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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 http://www.ratedtrips.com/awards

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, RatedTrips.com, 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 RatedTrips.com 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: https://www.ratedtrips.com/newsletter

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 RatedTrips.com 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!

Interview: David O’Connor & Joe Mercer Nairne, Medlar (March 2020)

Posted on: March 11th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Fine Dining Guide had the pleasure of interviewing David O’Connor (right) and Joe Mercer Nairne (left), who in April 2021 will be celebrating 10 years as the proud owners of the restaurant at 438 King’s Road, Chelsea. The partnership that gave birth to Medlar Restaurant was the coming together of two fine exponents of their trade from the Nigel Platts-Martin group of restaurants: David, with a calm authority and unassuming charm in front of house and Joe a rising star in the kitchen at Chez Bruce.   They both found time to sit down and discuss their journey with Daniel Darwood in an interview that took place during late February 2020 at Medlar Restaurant.

How did David come to open Medlar with Joe?

David always imagined running his own restaurant but envisioned his home of the Wirral.  His parents had owned a restaurant in Heswall so he was steeped in the trade. His career, however, took a turn to London. David met the then sous chef, Joe Mercer Nairne, at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth Common. They hit it off straight away and shared the same ambition, so it was only natural that they should join forces. The search for a site took in Turnham Green and Farringdon, where they faced competitive bids from wealthy chains, before settling on The King’s Road.  The chosen site had the benefit of proximity to Sloane Square, along with a history of longevity of businesses on and around the site.  David and Joe could also move forward with financial independence which would free up their decision making going forward.

Who have proven your greatest mentor(s) and what have they taught you?

David’s early front of house training came at a privately-owned hotel, managed by his brother.  His career would gather significant pace under Patrick Fischnaller, General Manager at Orrery in Marylebone High Street.  The ambition of the restaurant combined with the level of intensity of service meant he learned so much so quickly – concentration, speed of thought, technical service skills – high standards at all times were demanded, which stretched him to the limit. Indeed, such was the success of this training that each of the front of house team subsequently opened their own businesses!

At the two Michelin starred The Square restaurant, which itself was delivering relentlessly high standards, David was hired as a chef de rang.  Restaurant manager Jacques Carlino taught him the art of creating regulars from customers. In an almost exclusively French Front of House team, “the English Waiter” was trusted to engage in discussion with the well-heeled clientele. David feels that perhaps his biggest gratitude has been owed to Bruce Poole and Nigel Platts Martin, the owners who nurtured his potential by providing his first management role at a sister restaurant in the group, Michelin starred Chez Bruce.  Having proven himself in every way, several years later, the vacancy came up to go back to The Square as restaurant manager, David took the opportunity with both hands.  Always learning on the job, as well as dedicating his otherwise leisure time, David’s management skills continued to blossom over twelve years with the group, establishing him as a national leader in his field. The natural next step was his own business.

For Joe, places he liked to eat would be places where he wanted to work. He enjoyed his time as sous chef with Bruce Poole at Chez Bruce and also travelled to Australia where he worked with Neil Perry at Rockpool in Sydney. Experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill proved the hardest place to work, engendering a solid discipline and work ethic, something he has subsequently felt confident to ask of others. He laments these traits are lacking amongst many of the current generation of chefs, who look for the easiest route to success without undergoing the often repetitive work that each section requires.

What is the structure of the brigade at Medlar?

David and long standing assistant Voula oversee the front of house team, managing reception, taking orders and ensuring guests are comfortable and happy. Waiters are allocated tables in two or three sections. Sommeliers are given scope either to converse knowledgeably with wine connoisseurs or to address more modest requests. The unsung heroes are the runners who bring food from the basement kitchen, drinks and coffee from the first floor bar, and collect wine from fourth floor wine cellar.

In the kitchen there are five sections with one chef on each. The chefs move around each section as required. There are 10 chefs on a rota with a natural turnover. Happily, Joe’s two sous chefs have been with him since opening, ensuring high quality and consistency of the finished product.

[Medlar Sample Menu March 2020]

What would you say makes great service from the front of house?

David is uncompromising in his pursuit of friendly, professional, welcoming, attentive and unobtrusive service.  Staff are trusted to enhance the guest experience by improvisation through to reading the customer’s preferences.  The flexibility afforded to the staff avoids a stilted, formulaic approach.  Essentially David’s mantra is to get the basics absolutely right and the magic dust of customer interaction will add value naturally.

What proportion of your clientele are locals and regulars?

At least 75% are locals and regulars at most services, something which makes David and Joe proud but not complacent. They agree that the essential pre-requisite for repeat custom is consistent delivery of high quality food and service, a complete hospitality package.

What is your view of Trip Advisor?

The biggest compliment customers can pay after an enjoyable meal is to post an online review. Trip Advisor is used to access feedback and reviews, which are mostly positive, rather than a means to interact with customers. Negative reviews are investigated internally as far as possible. Experience suggests that 90% of mistakes usually occur if the service team fail to recognize a potential issue, which when continuing unnoticed, may fester and lead to repetition or escalation of the issue. To fix any potential challenges, positive action by a competent and perceptive front of house will prevent any further escalation and resolve them immediately – essential with the more demanding customers.

Joe, what inspired you to become a chef?

Joe’s curiosity about food, born of enjoyment but with no cooking skills to match, resulted in two terms at Leith’s Cookery School and a kitchen job after he graduated from Oxford. Although not a chef junkie, he enjoyed watching repeat series of Keith Floyd and Rick Stein, which combined travel with cookery.

Where have you worked and what did you learn along the way?

Joe enjoyed the chef lifestyle, if not the type of cooking, in his first position at Carluccio’s – then a much smaller operation – which inspired him to continue with a career with a focus in high end restaurants. Joe enjoyed the classical training of the Savoy Grill, and whilst the hours were long and punishing, it instilled a belief in everyone there that they could cope with just about anything.   The structure was similar at Savoy, Chez Bruce and Rockpool.  Perhaps the Savoy was slightly more hierarchical, but he enjoyed working at all of them.  All three of the kitchens instilled great discipline and work ethic:  Something which younger chefs today seem as if they would like to do without.

How would you describe your cuisine style and how often does the menu change?

Joe’s style is based on the core principles of French brasserie cooking, elevated and refined with his own spin. Joe enjoys eating at the great Parisian brasseries where the cooking of classic dishes such as duck confit is irreproachable.  Menus at Medlar reflect the seasons, although signature dishes remain throughout the year. There are occasional international influences, the Asian ones being learnt at Rockpool in Sydney. True to his love of offal, Joe sometimes offers lamb tongues or sweetbreads, despite their increasing cost and difficulty in sourcing. 

Describe three of your signature dishes and explain why they have been particularly successful

Duck egg tart is, for Joe, his most prized dish, which had been evolving since his Chez Bruce days.  It is a take on the brasserie staple oeufs en murette.  Fried duck eggs replace poached hen’s eggs, a crisp pastry base substitutes for fried crutons, turnip puree and sautéed duck hearts are innovations, whilst meaty lardons and a deeply flavoured red wine sauce remain. 

Crab raviolo which was only meant to stay on the menu temporarily, given there were many similar dishes available elsewhere, has proved a winner, accounting for at least 50% of the starters ordered. The silky pasta is generously filled with white crab meat, the brown meat incorporated in the rich bisque. Dressed with samphire, brown shrimps, and a fondue of leeks, this labour-intensive dish, not easily made at home, remains a popular favourite.

Rump or under blade of Belted Galloway, served at dinner or lunch respectively, is another popular main course. Under blade in particular is a reasonably priced, difficult to source cut favoured by the kitchen. Cooked medium rare for full flavour, and served with café de Paris snails, stuffed portobello mushroom, shallot puree, a rich jus and bearnaise sauce, it is served with a side of lightly dressed frisee to give freshness. A composite dish in itself, most diners will order a side of triple cooked chips (enough for two) to complete the gastronomic experience.

How value for money is achieved?

Both David and Joe agree that if customers leave not hungry, fully satisfied with the food and service, then value for money has been achieved. This applies to all levels of restaurant – it is the quality of the experience not the amount on the bill which is relevant.

What are your plans for the future?

David will consider expansion – perhaps a coffee shop, pub or another restaurant – if the correct opportunity arises. He prefers London, but is not averse to country pub location. Joe who lives in Putney when working but whose family is based in Winchester, would prefer to expand within the capital, where he can keep his highly experienced team.

Overall David and Joe have forged a winning business partnership – Medlar restaurant is widely recognised in London as a reliably high quality, restaurant delivering first class hospitality in a relaxed atmosphere with the finest classical food.  Long may it continue!   

Chef Interview: Tom Kitchin, (March 2020)

Posted on: March 4th, 2020 by Simon Carter
Tom Kitchin

What inspired you to become a chef?

I started working in kitchens at the age of 13, doing the dishes and working my way to the starters. I loved being in the kitchen and saw it as a gateway to leaving school. I then left school at 16 to attend cooking college, followed by an apprenticeship at Gleneagles hotel when I was 17. It was tough but was really inspired me to continue working in kitchens.

Where have you worked and what did you learn along the way?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in some of Europe’s leading kitchens, including La Tante Claire in London under Pierre Koffmann and Guy Savoy in Paris as well as Le Louis XV in Monaco under legendary Monsieur Alain Ducasse.  In 2006 my wife and I opened our first restaurant, The Kitchin, in Edinburgh and since then we’ve opened four more. I’ve had an incredible journey, one that has allowed me to learn all about different cultures and ways of life and I feel that has all really helped make me the chef I am today. 

Describe three signature dishes

Starter: Rockpool
A rockpool of local seafood, sea vegetables, ginger and a Newhaven shellfish consommé.

Main: Roe Deer
Roasted loin and braised haunch of roe deer from the Borders, salt baked neeps, rhubarb and red wine sauce

Dessert: Rhubarb crumble souffle

Talk generally about the provenance of ingredients in your kitchen

We’re so lucky with the variety of local produce and local suppliers available in the area; we have some of the best produce in the UK on our doorstep.  The high-quality produce available here in Scotland allows us to be more innovative with our recipes and cooking methods. The variety of produce available means we have such large a range of ingredients to work with, for example; freshly caught lobsters from the fishermen’s boat, or game which has just been shot that day and brought in by the gamekeeper straight to our doorstep.  

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t tend to make plans, I like to take each day and new venture as they come, assessing opportunities along the way. I just want to make sure all my businesses are running as efficiently as possible and my family are happy.

Review: Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote, Oxon. (Mar 2020)

Posted on: March 2nd, 2020 by Simon Carter
feathered nest ext

The Feathered Nest, a food-led restaurant with rooms, has been under new ownership with a new head chef since August 2019. Adam Taylor, chief executive of Nested Hospitality, and Michelin starred Matt Weedon are aiming to exceed the pre-existing high reputation for food, service and accommodation. Between them, they have a wealth of experience to make their new venture a success. Adam’s passion for hospitality, especially regarding polo events, has taken him across the world but The Feathered Nest realises his dream of having his own restaurant. In Matt Weedon he has a master chef of distinguished pedigree, having won Michelin stars at Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire and Lords of the Manor in Gloucestershire. 

Chef Matt Weedon (Left) and owner Adam Taylor (Right)

Situated on the edge of the tiny Oxfordshire village of Nether Westcote, six miles from the historic market town of Burford, The Feathered Nest’s location in the heart of the Cotswolds boasts panoramic views over the Evenlode valley, best admired from the attractive terrace and extensive gardens. Off the beaten track, it became a destination restaurant with three AA rosettes under the previous ownership, a status already retained under the new ownership.

Housed in a handsomely restored 17th Century malthouse, complete with oak beams and stone floors, The Feathered Nest is entered through a traditional bar area leading to small lounge with leather chairs and sofas around a stone fireplace. Beyond is the main restaurant with its well-spaced tables, the lower level with banquette seating spilling out to the terrace. All three areas exude a comforting, relaxed informality.

With a maximum of 75 covers across the various dining areas and a staff of 15, this is a serious operation. Changes have been gradual to minimise disruption but the decision to offer lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturday (as well as Sunday lunch) is an astute one, promoting a good work-life balance amongst the staff, helping to ensure consistency in the kitchen and front of house.  Community supper clubs and Sunday music nights have been introduced to retain existing patrons and encourage new ones.

Whilst retaining high-end cuisine, there is now a more flexible approach to the food offering. The same menu is available in all three areas, so patrons can opt for a six-course tasting menu or a single dish from the carte. Dishes from a bar board are also on offer.

Seasonality. sustainability and locality, given their unquestioned quality of the region’s produce, are key facets of the menus. Indeed, Matt, who lives in the next village, and has been a regular patron of The Feathered Nest before becoming Head Chef, intends to extend the range of local suppliers.

Matt Weedon’s cuisine is unashamedly classical, forsaking faddish trends and gimmicky flourishes. There are some contemporary touches but these are kept in moderation. Fundamentally, cooking techniques are highly polished, with precise timing, judicious seasoning and accomplished saucing. Dishes reflect a harmonious combination of ingredients, with balance in tastes, textures and temperatures. Attention to detail, which helps elevate each dish, is immaculate. Portions are generous whilst presentation is clean and uncluttered, each item on the plate serving a distinct purpose.

The a la carte menu is extensive enough to showcase the chef’s range but short enough to ensure consistency. Five starters (£14 to £22) and five mains (£28 to £38) are supplemented by two steaks from the Josper grill (£29 to £70 for Chateaubriand for two) and four desserts (£9 to £18 for tarte tatin for two) and a cheese option (£12). A six-course tasting menu (£65) featuring smaller portions taken from the carte, is the best introduction to Matt’s cuisine. Prices are realistic and fair, considering the quality of the produce and the expertise in cooking. Meals will also include complementary amuse bouches, home baked breads and pre dessert.

The wine list is ambitious and international, with a focus on France and Italy but with a good selection of New World vintages.

A weekday dinner in February captured the essential qualities of the food and service offering. A warm welcome by owner Adam Taylor, who also acts as front of house, put us at our ease and provided useful background information on the new regime.

Anthony, the engaging Restaurant Manager, ensured the seamless service was helpful, informative and unobtrusive.

The meal began with an amuse bouche of cornets of local estate curried lamb breast, yogurt, apricot puree and cucumber. This proved a delectable and dainty combination of savoury and sweet flavours with soft and crisp textures. It certainly whetted the appetite for the subsequent courses.

Next came a silky smooth and deeply flavoured soup of butternut squash and cauliflower, dressed with coriander oil for a contrasting herbal hit. Of the two miniature loaves served with it, the warm Guinness sourdough was outstanding in its malty sweetness and soft texture. These came with soft home churned butter and marmite beef dripping and lighter rapeseed oil and raspberry vinegar

A starter paired grilled chicken wings with home-smoked eel. The soft textured glazed boneless chicken worked well with the oily richness of the cured eel. The dish was enlivened by dots of hoisin sauce, the strong savouriness of which was moderated by the sweetness of the compressed carrot. Finely sliced cucumber and spring onion added freshness and crispness to this deceptively simple dish with Chinese influences.  

Next, shellfish was partnered with pork. Long, slow-cooked Oxford and sandy black pig’s cheek produced meltingly soft, full-flavoured meat in contrast to the accurately timed Orkney scallops with their seared crusts and sweet, translucent flesh. Celeriac puree gave a gentle aniseed taste, balanced by caramelised apple. The necessary crisp element was provided by crumbled pork crackling.

A beef main course was not for the faint hearted. A fillet of Aberdeen Angus was cooked medium to maximise its elegant, subtle flavour and tender succulence. Partnered with rich, boldly flavoured ballotine of oxtail, this combination was a carnivor’s delight. Equal attention was paid to the veritable cornucopia of vegetables:  smooth smoked mash and crisp potato wheel; sautéed morel mushrooms; onions and carrots in beef dripping; and vibrant kale and tenderstem broccoli. Finished with a powerful red wine sauce, this dish exemplified classical cooking at its elevated best.

Equally accomplished was the seafood main course. A fillet of roasted halibut – a fish notorious for drying out if not treated with respect – was timed to perfection, giving firm flakes of delicately flavoured white flesh. This was accompanied by a raviolo of langoustines, the thin, silky pasta encasing the sweet crustacean bound in a shellfish mousse. But the star of the dish was an exquisite shellfish bisque, light but fully flavoured and lifted with the addition of vanilla and a well-judged degree of acidity to balance its richness. Chargrilled leeks provided a smoky, mild onion taste and crisp texture which complemented the other elements well.

A pre dessert of banana, apple and passion fruit curd, topped with pina colada foam and coconut tuile proved a refreshing and light palate cleanser.

For dessert we shared a tarte tatin of pear, well worth the advertised 25 minutes wait. The puff pastry was exemplary in its buttery taste and flaky texture, whilst the use of pear instead of the usual apple gave a degree of acidity to balance the caramelised fruit. Pear sorbet rather than ice cream and blackberry gel also helped to cut the richness of the dish. For those who wished for further indulgence, two contrasting sauces – mildly bitter caramel and vanilla custard were also offered separately.

Good coffee and chocolate teacakes by the open fire completed a memorable meal which exceeded our already high expectations. Clearly, Matt Weedon’s cooking goes from strength to strength, fully justifying the accolades he has won.

The Cotswolds is a highly competitive market, bursting with food led restaurants with rooms. However, only the best will survive as destination venues, largely due to the quality of their food. The Feathered Nest undoubtedly takes its place in this elite group. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed its visit, will definitely revisit, and will follow with interest its progress in the national restaurant guides. We wish Adam, Matt and their team every success.

Press Release: AA Rosette Awards January 2020

Posted on: February 19th, 2020 by Simon Carter
ratedtrips.com

AA ANNOUNCES NEW ROSETTE AWARD WINNERS

UK restaurants awarded with the highest recognition of culinary excellence

London. 17th February 2020. The AA has announced its latest Rosette Award winners, recognising the restaurants offering the highest culinary standard in the UK and Ireland. Two restaurants have been awarded four AA Rosettes, while a further eleven have been awarded three AA Rosettes.

Restaurants honoured with four AA Rosettes are Alchemilla (Nottingham) and The Lady Helen Restaurant (Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny), while those awarded three AA Rosettes include Jason Atherton’s No. 5 Social (London), Paschoe House (Crediton, Devon) and Edinbane Lodge (Edinbane, Highlands).

Establishments with three AA Rosettes are all outstanding restaurants achieving standards that demand national recognition well beyond their local area. Those awarded four AA Rosettes are among the top restaurants in the country.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media said “We are thrilled to recognise hotels and restaurants achieving such high standards of culinary excellence. Congratulations to these establishments and their staff, who demonstrate the variety and high quality of dining experiences offered across the UK and Ireland.”  

New four AA Rosettes:

Alchemilla, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire 

The Lady Helen Restaurant, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

New three AA Rosettes:

Cavendish Hotel, Baslow, Derbyshire

Edinbane Lodge, Edinbane, Highlands

Hammet @ Castell Malgwyn, Llechryd, Ceredigion

No.5 Social, London W1

Paschoe House, Crediton, Devon

Siren, London SW1

The Ollerod, Beaminster, Dorset

The Pass Restaurant, Lower Beeding, West Sussex

The Yorke Arms, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

Tony Parkin at the Tudor Room, Egham, Surrey

Wild Honey St James, London SW1

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

4 Rosettes

The Lady Helen Restaurant Thomastown, County Kilkenny

Skilful Modern Irish dishes in a grand Georgian setting

The Mount Juliet is a fine example of the Georgian country house and estate, offering spa treatments and golf in addition to inspirational fine dining in the Lady Helen Restaurant. Named after previous owner Lady Helen McCalmont, it’s a coolly elegant, high-ceilinged room with intricate plasterwork and magnificent windows overlooking the grounds. Attention to detail is second to none and produce from the estate often features in chef John Kelly’s modern Irish cooking. Dinner might begin with a single, silky raviolo, stuffed with black truffle-studded potato and accompanied by a fine parmesan cream, followed by breast of Anjou squab pigeon, served on York cabbage, topped with hen of the woods and toasted hazelnuts, and finished with a rich, glossy veal jus, alongside a bowl of the braised leg and thigh meat. Caramelised banana ice cream is a deceptively simple dessert, served with tonka bean cremeux and brightly coloured, astringent calamansi gel.

Alchemilla Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

Innovative tasting menus in an impressively renovated space

A wall of green foliage is the only real clue in daylight that you’ve found this almost hidden gem. A former coach house, derelict for a century and a half, with bare brick walls, an arched ceiling and light flooding down from huge skylights onto the simply presented wooden tables and open kitchen. This is modern cookery of the best kind, supported by an understanding of classic techniques, and with an inspired take on the plant-based elements of dishes. Barbecue flavours might feature in a memorable starter of celeriac, finished in goats’ butter and topped with fresh herbs, an earthy, tender dish that packs a real punch. Moroccan lamb is served pink, with burnt aubergine, pomegranate and molasses, sticky-sweet and complex, and a colourful apricot and tea puree. A quenelle of shakshuka pulls the dish together brilliantly. Finish with creamy chocolate gelato, salted liquorice custard and a vibrant beetroot sorbet. Petits fours are top notch.

3 Rosettes

Cavendish Hotel Baslow, Derbyshire

Fine dining on the Chatsworth Estate

This stylish hotel dates back to the 18th century, and the comfortable public areas are adorned with paintings from the Duke’s extensive art collection. The Gallery restaurant is traditionally decorated with a smart modern twist, and in season menus feature lamb and game from the estate. You might begin with cod loin and satay sauce, cooled by coconut yoghurt. A neatly plated, colourful dish of Moss Valley pork belly comes with homemade black pudding, sage mashed potato, Swiss chard, broccoli and peppered pineapple. ‘Simple presentation and perfect execution’ sums up a dessert of banana, walnut and caramel soufflé with silky dark chocolate sorbet.

Edinbane Lodge Edinbane, Highlands

Dine on tiptop Skye produce in a characterful lodge

The elegant dining room at this luxuriously renovated 16th-century house has an impressive stone fireplace and portraits of past owners, while the seasonal tasting menus showcase the very best produce the island has to offer. A starter of the freshest, plumpest langoustine, served on nicely braised carrot, gets things off to a great start. Next up, a simply presented dish of deliciously fresh Shetland-landed cod with Drumfearn chanterelles. Coishletter venison loin is accompanied by smoked beetroot and a textbook pommes dauphine. A beautifully simple dessert of pineapple weed ice cream with lemon verbena is followed by Isle of Skye sea salt caramel parfait with sorrel.

Hammet @ Castell Malgwyn Llechryd, Ceredigion

Wonderfully stylish setting for equally stylish food

A fabulous, creeper-clad Georgian house with a contemporary interior – neutral colours and a striking art collection combining effectively with intricate period plasterwork and high ceilings. The transparent Perspex chairs in the dining room are pretty cool, and so is the food. Begin with seared monkfish with black garlic – a great flavour combination enhanced by pickled mussel and a smooth pea purée. A beautifully presented main of chicken with girolles, bacon and sweetcorn offers excellent contrasting textures, while a deceptively simple dessert of lemon curd, chantilly cream and honeyed raspberries brings a bold intensity to the close of the meal.

No.5 Social London W1

Stylish modern European dishes at the latest opening from Jason Atherton

In the heart of Mayfair, just across the street from Jason Atherton’s flagship Pollen Street Social, this brand-new restaurant offers an elegant, airy dining room – a warm, relaxing environment with an unstuffy vibe, and the ideal place to experience Atherton’s trademark modern European dishes. A lovely starter of Orkney scallop, set on top of a light avocado mousse, with a scallop tartare and thinly sliced raw courgette, makes for an impressive starter, while a main course of Josper-grilled Ibérico pork chop is succulent and well-seasoned, garnished with little pieces of black pudding and bacon and served with tender braised hispi cabbage.

Paschoe House Crediton, Devon

The cooking steps up a notch at this delightful foodie destination

A luxurious Grade II listed house, set in 25 acres of grounds in a remote Devon valley with cooking that proves to be a creative, effective fusion of Asian and modern British elements. You’ll find this perfectly illustrated by a starter of well-timed lemongrass prawns with pineapple and chilli, served with a beautifully made dim sum. A main of tender Creedy Carver duck is accompanied by a rich, smooth ballotine of foie gras, with blackberries proving an excellent counterpoint – a dish with bags of flavour. A dessert of ‘apple, cider, oats’ makes for an impressively presented and delicious finale. Excellent wine list.

Siren London SW1

Simple, ingredient-led dishes backed by stunning produce

Siren is the latest from piscatorial behemoth Nathan Outlaw, under the direction of head chef Andrew Sawyer. Bi-fold doors open out into a secluded garden; there are marble-topped tables and floral fabrics. Get things going with the sourdough bread, served with seaweed butter, before moving on to a risotto of Cornish crab light, full of flavour, and perfectly timed. You might find whole mackerel with crispy oysters among the specials, the fish of remarkable quality, the oysters a great addition, making for a dish of absolute simplicity and clarity. Finish with a raspberry choux bun with dark chocolate sauce.

The Ollerod Beaminster, Dorset

Country house character and top quality modern British food

Ollerod is a dialect word for ‘cowslip’, and this charming, quirky building dates largely to the 13th century. Full of character, it offers plenty of period details, as well as contemporary furnishings and decor. Local art and photography can often be seen on display, and there’s a real emphasis on the best local and seasonal produce, with fish and seafood from the Dorset coast. A summer menu might feature refreshing ajo blanco – a chilled almond soup with crab, mango and grapes, followed by an equally refreshing dish of salmon ceviche with avocado mousse. Finish with an elderflower cream with poached gooseberries and a mini doughnut.

The Pass Restaurant Lower Beeding, West Sussex

Stylish, contemporary dining while you watch the kitchen team at work

Taking the chef’s table concept to its logical conclusion, here the whole restaurant has been designed round the notion of watching the kitchen. Twenty-eight lucky diners can either peer though the glass walls or watch the action on plasma-screen monitors. The space is contemporary, with high-level tables, lilac and black leather banquettes and swivel seats, while the cooking is ingredient-led and modern in style. Flavours are clear and subtle in dishes like Carabinero prawn risotto, with grapefruit cutting through the richness and nasturtiums for a peppery hit. An autumn dish of South Downs venison is wonderfully tender, and black fig and sesame millefeuille rounds things off nicely.

The Yorke Arms Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

Bold, creative cooking in the idyllic Nidderdale Valley

The Yorke Arms is a splendid restaurant with rooms, in a mouth-watering location. Mullioned windows look out over wonderful Dales views, bedrooms are superb, and the restaurant is a long-established foodie destination, with Frances Atkins’s bold, creative cooking a real draw. Seasonal menus showcase classical cookery with some confident modern flourishes, supported by a great wine list. Pumpkin is the star in an autumn starter, complemented by malt and an impressive verjus jelly. A pretty main course features vibrant carrot mousse and crisp artichoke, a great combination enhanced by the freshness of cucumber. Finish with the excellent ‘Celebration of chocolate’.

Tony Parkin at the Tudor Room Egham, Surrey

Hugely impressive dining in an equally impressive Tudor mansion

Great Fosters is a splendid, many-gabled red-brick Tudor house with 50 acres of gardens and parkland. The main dining room, with its ornately carved fireplace and dramatic 17th-century Flemish tapestry, is an intimate space of just seven tables. Here you’ll find restrained, sophisticated dishes, and fantastic ingredients handled with skill and precision. A starter of Jerusalem artichoke with chestnut and lemon sorrel offers a silky-smooth chestnut purée and great depth of flavour from salt-baked artichoke, while a main of tender venison comes with deliciously creamy celeriac and earthy flavours from baked beetroot. Apple crumble with cinnamon ice cream is pitch perfect.

Wild Honey St James, London SW1

Bringing French style to this splendid West End hotel

Wild Honey’s move from Mayfair to the Sofitel London St James has resulted in an airy, high-ceilinged dining room with enormous windows draped in grey linen, black walls, impressive lighting, and beautiful pale blue velvet banquettes. This is a slick operation, serving up the simple, contemporary French-based seasonal cooking for which the restaurant is so well known. Kick off with the earthy flavours of roast heritage beetroot, rich black pudding purée and cured wild boar cheek. A highly successful main of perfectly cooked Welsh lamb comes with roast salsify, fresh sheep’s ricotta and Italian greens, while dessert might be a classic English custard tart.

About AA Hotel & Hospitality Services

The AA and Enthuse Holdings Ltd jointly own and operate the business named AA Hotel and Hospitality Services which, among other activities, inspects, rates and publishes information about the hospitality industry including hotels, guest accommodation and restaurants. This includes the renowned star rating quality and rosette schemes and well-established range of lifestyle publications such as the hotel and restaurant guides.

Press Release: AA Launches RatedTrips.com

Posted on: February 19th, 2020 by Simon Carter

New online hub brings together AA and VisitEngland rated destinations to help customers discover and book recommended restaurants, hotels, pubs and more

14 February 2020. The AA has today announced the launch of RatedTrips.com, a brand-new go-to hub to help customers find recommended places to visit, stay, eat and drink across the UK and Ireland.

RatedTrips.com will feature 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.

With each destination expertly assessed by AA Hotel & Hospitality Services or VisitEngland Assessment Services, rated establishments will feature the anonymous inspector’s review of the property as well as five things that make that destination unique.

The rated establishments on the site include:

·Accommodation: hotels, B&Bs, self-catering cottages, camping and caravanning sites, holiday villages, hostels, chalets and campus living spaces

·Dining: restaurants and recommended pubs

·Experiences: rated attractions, plus recommended days out and places to visit

The intuitive platform will allow users to search by location or property name, and link directly through to each establishment’s own website, with a direct booking function set to be rolled out on the site later in 2020. RatedTrips.com will also support users in taking advantage of travel offers from hotels.

Meanwhile, the weekly travel inspiration section will highlight recommended places to stay, dine and visit, with articles contributed by a range of experienced travel editors and writers.

With over 111 years’ experience in offering trusted reviews and recommendations, the AA’s ratings – including Rosettes for restaurants and Stars for hotels – will be displayed across the site where applicable, helping users find the very best places to eat or sleep in the UK and Ireland.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media, commented: “As the originator of hotel star ratings, and the first organisation to create a nationwide award for restaurants, the AA is in a unique position to offer independent recommendations across a huge variety of hotels, restaurants, pubs, experiences and beyond. RatedTrips.com is designed to be an invaluable tool to both users and establishments alike, making it easier than ever for customers to discover an AA and VisitEngland rated destination.”

Establishments that are part of an AA scheme will be able to login in the RatedTrips.com portal to upload new images and build their profiles.

RatedTrips.com launches on 14th February.

Twitter: @ratedtripsuk , Instagram: @ratedtrips , Facebook: @ratedtripsuk

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.

The AA and Enthuse Holdings Ltd jointly own and operate the business named AA Hotel and Hospitality Services which, among other activities, inspects, rates and publishes information about the hospitality industry including hotels, guest accommodation and restaurants. This includes the renowned star rating quality and rosette schemes and well-established range of lifestyle publications such as the hotel and restaurant guides.

Chef Interview: Tom Scade, The Vineyard Hotel, December 2019

Posted on: December 14th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Chef Tom Scade

[The Vineyard Hotel: Executive Chef Tom Scade]

Chef Tom Scade is introduced on The Vineyard Hotel website as an artistic engineer, one who produces food that is clean and elegant.  From the flow of that introductory piece, it would appear that the adjectives are principally applied to presentation.  Tom earned his stripes in the kitchens of Keith Stanley, multi Michelin starred Martin Blunos before an extended spell under Michelin starred John Williams MBE at The Ritz.  When sampling Tom’s food, one might argue that while clean lines and elegance to the eye are undeniable, to consider this alone would more than underplay his beautifully conceived dishes.

There is an abundance of depth of clean flavours alongside elegance in the balance and harmony of flavour on a plate.  Indeed, such a combination only occurs with the mastery of multi-stage cooking techniques. Taste, texture, temperature and presentation are all well considered in dish construction.  To further optimise kitchen output, the inputs must be well chosen, too.  To this end Tom views that while local is good, best is best when it comes to selecting produce for a menu, a mantra followed by a significant proportion of the elite level chefs.  In 2018, Tom was recognised as the winner of the Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire before coming third in the world finals later that year.

Vineyard Trout

[Tom Scade’s trout dish demonstrates a depth of clean flavours, mastery of cooking technique and balance on a plate]

At The Vineyard Hotel, Tom is seeking to deliver one of 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 passionate about 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. 

The VIneyard Hotel Newbury

[The Vineyard Hotel]

Over the twenty plus years since its opening, Andrew McKenzie’s stewardship of Sir Peter’s UK portfolio of properties has gone from strength to strength. Widely recognised as a leader in his field, his curriculum vitae includes the prestigious Hotelier of the Year Award. With unerring dedication, Andrew steers the group toward success through excellence.  This is seen none more so, than in the gastronomic offerings found at The Vineyard over the years. In fact, Shay Cooper, Nathan Outlaw, Matt Gillan, Richard Davies, John Campbell, Daniel Galmiche and Billy Reid joined Robby Jenks as the roll call of chefs who had cooked at The Vineyard, where each delivered a service from June 25th, 2018 to July 1st, 2018. This formed the successful twenty-year celebration that was christened ‘Back to the Vine.’

Back ot the vine chefs

[A roll call of chefs that have cooked at The Vineyard]

Fast forward to today and Tom Scade is the latest addition to this honourable brigade and speaks to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide about his journey in the chef world to date and how he seeks to extend the happy culinary history of The Vineyard Hotel and help to fulfil its Eat, Sleep, Drink Wine philosophy.

[Tom Scade constructing the trout dish during service]

At 16, Tom won a scholarship to Royal Academy of Culinary Arts apprenticeship training in Bournemouth.  For his placement he went to London to work for Keith Stanley at Langan’s Coq d’Or in London where he remained for the following three and a half years. Tom gained invaluable experience across all the sections, believing that it takes a year to learn how to work in a professional kitchen before each promotion across sections brings a new challenge and a new discomfort.  “Perhaps when you are comfortable in all aspects of the kitchen, you have reached a point where you will benefit from learning from another kitchen, but not before,” Tom reflects, “In fact many chefs today want to progress far too quickly without having learned all the fundamentals.”

Before the arrival of John Williams from Claridge’s, Keith Stanley was Head Chef at The Ritz.  By coincidence, Tom’s best friend had served his apprenticeship working at Claridge’s under John Williams, so when the time came to move on, he had the benefit of two recommendations of where to take the next step.

The beginning of what turned out to be a four-year first spell at The Ritz was very tough indeed and Tom doesn’t mind admitting that for the first couple of weeks he shed a tear or two.  Then, one day he was saucing a dish and Chef Williams said “you’ve got it now, lad.” Tom realised that he had found his feet and from then onwards, his confidence naturally grew. This is somewhat symbolic of the high regard in which John Williams is held among his peers; a manager, mentor and motivator with an instinctive touch that from numerous accounts continues to encourage his many protégés long after they have left his kitchen.

In 2009, at the age of 24, Tom wanted to try running small restaurant kitchens and achieved a Bib Gourmand at The Bee pub in Windlesham before heading down to Cornwall and taking the property in Rock that would later become Paul Ainsworth’s outlet.  Tom learned how to run a business the hard way, including the challenges of the ups and downs of very seasonal demand, while multi-tasking well beyond the four walls of a kitchen.  With some relief, Tom joined Martin Blunos, at Blunos in Bath where “his pure love of cooking was reignited” and he once again enjoyed an environment where he had peers to work with and learn alongside. In 2015, Tom joined the opening of The Crab and Boar in Chieveley.  On one service, he was to have a first chance meeting with Andrew McKenzie. Tom was cooking for a large party (of over twenty) that included Andrew as a guest.  The group found the food impressive and that it far exceeded high expectations.  So, when Tom came to the table after the meal, he exchanged cards with Andrew, something that would return to benefit him some years later.  

Tom was getting married to a wife in the army and was expecting them to be posted to Canada when the week before the wedding, his wife was posted to London. This led to a career rethink and Tom once again spoke to John Williams. During his time away from The Ritz kitchen, he had learned not only how to run a business but also aspects of being a head chef as well as significant creative learning from other influences. John explained to Tom that he had a vacant Sous Chef role. Spencer Metzger was leaving The Ritz for L’Enclume but was to return less than a year later. Together, the three Sous Chefs of Deepak Mallya, Spencer Metzger and Tom were to motivate each other in the newly Michelin starred kitchen.  Tom sees both Spencer and Deepak as important inspirational figures in his career to date and he was to spend a happy two and a half years working in that kitchen.  In June 2019, Tom joined The Vineyard Hotel as Executive Chef.

[The Vineyard Hotel dining room]

Tom now oversees a brigade of twenty-two chefs, where the first challenge is in the organisation.  Tom’s current team face a similar task to The Ritz (although on a smaller scale) in that everything comes out of one kitchen.  Tom’s mandate is to ensure that all aspects of the hotel – from main restaurant to spa, from conferencing to room service, from afternoon tea to banqueting to The California Bar will all receive a consistent, high quality product. Andrew McKenzie adds that key ingredients of Tom’s successful application were “his demonstrable appreciation of the need for structure as well as organisation, discipline and attention to detail in running a five-star hotel kitchen.” 

The main restaurant 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 F&B operation is a mantra, highlighted by the customer food and service experience in the main dining room.

[The Vineyard Hotel wine cellar]

The Vineyard remains a self-described wine-led hotel.  The cellar boasts 30,000 bottles which are ably managed by Head Sommelier, Romain Bourger, the current UK Sommelier of The Year.  The wine-led element means that certain wines will be showcased, with the food created to complement the wine.  Having said this, the relationship of wine to food works out as roughly equal; wine will be paired with food created by Tom for the à la carte menu of the hotel dining room. 

After the Upset

[“After The Upset”: Sir Peter Michael (far left) looks on at The Judgement of Paris]

The menus are impressive, ‘The Judgement of Paris’ which in line with the 1976 event, features a comparative blind tasting of French and Californian wines alongside a collection of matched dishes.  There is a five starter, five mains, five desserts à la carte which will gradually introduce slightly simplified dishes such as smoked salmon, oysters and a fillet of beef to appeal to the breadth of a hotel audience. The set lunch at three courses with four choices per course is a steal at £29 per head.

Tom’s ambition is to drive forward The Vineyard Hotel’s gastronomic offering in the context of the hotel strategy, which no doubt will follow over the coming months and years.  His blank cheque restaurant visit would be Maison Pic in Valence, which has been a family business since 1889.  Their strapline is “three generations, three stars.” A chef family of international acclaim with current custodian Anne-Sophie Pic a wise choice for a special occasion meal. The evidence of the meal at The Vineyard as well as the interview meeting, was of a chef with a great touch, a mastery of classical technique and an eye to relevance in the present and future.  Good luck to Tom and The Vineyard Hotel and fine dining guide will continue to follow their paths with interest.

Restaurant Review: Merienda, Edinburgh (Nov 2019)

Posted on: November 27th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Merienda Logo

Merienda, meaning a small snack, is a 20 cover restaurant serving small plates of Mediterranean inspired food which opened in 2018. This year it was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin, acknowledging its value for money. Located in Stockbridge, a fashionable area of Edinburgh already crowded with a range of eateries, it entered a highly competitive market but has held its own after receiving plaudits in the Edinburgh and Scottish press.

The restaurant is the creation of chef/owner Campbell Mickel, who already had a thriving high end corporate catering firm. After major heart surgery, from which he was given a 3% chance of survival, he remained a live wire – forgive the pun – seeing the cathartic experience as the trigger to open his first restaurant after 35 years of cooking.

Not that a Merienda represents a major slowing down of pace. Open for lunch and dinner five days a week, and with a monthly changing menu of up to 30 dishes, the pressure on cooking, coupled with the need to be creative, is ever present. With the aim of showcasing the finest Scottish produce, their availability dictates the menu composition.

High quality ingredients, including cheese, charcuterie, smoked products, poultry and meats are sourced from small artisan producers around Scotland and the Islands. Similarly, wine comes from small producers around the Mediterranean, selected to match the changing menus. Scottish craft beers, high end Scottish spirits and Scottish soft drinks complete the drinks offering.

Merienda Dining and Bar

Housed in what was once a farmhouse dating back to 1650, the bright, tall ceilinged room contains the dining area, bar and semi open kitchen. Designed by the owner, the décor has a panelled “soft” effect on one side, and an “industrial, hard” brick like effect on the bar and kitchen side. Tables and chairs in white are well spaced

Teaming up with Robbie Probert, formerly of the Michelin starred 21212, the influence of which is seen in the presentation of some of the dishes, Campbell has created an attractive formula in which guests can create their own tasting menu.

Merienda chefs

[Chef Robbie Probert and Chef/Owner Campbell Mickel]

For a small kitchen with two chefs, the number of dishes on the monthly changing menu is impressive: the November menu is divided into seven “Staples” (£3 to £9.50); five “Fields and Gardens” (£4 to £7.50); five “Rivers and Seas” (£8.20 to £8.50); five

“Farms and Pastures” (£7.90 to £8.50); and three “Sweetness” (all at £7)

Merienda Sample Menu

[Merienda Sample Menu]

Given the quality of the ingredients, and the skill in cooking, prices are realistic. They compare favourably with other small plate restaurants, as The Bib Gourmand confirms.  Whilst the dishes on the Staples section are large enough to share, it is advisable to order one’s own meat and fish courses as they tend to be smaller and likely to cause food envy if not shared.

Staples priced from £3 to £9.50 varied in flavour and texture, some being more successful than others.

Patatas Bravas (£5.90), satisfied the most: freshly cooked with a crisp, spiced crust and soft fluffy centre, a generous bowlful was served with a strong garlicy aioli. Pickled Lombardi peppers, served with herbs of Provence olives, (£3), were crisp with a more rounded, sweet flavour that offset their natural fiery heat. Padron peppers (£6.50) roasted in olive oil with smoked sea salt were suitably charred with good flavour. Serrano ham was rich and salty, being well matched with slices of nutty, mild lightly sweet Manchego cheese. (£7).

Other staples had strengths and weaknesses. Focaccia (£3) had an airy texture and good salt crust but the advertised rosemary flavour was rather muted. An olive oil dip would also have helped. Hummus blended with Bull’s blood beetroot (£6.50) had vibrant colour but was  requiring an acidic lift. The accompanying toasted Pitta bread was crisp but lacked garlic flavour. These are relatively minor hiccups which need little to rectify.

Much better were the fish and meat courses, showing imagination, creativity and accuracy in cooking. Both fish dishes employed well sourced Mediterranean produce but reflected Japanese influence in presentation.

Merienda Octopus

Roast Octopus, (£8.50) featured small, meaty slices of perfectly cooked tentacle – soft, delicate and well flavoured. It worked well with a rich, nutty and slightly sweet pistachio puree, fragrant basil oil and micro herbs. Finished with dots of red cabbage puree, this was a well-conceived and visually stunning dish.

Merienda Tuna

Equally accomplished was a dish of Tuna carpaccio (£8.50). The ultra-thin, almost transparent, slices of stunningly fresh raw fish melted in the mouth. Grated radish gave a contrasting texture which complemented the delicate fish. Blue Spirulina, a non-fishy tasting algae, added a blaze of colour if not flavour. Lobster vinaigrette provided the necessary acidity to this attractively plated course. 

Game, so easily overcooked to become tough and dry, was cooked well here. A breast of pheasant (£8.50) was accurately timed to retain its moistness and soft texture. Puy lentils cooked al dente added a peppery note which complemented the gentle gaminess of the pheasant. A deeply flavoured Grand Veneur sauce brought the elements together well.

Merienda Prok Belly

Better still was the pork belly dish (£7.90). Slow cooked and glazed with honey and garlic, resulting in meat that was meltingly soft and full of flavour, this was a porcine treat. Apple chutney gave a spicy, sweet and sour note, working well with the rich, succulent pork. Despite the monthly changing menu, this is likely to be a popular dish that would be difficult to take off.

To finish, Panna Cotta (£7) proved a light, refreshing dessert. Set to a gentle wobble, it was dressed with mango gel which added a fruity note, organic cocoa nibs and toasted flaked almonds which gave contrasting texture and flavour. Visually, this was yet another beautifully presented dish.

Unlike other small plate restaurants, service at Merienda is not hurried. Bookings are staggered to encourage a leisurely enjoyment of food and wine. It also allows the staff to get t give more individual attention in a welcoming, informal and relaxed manner. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed chatting with owner Campbell over lunch, wishes it the continued success it deserves, and will follow its progress with interest.