian options on the starters and mains, with cheese as an alternative to two desserts. Menu descriptions list the main ingredients but give little idea of the creativity, multiple processes and meticulous attention to detail involved.

Little Chartroom Potato

This was particularly true of a starter of “Potato soup, Arbroath Smokie, quail’s egg and cod’s roe and blini, an original and playful take on Cullen Skink. Pink fir potatoes were baked, passed through a sieve and blended with an infusion of the fish, to maximise the soup’s smoky flavour. Flakes of the smoked haddock were topped with deep fried Pink Fir crisps, together with sweet and sour pickled red onions. Garnished with a soft-boiled quail’s egg, dusted with a powder of dehydrated potato skins and specked with parsley oil, the dish was accompanied by a potato blini topped with cod’s roe and caviar. Finally, as the dish was bought to the table, it received a spray of vinegar, to give that classic fish and chip shop aroma. Harmony and balance were achieved through a combination of smoky and creamy flavours, soft and crisp textures, and warm and cold temperatures. The use of the whole potato in various forms was equally impressive.

Little Chartroom Monkfish

Another inventive yet seemingly simple dish was a main course of “Monkfish, braised squid and saffron butter sauce.”  Harmony was achieved by matching the hearty, meaty pan-fried fish with strongly flavoured accompaniments. Squid, which had been braised in fish stock for four hours, was then finely sliced and flavoured with its ink. Turnip tops and asparagus, pan fried in butter to retain their al dente texture, balanced the softness of the monkfish and squid. The velvety smoothness of the verjus based saffron beurre blanc added a rich, earthy flavour and a distinctly vibrant colour.

Little Chartroom Meringe

Roberta claims not to be as strong on desserts as on savoury courses, with new creations being trialled before appearing on the menu. Nevertheless, her meringue dessert showed considerable imagination, skill and sophistication. A base of hazelnut dacquoise was topped with layers of praline paste, chocolate and feuilletine flakes, meringue and coffee parfait. Not too sweet, the gentle bitterness of the coffee and chocolate balanced the sweetness of the meringue and praline. There was also contrast in the crisp, nutty and soft textures and the different temperatures.

Consistency across the menu and over time is achieved by her multifaceted team. With just three options on the three course a la carte menu, which is changed roughly every three weeks, the kitchen has ample time to perfect the dishes. Together with three chefs, only two of whom are on duty at any one service, Roberta and husband and co-owner Shaun McCarron who is front on house, do everything from meet and greet, taking orders, making drinks to cooking and serving food and washing up. Team work is also involved in helping to judge a new dish before it goes on the menu. More importantly, staff are not overworked to maintain a healthy work life balance, which feeds through to a more polished performance in the restaurant. Shifts range from two and a half to four days maximum and they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

A set, no choice three course lunch for £19 is only one indicator of the restaurant’s value for money. Although prices are higher on the a la carte menu, what must also be considered is the impeccable quality of the produce, the skill involved in cooking and the modest mark up on the wines. Engaging, knowledgeable service, with the personal touch in relaxed surroundings, also encourages repeat custom, an acid test for success. Indeed, one guest recently dined for the 50th time.

As for the future, Roberta will strive to improve even further having already secured her place in the highly competitive restaurant scene. She is looking forward to guest chef appearances during the year; hopefully the current coronavirus crisis will not affect these and her business too drastically. Roberta has achieved much and has much more to give, so it would be sad if factors beyond her control prevent her from achieving her full potential.

Fine Dining Guide wishes Roberta continued success and will follow her career with interest.

Restaurant Review: Umi, Edinburgh (March 2020)

Posted on: March 27th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Umi at 18-24 Deanhaugh St, is the third Japanese restaurant of owners Kenny and Jimmy Zhang. Following the success with Bentoya in Fountainbridge (2014) and Kenji Sushi in nearby St Stephen’s Street (2016), they opened Umi in this historic and vibrant Stockbridge district of Edinburgh.

Located in a basement, like other restaurants in central Stockbridge, the interior arrangement and décor of Umi are a cross between  a Ryōtei – a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant  – and a typical Izakaya, an informal gastropub. Shoji sliding doors offer privacy to the seating areas around low horigotatsu tables. Elsewhere, a variety of seating, from comfortable individual wicker style seats fixed on wooden bases to simple stools, is available. The thatched effect ceiling contrasts nicely with the bare wooden floor. Ceiling lights are brighter than the more decorative red paper lanterns. Bamboo screens helped separate some closely arranged tables. The walls of exposed brick and bare concrete are decorated with street art and murals. Overall, this is a worthy attempt to replicate an authentic Japanese ambience.

The menu at Umi, which means ocean, specialises in fish and ramen, although there is more  variety than this, including Korean style hot stone bowl rice dishes. The colourful, pictorial menu gives clear details of the specialities on offer. Generously portioned, beautifully presented dishes are freshly and precisely cooked.  Prices are fair given the excellent quality of expensive ingredients and the skill in preparation. Up to five chefs man the kitchen covering cold starters, sushi and ramen. Service is friendly, prompt and knowledgeable, without being intrusive.

Many of the patrons of this 35-cover restaurant are young who prefer a healthy diet for which Japanese food is renowned. Umi is also popular with families, especially at weekends.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a midweek evening in March. House manager Saki gave helpful advice in choosing a balanced range of dishes.

Aubergine Goma (£4.50) scored and fried for speed of service (instead of being baked in the oven), and glazed in an umami rich miso paste enhanced with a mirin and sugar glaze. Amazingly, the result was soft, non-greasy and meltingly sweet and savoury flesh.

The tempura dish featured five king prawns (£8.90) in an ethereally light, transparent and crisp batter accompanied by a soya based dipping sauce.  Other options include sweetcorn, the best seller.

Kara-age fried chicken (£4.90), comprised seven pieces of boneless thigh deep fried in a potato starch batter. Whilst the use of thigh (instead of the ubiquitous breast in western restaurants) guaranteed succulence, the batter needed to be crisper to do the dish full justice. There were no problems with the seven spiced mayonnaise dip.

nigiri sushi

A selection of nigiri sushiSalmon, Tuna, Yellow tail, Tora and Sea Bass (various prices) – was generous in its toppings of spankingly fresh fish.  The light, fluffy and slightly sticky rice was perfectly cooked.

Hamachi Carpaccio

Of the sashimi dishes Tuna tartare is the most popular. However, following the recommendation of co-owner Kenny, who popped in for a chat, I was served Hamachi Carpaccio (£8.50). Delicate slices of firm, white king fish (yellow tail) were dressed in a light ponzu dressing infused with tangy yuzu which cut through the slightly oily fish. Grape puree added sweetness and black garlic cloves a contrasting tartness. Edible yuzu flowers and shredded mouli gave contrasting flavour and textures in this perfectly balanced, beautifully presented dish.

No visit to Umi would be complete without sampling a ramen dish. The secret to the Crazy Tonkotsu ramen (£10.90) was the deeply flavoured 24-hour pork bone broth. Added to this was tare (a soya based secret recipe), and chilli oil paste to add heat. Sliced chashu, braised belly pork, had a meltingly soft texture and a gentle sweetness to balance the salt of the broth. Home made pulled noodles, of al dente texture, reflecting the correct amount of protein in the flour, gave substance, soft boiled egg gave richness, and grilled jalapeno and chilli strands finished the dish with a lively freshness.

Overall, there was much to admire in quality, quantity and variety of food offered at Umi. The well-heeled residents of this prosperous district are discerning diners, voting with their feet if restaurants are sub-standard.  Happily, Umi has a healthy amount of repeat custom, which augurs well for its continued success. Fine Dining Guide will revisit and follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: The Avenue, Lainston House (March 2020)

Posted on: March 18th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Phil Yeoman’s return to Lainston House, now as Executive Chef, allows full scope for his creative talents. He runs a calm kitchen of five chefs, an approach which aids retention which in turn promotes consistency in cooking. Ideas for new dishes are bounced around his team and adapted before appearing on the menu.  They may appear first in The Avenue, the Chef’s Table opposite the passe, where six diners can comfortably watch Phil and his team dress dishes on the six course tasting menu. This theatre of food showcases the depth and breadth of his rejuvenated passion for cooking.

[Executive Chef Phil Yeomans at The Chef’s Table]

Phil’s cuisine, based on the classics but employing modern techniques, is unashamedly complex. Dishes are multi-component, showing a skilled approach with a clear understanding of technique and flavour. Invention is tempered with a keen culinary intelligence. Combinations of ingredients may occasionally surprise, but all satisfy in terms of taste, texture and temperature. Often using seasonal and local ingredients, including those from the hotel’s Kitchen garden, dishes might also include more exotic produce reflecting his travels as a chef. Cooking is accurately timed, seasoning is judicious, and saucing accomplished but restrained. Presentation is clean and precise, devoid of elaborate flourishes, each element serving a purpose on the plate.

Fine Dining Guide visited The Avenue on a mid-week evening in March, finding much to admire in the chef’s tasting menu – there is a vegetarian alternative –  and flight of wines.

Lainston Canapes

A trio of canapes served with pre dinner drinks delighted in their creativity and meticulous attention to detail. These included freshly cooked crisp coated arancini exuding the heady aroma of truffle; dainty lemon emulsion tarts; and delicate chicken crackers with chicken crumble which simply melted in the mouth.

Lainston Bread

A selection of well baked breads comprised seeded roll, herby rosemary focaccia and, best of all, an accomplished brioche with paprika and cheddar.

Lainston Mousse

An amuse bouche featured an ethereally light foam of Lyburn cheese from Winchester layered onto sweet onion puree seasoned with Worcestershire sauce. These deep, rich flavours and soft textures were balanced by crunchy croutons, fresh apple cubes and a drizzle of spicy lovage oil.

Lainston Trout

Another local ingredient was expertly employed in the first course.  Chalk Stream Rainbow trout, farmed in Romsey on river Test, cured in Bombay Sapphire gin and spices had a firm texture and vibrant flavour. Dressed in yuzu to cut through the oily fish, it worked well with candied and pickled beetroot with beetroot jam, which provided an earthy freshness. Finally, a brilliantly innovative yuzu, white chocolate and horseradish ice cream, at once giving elements of sweet, sour and spicy tastes, elevated the dish to higher plane. The zesty Chablis with orchard flavours did full justice to this composite fish dish.

[Wine: Chablis, Domaine Colette Gros, Burgundy, France 2018]

Lainston Celeriac

A complex autumnal vegetarian course saw the distinctive earthiness of tender salt baked celeriac and celeriac puree paired with the creamy nuttiness of gruyere cheese. These were complemented, but not overwhelmed, by crispy onion crumb for a little acidity, pickled blackberries for sourness, and Marsala jelly for richness. Shitake mushrooms (from Fundamentally Fungus), black truffle oil and micro rocket gave contrasting elements in taste and texture. As a final flourish which imitated the shaving of truffle, caramelised white chocolate which had been cooked at 90 degrees for 12 hours, was grated over the top at the table. This was not just a playful theatrical effect as the chocolate gave a gentle sweetness, reminiscent of Caramac, the dish needed. Overall, this was a tour de force of vegetarian cookery which balanced a variety of flavours and textures in satisfying mouthfuls. The matching white wine, with its hint of oak and citrus notes, proved a well-chosen partner.

[Wine: Vidal, Reserve Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2017]

Lainston Halibut

Perched on a base of sweet cauliflower puree, an accurately timed fillet of halibut had glistening white flakes of meaty fish. These mild flavours were given a lift by an intensely rich crab bisque, a crisp crab and tapioca crisp and a light crab foam. Fresh apple and calamansi jam added a zingy freshness, making this another perfectly balanced dish. The accompanying fresh white Burgundy, with notes of white peach with a hint of chalk matched this course well.

[Wine: Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine Roux Père & Fils, France 2018]

Lainston Pork

The beautifully presented meat course starred pork belly which had been cured for 3 days in wild garlic salt cure, smoked in house, then slow cooked for 24 hours. Inevitably, the result was a beautifully succulent, fully flavoured, melt in the mouth porcine treat. A bon bon of pork shoulder added a barbequed smokiness. Turnip puree and pickled baby turnips, and compressed fresh apple compote were suitable accompaniments, while a baby potato croquette with wild garlic, apple blossom, and a light sauce served separately completed the dish. My only reservation, as a greedy carnivore, was that I would have liked a bigger portion of pork, but this understandably would have imbalanced the whole tasting menu! Nevertheless, such a refined and elevated classical dish needed a classical, rich red wine, in this case served Coravin style

[Wine: Chorey-Les-Beaune, Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Burgundy 2017.]

Lainston Souffle

The first hot and cold dessert proved to be an excellent palate cleanser. Passion fruit souffle was well risen, fluffily textured with an appealingly sweet tartness. The accompanying coconut Malibu sorbet was smooth and intensely flavoured. The lingering citrus finish of the sweet wine worked well with this course.

[Wine: Royal Tokaji Late Harvest, Furmint, Harslevelu, Hungary 2016]

Lainston Dessert

The skills of the pastry section were also shown in the second layered dessert. The gentle bitterness of dark chocolate and lemon ganache was balanced by a honey cremeux of velvet like texture. A ginger biscuit base gave texture and a quenelle of honey ice cream gave added richness with a contrasting temperature. This accomplished, boldly flavoured dessert deserved the glass of rich Maury which partnered it.

Wine: Lafage, Maury Grenat, Vin Doux Naturelle, France 2017

Lainston Chocolates

Homemade orange, caramel and Baileys chocolates, worthy of a master chocolatier. completed a memorable meal, one showing harmony and balance within each course and across the whole menu. The chef himself was at hand to explain the composition of the dishes and the techniques employed. In addition, sommelier Alberto, who has served Lainston in various roles for 19 years, showed an extensive knowledge and expertise which enhanced our enjoyment of the wines.

Clearly, the Chef’s Table at The Avenue is the highlight of the food and drink offering at Lainston House – a true gastronomic experience. Phil Yeoman’s reputation as master chef is well established, and his current tenure shows him at the height of his powers. Fine Dining Guide wishes him continued success and will follow his career with interest.

Chef Interview: Phil Yeomans, Lainston House (March 2020)

Posted on: March 14th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Phil Yeomans’ career has taken a strong and positive path, having started as a young commis chef at the Dorchester Grill, he then worked his way through luxury properties in the USA and Bermuda before finding his kitchen home coming at Lainston House in Winchester.  Now into his second spell at the property and this time as Executive Chef, Phil delivers culinary treats to expectant guests of the Exclusive Group property – a hotel Group itself led by a man (Danny Pecorelli) who is renowned for his passion for food.  Here, Phil finds time to chat to Simon Carter of fine dining guide about his kitchen journeys and philosophies.  The interview took place at The Avenue Restaurant, Chef’s Table at Lainston House in early March 2020.

Give a brief overview of your career to date

Phil’s training was at college in Basingstoke before taking the plunge as an 18-year-old commis chef at The Dorchester Grill. After a successful year he moved to the original Soho House in Greek Street, both kitchens were exceptionally busy and provided extraordinary experience for the young chef.  The Fifth Floor at Harvey Nicholls offered the next role in the days when it served great food and was packed with around 150 covers lunch and dinner every day.  After three action packed years in London and the turn of the millennium, it was time for Phil to have a change of scenery.

North Carolina and a Relais & Chateaux AAA Five Diamond property called Fearrington House Inn, Pittsboro gave Phil an excellent challenge as well as broadened his horizons.  The cuisine varied between influences of modern British, southern state American and Mexican.  After two years, via an interested guest and a sequence of events, Phil found himself in Bermuda at Coral Beach club, a famous members club with cottages, which at the time was next door to the Mandarin Oriental on Elbow Beach.  After a relatively short period Phil was promoted to Head Chef, which was a real learning curve as the majority of produce – non seafood – was imported, “If you got your chip order wrong, there was trouble” jokes Phil as potatoes were expensive to import.

It was time to settle down and Phil moved back to the UK where his love affair with Exclusive Group of hotels started.  Lainston house would be his home for the next eight years, working his way up to Head Chef and being part of the great ‘food culture’ at the Group – at the time there were Michelin Stars around the properties with Michael Wignall, Simon Davies and Matt Gillan (Pennyhill Park, Manor House and South Lodge respectively) leading the various brigades in the Group.  Phil was ideally looking for the Executive Chef role and the opportunity arose to fulfil that ambition at Marwell House where he spent the next five years. However, he had always hankered for the same role at Lainston House and in mid 2019, when the chance came, he managed to secure the top position at the property.

Who have been the chef inspirations in your career.

Two decades ago, as a young chef in London, Phil was most inspired by Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road and Phil Howard’s The Square on Bruton Street.  Flavour packed food, elevated by iconic chefs with very strong classical foundations.  Phil respects Royal Hospital Road as it has continued to evolve and modernise to the present day, while remaining true to its classical roots.  Andrew MacKenzie at Lainston House was a mentor during his development and Phil credits the way he runs a kitchen down to Andrew’s approach – calm, efficient, structured, prepared and no drama!  He also taught Phil more than about cooking; how to manage people, manage costs, to manage and consider other strategic issues like the environment and so on.

How would you describe the desired cuisine at Lainston House

Flavour first with a strong classical base.  There are some modern touches or talking points that are subtle but not to challenge the diner.  Working with local producers to support the community as well as utilising the hotel’s kitchen garden.  The identity of the restaurant is in the identity of the clientele.  Knowing your audience is half the battle in a country house hotel.  Phil feels perfectly capable of producing more esoteric dishes, however the house has a classical with a modern twist identity, an identity which Phil is delighted to deliver to the discerning and happy guests.

chef's table lainston House

[The chef’s table at The Avenue Restaurant, Lainston House]

What are your favourite dishes on the menu?

The celeriac dish perhaps pushes the boundaries for me and for guests.  The feedback is amazing for this dish and so much time and effort has gone into perfecting this vegetarian feast of tastes.  A main course that has just come onto the menu is the pork dish, which is classical, elegant and straight forward – apple, turnip and pork.  Even though it is a simpler dish, the same focus has gone into making it just right and the flavour impact is truly exceptional.  For dessert, the souffle and sorbet work so well and when constructed well there’s nothing better, a classic, enough said!

Tell us about the Chefs Academy at Exclusive Group of Hotels?

The Chefs Academy is an amazing project set up around six years ago by Andrew MacKenzie (who has worked with Exclusive Collection for around thirty years).  Well supported by Danny Pecorelli, the opportunity to invest in people has gone hand in hand with the opportunity to solve the Group’s situation with regards to the general industry recruitment challenge.

Every year, each of the kitchens in the Exclusive Collection will get two new year one and two year two trainees.  In their first year, the trainee chefs are rotated around the kitchen for a year before moving to a sister property to do the same.  At the end of two years they graduate and are invited to apply for a full-time position within the Exclusive Hotel Group – a kind of unofficial year three.

Alongside the practical kitchen work experience, the trainees will be completing modules of training.  Every other week, for two days, they will be with Andrew (MacKenzie) learning about different aspects of the chef profession.  One such module may involve Portland Shellfish, where they would go down to Portland, go out on the boats, to see how to pick a crab and so on.  The next day they will return to the in-house cookery school, where they will learn how to cook, plate and present crab dishes. 

Likewise, there will be game module, a cheese module and so on, where the trainees learn in the classroom or out with a supplier or working on the job to give first class, all round, training and education.  Over the two years they will learn everything from tempering chocolate to breaking down fish, the kind of apprenticeship that was had thirty years ago but doesn’t exist elsewhere today.

The Group is proud of the level and strength of quality of learning provided, so Andrew MacKenzie is able to scout the colleges and get the pick of the graduating bunch. There is still a highly competitive recruitment process involving interviews and cook-offs.

Due to the success of the chef academy, Exclusive Group has started a front of house academy to replicate this success.

Tell us more about the passion driving employee wellbeing from the top?

The food culture and welfare of the chefs filters through from a passion from the top.  There’s 800 plus employees in the group and we have a “family” feel and a staff brand called Exclusive People.  Significant pride is taken in looking after people, a small but relevant example is in the staff rooms which are furnished and managed to a standard as if they were front of house.  The wellbeing and morale of staff reflects in productivity. From a chef perspective, there’s a fixed hours contract and it is ensured over a period that this balances out to give a proper work/life balance.  There’s also continuous investment in people and their work environment, for example we have new kitchen equipment here at Lainston House as part of a constant awareness that reinvestment is the answer to staying ahead in modern economic times.

How many front of house and how many are in the kitchen brigade?

Kitchen team is eighteen , front of house eleven in the restaurant and six in the bar.

What are the menu structures and how often do you change them?

Seasonal, four times a year, although in summer the menus may change to maximise freshness with the vegetables coming through.  There a seven-course tasting menu with a vegetarian and vegan option.  The Carte is a five starter, five main and five dessert choice menu.  The focus is now on dinner, lunch time is now more geared towards afternoon tea, which is supported by a bar menu.

What are your plans for the future?

Right from the top the drive is to see ahead and deliver on identified objectives.  Something that is now mainstream but started at Lainston House ten or so years ago was Exclusively Green.  For example, in the kitchen Lainston House have stepped up to be gas efficient.  Phil hopes to be putting the property firmly on the culinary map, in the context of achieving the changing requirements that reflect a successful, modern, relevant and thriving business.

Phil Yeomans is enjoying his Executive Chef role at Lainston House, at the pinnacle of his career.  Guests of The Avenue, based on fine dining guide’s experience, leave satisfied in stomach and impressed by quality in equal measures.  Long may this continue!