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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.

Chef Interview: Gary Foulkes, Angler Restaurant (November 2019)

Posted on: November 19th, 2019 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse four of their signature dishes against aspects of the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained in an interview with Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below.

The first and most important criteria is the provenance of ingredients; all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.

Gary Foulkes

[Chef Gary Foulkes, Angler Restaurant which has a Michelin Star]

There was no romantic epiphany for Gary when it came to becoming a chef as a career. There wasn’t, for example, a childhood cooking moment, sitting on a grandmother’s knee that enamoured him with the process of preparing food.  It was more a case of serendipity that through a school work experience placement, he was sent to spend a week in a hotel.  Each day would see a different department – reception, bar, housekeeping and so on – the last day was spent in the kitchen.  Gary found the kitchen to be the most interesting of all, exhibiting a real team atmosphere, where the chefs were all focused on what they were doing, while still managing to have a good time.

After leaving school in the mid 1990s, Gary joined the Chester Grosvenor as a commis chef before moving to a Gary Rhodes outpost in Manchester.  Some while later, a journey south saw him invest time at Lords of the Manor under John Campbell, before some time later returning to John’s stewardship as sous chef at The Vineyard near Newbury.  In between, Gary was in London with a stint as a chef de partie under Richard Neat at the Oxo Tower and then for two years as a chef de partie for William Drabble at Aubergine. 

Most recent prior to Angler, Gary found an eight-year home at the iconic The Square restaurant under Phil Howard.  Indeed, The Square tenure was split by some time spent travelling, the return prompted by a call from Phil (Howard) after the departure of his then head chef, Rob Weston, to La Trompette. Gary returned as head chef alongside Phil at the two Michelin star institution.

Gary is not the first chef interviewed by fine dining guide to speak highly of the sheer natural instinctive cooking talent of Rob Weston.  While it was a potentially daunting proposition to take on, Gary quickly adapted to his elevated role at The Square. Gary and Phil remain good friends to this day, speaking regularly.

Angler Restaurant Interior

[Angler Restaurant, dining room, 7th Floor South Place Hotel, London]

Angler Restaurant, as the name suggests, has an emphasis on fish and seafood and is situated on the 7th floor of The South Place Hotel.  Moorgate based and boasting a heart of the city location, the site represents the first departure by D&D Group into hotels and with Angler, the only current Michelin starred restaurant in their group.  Gary Foulkes has headed up the kitchen since 2016 and thereafter successfully retained the Michelin accolade.  The dining room is bright, light, airy and has a welcoming atmosphere with a gentle buzz on a weekday lunch time, ably assisted by the polished front of house operation.

Gary Foulkes now discusses how each of a selection of four signature dishes are created by those Michelin criteria for stars.  This will entail a discussion in terms of cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate for each dish.  The selection of quality ingredients and provenance is also reviewed in the context of the broader menu offerings. This will be supplemented by a general overview of how consistency across the menu and over time is achieved.

The first dish is the mackerel tartare, oyster cream, apple and shiso.  The dish provides a natural opener to the tasting menu as it is fresh, clean, light, visual and a delicious start to the meal. The mackerel is sourced from Cornwall and like all pelagic fish (mid-Ocean) they are at their best in autumn and winter.  Fish and shellfish are sourced (including lobster) from Cornwall with langoustines and scallops arriving from Orkney and live crabs from Dorset. Where appropriate fish is line caught and this quality makes a substantial difference to taste and texture.  Having long standing relationships with suppliers of fish and seafood is vitally important as it allows a mutual respect and bond of trust to develop.  This ensures that Gary always has the right product at the right time at the right price for his menu requirements.

angler mackerel

[mackerel tartare, oyster cream, apple and shiso]

In terms of cooking techniques, the first process is to brine the mackerel which has the impact of firming up the flesh.  This prevents the tartare from disintegrating on the fork, while providing a similar eating texture to a traditional beef tartare. After filleting and chopping, a binding process of a little crème fraîche, shallots, lemon zest and white soy – the white soy is used instead of salt for seasoning.  This avoids partially curing the fish and therefore helps assure a consistent product. Oyster mayonnaise, seaweed, shiso and apple bring a mixture of iron, tartness and fragrance to lift, cut and bring together a balance and harmony to the dish.

The second dish is Newlyn cod, caramelised parsley root, line caught squid and chanterelles.  Gary is self-described as pedantic in all aspects of sourcing, preparation and cooking and so requires 6-8kg cod for the purposes of this dish.  The cod is filleted, brined and air dried as the texture is vitally important.  Should the cod fillet arrive at the table already split (with gaps in the flesh,) it is a sure sign of overcooking.  The approach is to have it flake on the customer’s knife. The squid is scored then sits in grapeseed oil for half an hour before cooking. The dish is a stable all year-round concept with the garnish rotating throughout the seasons. In winter it is a caramelised parsley root with chanterelles but in summer it would be cauliflower purée with girolles or in spring with peas and morels. 

Angler Cod

[Newlyn cod, caramelised parsley root, line caught squid and chanterelles]

As a fairly robust fish, cod is a great vehicle for flavour, so will tolerate a broader span of accompanying harmonious flavours, that will equally provide equilibrium on a plate.  The extension of this observation is that it naturally facilitates seasonality.  In terms of provenance, the world may have become a smaller place, but seasonality is still a key factor in Gary’s thinking. This philosophy is given the additional mantra of seeking out the best, not just the local.  “If I want a white peach, I’ll source it from Italy but in terms of fish, I genuinely believe British fish is the best you can get,” observes Gary.

angler turbot

[Wild turbot, razor clams, Japanese mushrooms and katsuobushi.]

The third dish is the Wild turbot, razor clams, Japanese mushrooms and katsuobushi.  Gary spent time travelling in Japan. On one evening, he tried the most amazing dashi and the chef kindly gave him the recipe.  When Gary came back as head chef at The Square the turbot dish was introduced using key elements of this discovery.  Over the years, the recipe and cooking times have been tweaked to perfect the Turbot dish as it stands on the menu today.  The Turbot are sourced at 3-4kg to give a thick fillet. The fish is wrapped in Kombu and steamed at 78 degrees to provide a pearlescent finish. The flavour enhancement impact is beautiful in combining a form of richness and mild salty infusion. Some dashi is set using a vegetable gel to allow a layer of what looks like skin to sit over the top of the presented fillet.  A poached Japanese mushroom broth is combined with slow cooked razor clams and a black squid ink noodle.  A jug of dashi is offered on the side to finish the dish at the table.

Regardless of volume of customers, every guest should receive the same product.  To allow consistency to come more readily, there are specific recipe books and processes – including taste filters by Gary and his sous chef Mark – right down to the vinaigrette with the scallops.  A recipe is always specific, not the juice of two lemons but the exact grams or precise measures that may be required.  There is no hiding place in a brigade of 10 chefs and pre-preparation is also vital to consistency.  Adaptations to any menu or recipe have a collective creativity and a process to their adoption.

angler sable

[Blackcurrant sable, wild thyme, Brillat Savarin cheesecake cream and vanilla]

The Blackcurrant sable, wild thyme, Brillat Savarin cheesecake cream and vanilla dessert is another dish that has a basic framework with elements rotating throughout the seasons. Gary might provide the original ingredients that a dish might contain then a collective and iterative effort ensues in reaching the end product. In summer it was white peach and lemon verbena, in spring it was strawberry, black olive and Greek basil and so on.  Gary is particular about creating a wow factor with desserts as he says, “Nobody has a dessert because they think it’s healthy for them, they have it because they want something delicious,” and “Fruit, an element of cream, richness, crunch and zingy-ness are all elements to a great dessert” reflects Gary.

Overall, Angler restaurant has formed a significant gastronomic landmark in the city, in the able hands of Gary Foulkes, serving an ever growing, discerning and appreciative clientele.  A point of note is that two key mentors have held the accolade of two Michelin stars, with the food sampled at Angler worthy of such comparisons.  While Gary has clearly grown as a chef thanks to his travels both globally and within the Michelin firmament, his individual creative style leads to a polished finished article.  No doubt Gary Foulkes, his kitchen and welcoming front of house teams will continue to push forward and fine dining guide looks forward to returning soon.

Map: Britain’s Top Restaurants (2020)

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Simon Carter

This is a map that brings together the leading restaurants of Great Britain according to three leading inspector-led guides as at the release of the 2020 Guide editions.  Each of the Guides outlined below provides data in publicly available press releases each year, or in the case of the AA Guide through cumulative twice a year releases.  The points of note are as follows:

* The Waitrose Good Food Guide 2020 Top 50 are included and mapped.  The number in brackets next to the GFG score is the restaurant’s position within their top 50 list.

* The AA Restaurant Guide 2020 all 4 and 5 Rosette restaurants are mapped.

*The Michelin Guide 2020 all GB 2 and 3 Star restaurants are mapped.

Further points of note are as follows:

*The numbering of the labels is significant as it reflects the fine dining guide ranking – an FDG score derived from a specific formula applied to the three guides marks. The highest is 53 marks out of a maximum possible 58. 6 Points per Michelin Star, 3 Points per GFG Mark out of Ten and 2 Points per AA Rosette.

*There are many overlaps with these three guide mark catagories such that the final number of restaurants is 85.

[Britain’s Top Restaurants]

The embedded map is below, the recommendation is to click on the expand box in the top right corner to take you into google maps where you may manipulate the map more easily…

Top 30 (Thirty) Restaurants GB 2020 (October 2019)

Posted on: October 22nd, 2019 by Simon Carter

Below is a formula applied to the scores in leading guides to discover the top 30 (thirty) restaurants in Britain. This is up-to-date as at October 2019.

The weighting is toward Michelin with six points per Michelin star, three points per Waitrose Good Food Guide mark out of ten and two points per AA Restaurant Guide Rosette.  The number in brackets under GFG is the restaurant’s position in the GFG’s Top 50 published list. All three guides are the 2020 editions.

London’s Top 100 Restaurants (October 2019)

Posted on: October 19th, 2019 by Simon Carter
LondonGuides

Below is a formula applied to the scores in the 2020 editions of leading inspector led guides to discover the top 100+ (one hundred) restaurants in London. This is up-to-date as of October 2019.

The weighting is toward Michelin with six points per Michelin star, three points per Waitrose Good Food Guide mark out of ten and two points per AA Restaurant Guide Rosette.  The number in brackets under Waitrose GFG is the position in their 2020 Guide Top 50 restaurants of Great Britain list. Each Guide is the 2020 edition.

London's Top Restaurants Part I
London’s Top Restaurants 1 to 37
London’s Top Restaurants 38 to 76
Top London Restaurants 77 to 113

A newly Michelin starred restaurants in London – Maos – in Bethnal Green is yet to feature in either of the other guides so is unable to register a score of 15 or more to feature on the list.

Scotland & Wales Top Restaurants (October 2019)

Posted on: October 19th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Guides Covers 2020

Below is a formula applied to the scores in the 2020 editions of leading inspector led guides to discover the top 25 (twenty-five) restaurants in Scotland and the leading restaurants of Wales. This is up-to-date as of October 2019.

The weighting is toward Michelin with six points per Michelin star, three points per Waitrose Good Food Guide mark out of ten and two points per AA Restaurant Guide Rosette.  The number in brackets under Waitrose GFG is the position in their 2020 Guide Top 50 restaurants of Great Britain list. Each Guide is the 2020 edition.

Top Restaurants Wales 2020 Guides
Top Restaurants Scotland 2020 Guides

Both Condita in Edinburgh and Isle of Eriska were awarded a first Michelin Star in The 2020 GB&I Michelin Guide but neither as yet appear in either The AA Restaurant Guide 2020 or Waitrose Good Food Guide 2020 editions.

Interview: Nick Parkinson, Royal Oak Paley Street (October 2019)

Posted on: October 16th, 2019 by Simon Carter

[Above: Restaurateur and front of house leader at The Royal Oak at Paley Street Nick Parkinson.]

As a young teen, Nick’s first weekend job to earn some pocket money was bottling up at The Crown at Bray.  It was very local to where Nick was brought up and Bobby King owned the pub.  Nick would collect the empty soda syphons and split bottles that had been discarded and crate them up, Schweppes would collect them and give a credit for the returns.  For the next few years, right up until leaving school, Nick had grown up working around that pub.  The experience was such a positive one that it led him to pursuing a career in the hospitality industry.  Indeed, Nick had enjoyed a glimpse of the chef world in the kitchen at The Crown so went straight in at the deep end by applying for a chef apprenticeship at The Savoy Hotel in London.

Nick spent the next four years in the incredibly tough environment of the kitchens at The Savoy.  In total, Nick spent around seven years working as a chef but a couple of moments swayed his attention away from the engine room of a restaurant and toward the front of house.  First of all, he realized that to be a great chef took something really different, some special spark of flair in creativity.  He felt that while he was a good chef, he perhaps didn’t have the natural attributes of a couple of his contemporaries. At the same time, he would see the food going out from the kitchen and wonder what happened to it in the dining room.  Nick started chatting to his first inspirational career figure, the indefatigable host Angelo Maresca, who for twenty years was the legendary Maitr’ d’ of The Savoy Grill.  This relationship opened a new pair of eyes for Nick, who was able to see the stage, the theatre, the formal suits and the sommeliers as they worked the floor.

This stayed with Nick when he went on his travels, landing in Australia where he was to spend thirteen years building a life and career in the hotel industry.  One funny story from quite early in his Australian hotel career came when Nick was Room Service Manager. The rule in the hotel was that should anything be handed into lost property and not claimed within three months, the item became his to keep.  On one occasion Nick was called to lost property after an elapsed three months, he had no idea what he would be collecting, the item turned out to be a prosthetic leg.  Hard to imagine how the person could forget something so fundamental, a memory that stays with Nick and still brings a wry smile. 

Overall, the front of house of the hotel world felt like a much better fit, however as Nick climbed the career ladder to be F&B Director at The Intercontinental in Sydney, he was to realize that perhaps he had once again become too distant from the customer.  A form of epiphany happened one day in the lobby of the hotel: Nick was sharing the lift down to reception with Lady Fairfax (of Fairfax newspapers) but at the time didn’t know who she was, so when the lift reached the ground floor and the doors opened, he saw an old lady needing help with her luggage.  The conversation went something like this,

Nick: May I help you with your Luggage?

Lady Fairfax: Oh Yes, thank you, that’s very kind!

Nick: Are you checking out, today?

Lady Fairfax: Yes I am.

Nick: Have you enjoyed your stay?

Lady Fairfax: Yes, very much so…

Nick: How long have you been staying with us?

Lady Fairfax: Two years…..

Nick neither knew that any guest had a two years permanent suite at the hotel nor that Lady Fairfax was in residence.  He realized he had been buried in administration for too long and had renewed determination to get back to the purest form of customer facing roles. 

Nick felt that it was time to ‘come home’ and at the same time his father was looking at buying the Belgian Arms pub in the local village of Holyport.  Nick fondly remembers the day in 2001, sitting on a banquette in the front section of The Royal Oak at Paley Street and having the vision of what the space could become.  His father was sitting next to him and Nick remembers hearing the words “are you mad,” which was fair comment to Nick, as at the time the run down walls were painted Salmon pink.  The paint colour and state of the property were apparently the result of a dispute between the former licensee and his sublet.  With some tender loving care and a family passion for the trade, the pub was to become not only a popular food destination for locals but through various recognition systems, nationally renowned.

Nick’s philosophy of hospitality is to keep it simple, he aims to provide a warm welcome that will allow the guest to leave happier than when they arrived.  A number of factors help in this pursuit – a cosy atmosphere, quality food, a 600 bin wine list, an eye-catching display of art and a virtually ever-present host.  In today’s competitive world, customers look for social experiences that tick all these boxes and it is perhaps the people at the front who differentiate the better places. A significant natural skill is the ability to enable the guests to renew acquaintances with a host who remembers details of conversations as if they’d never been away.  Indeed, Nick has made many long-term friends as the face of The Royal Oak. 

“As well as forming these friendships at The Royal Oak, it’s been a real pleasure to see people from diverse backgrounds form lasting friendships of their own under this roof,” Nick’s observation is perhaps one of the beauties of what is left of the pub culture that is unique to Britain. 

As a restaurateur, Nick sees the most pleasurable part of his responsibilities as being the host, the front of house, orchestrating the service and working directly with customers.  Occasionally the service may go wrong but that’s the challenge of the role and to Nick the odd bump in the road is far outweighed by the enjoyment of engaging with new people every day.  Nick would suggest that the hardest part of being the restaurateur is all the operations that are involved in running your own business, the day-to-day tasks that take up a lot of time and can be a constant nagging stress.  It is actually the delivering of happy satisfaction to customers that drives the excitement and motivation going forward.

Nick had the pleasure of hosting President Macron of France and Prime Minister Theresa May at The Royal Oak, however the crowning glory of service (so to speak) was perhaps when Nick had the opportunity to serve Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.  In April 2017, it was the 65th anniversary of The Grenadier Guards serving The Queen and they wanted to mark the occasion by taking her out for lunch and making a presentation. It was a Monday and while Nick had been given plenty of notice that a ‘VIP’ was visiting it was only two days before that he was notified that it would be Her Majesty.  Both occasions went well and fit in with the overall achievements of the pub over the eighteen years under his stewardship. 

Nick is proud of the long association the pub has with the ‘Top 50 Gastropubs,’ which has been a constant since the inception of those awards, it has featured on ‘Top 100’ restaurant lists, scored 6/10 in the Good Food Guide, held three AA Rosettes for nine years, a Bib Gourmands for two years and a Michelin star for eight years.   Significant coverage across the broadsheets over the years has all helped the establishment of a small national institution.  Of course there are ups and downs with such accolades but Nick maintains the mantra of quality first in all that he does and that serves the restaurant in good stead going forward.

In terms of legacy, there have been plenty of staff who have come through the doors and gone on to Michelin related success in their own right, be it as blossoming chefs or front of house managers.  There is always a sense of ‘one team’ at The Royal Oak, no egos allowed in dining room or kitchen and a harmonious philosophy of service to please the customer.  This ethos epitomizes all that is The Royal Oak and is a credit to all the teams front and back, past and present and those that will follow in the future.

Chef Interview: Ben Murphy, Launceston Place. (October 2019)

Posted on: October 4th, 2019 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse three of their signature dishes against aspects of the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained under interview by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below as he described:-

“The first and most important criteria is the provenance of ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours… The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

[Chef Ben Murphy of Launceston Place]

Ben Murphy’s first love was sport, football in particular, indeed he was on the verge of signing professionally for QPR when a broken collarbone brought a premature end to that fledgling career.   Leaning on school experience of an enjoyment of food tech and history of art, Ben had the opportunity to take a three year course at high-end catering college Westminster Kingsway. 

Fresh from graduation, Ben grasped the opportunity of a role as a commis at the opening of Koffmann’s at The Berkeley.  With over twenty-six chefs in the kitchen, Ben started on pastry and over a three and a half year period developed his skills across the sections under the watchful eye of his mentor, Pierre Koffmann.  With Pierre’s assistance, Ben moved to Les Prés d’Eugénie under the legendary Michelin three star chef Michel Guérard, before a year spell at the likewise Michelin three starred Épicure at Le Bristol in Paris.  When Ben returned to London it was to be under Michelin two starred chef Arnaud Bignon at The Greenhouse.  Ben also enjoyed brief stagiaires in New York with Per Se and Eleven Madison Park as well as at Michelin two star Sat Bains in Nottingham.

The first Head Chef role was to come about at the Woodford in East London, where Ben earned the accolades ‘chef to watch’ in the 2016 Waitrose Good Food Guide and ‘Breakthrough Chef of the Year’ at The Food & Travel Awards.

Since joining D&D’s Launceston Place as Head Chef in January 2017, Ben has further developed a signature consistent throughout the menu, that compromises a pleasing on the eye approach with apparent simplicity.  This style, like most top end restaurants, belies the complexity of the multi-stage cooking techniques and processes that sit behind each dish’s production.

[Launceston Place Restaurant]

The three signature dishes to be reviewed by Ben Murphy are the ‘Egg and Soldiers’ from the tasting menu, the ‘Lobster’ from the dinner à la carte and the ‘Presa Ibérica’ dish.  Each will be discussed in terms of cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate.  This will be supplemented by a general overview of how consistency across the menu and over time is achieved. The method of quality and consistency of provenance is also considered.

The egg and sourdough ‘soldiers’ dish is based on a childhood memory: Ben would invariably be cutting the top off an overcooked egg and eating shell at the same time with his slices of white bread.  At Launceston Place, Ben has an egg cutter that removes the top of the egg shell, the remainder is washed and readied as a vessel for a heady mixture of luxury.  Firstly, a foie gras royale provides the initial layer – a sublime taste, temperature and texture seduction.  The warm foie gras custard is steamed for five to six minutes and set.  Scrambled egg is blended into a mousse and put into a syphon gun so it is aerated and fluffy and provides a second layer.  Sourdough bread is made in house and cut into slices and fried.  In fact, as Ben makes his own bread in house, the restaurant may rightly take credit for the production of dishes on the menu from canapé through to petits fours and everything in between.  There’s textural balance and harmony through the smoothness of the foie gras Royale, the fluffiness of the egg and the crunch of the bread.  The webbed foot crockery presentation of the dish further appeals to the sense of sight on top of the flavour, texture and temperature impact.

Ben talks about consistency as a key mantra of his kitchen.  There are folders for recipes and everything is weighed to ensure the same results each time a dish is produced, to the extent that even the salt and pepper seasoning is measured out.  Prior to each service Ben will personally taste every gel, foam or purée as well as tasting through service.  The kitchen is small and compact so Ben sees everything that goes past him. This helps reaffirm the quality standards found in the dishes sent out by the kitchen.

In terms of the lobster dish, Ben likes to use the whole of the crustacean.  The restaurant receives live lobsters that are then cooked in a lobster bouillon.  The claws are cooked for two or three minutes depending on size, as are the knuckles, the tails are tied and cooked for three minutes.  Ben lets the meat cool naturally, not putting it on ice.  A celery gel is produced using kappa, which is a skill Ben learned while at the Michelin three star restaurant Épicure at Le Bristol.  In the finished dish, the richness of the lobster meat is cut by the freshness of the yuzu cream and garnished with lobster oil. Ultimately, customers get the full rounded lobster taste and texture experience with coriander to further lift and enhance the flavours.

The Presa Ibérica dish has been on the menu for two and half years but in different forms – it originated as two separate dishes.  The protein first came with aubergine and the carrot was a separate vegetarian tasting dish.  Ben realized these would work so well together that he  amalgamated the dishes.  A medium sized carrot is coated in a carrot crumb then from the green top of the carrot an emulsion is produced.  The trimmings make a carrot purée and further a carrot infused pork sauce provides a finishing touch.  The pork is cooked in a pan for four minutes seasoned with timut pepper – nothing is sous vide in the kitchen.  The large potato chips take four minutes to fry and the carrot garnish will be ready in unison, Ben will orchestrate plating to ensure immaculate timing in dish creation.

There are five chefs covering the service although Ben gets one more chef in for the busiest services.  The same suppliers over three years have seen and tasted the food, so Ben has a great relationship that helps with consistency of provenance.  There’s no pressure on the kitchen to use the D&D Group suppliers so to a degree the restaurant stands independent as a destination restaurant.  Indeed, Ben can’t fault the level of support the Group has provided in aiding the evolution of the offering at Launceston Place.

Overall Ben Murphy strikes the diner as a chef that has completed a form of journey to deliver a consistent theme of his personality on a plate.  They say that a great chef’s protégés can achieve one Michelin star by producing, to a high standard in a subsidiary restaurant, a subset of their mentors’ creations.  For a dozen years from the millenium, Gordon Ramsay Holdings were a great example of this observation and exemplified a comment made by then editor Derek Bulmer in a fine dining guide interview of 2005.

There is another set of chefs who work in independent restaurants who assume their first head chef role and produce tasting menus that in part are their own creations but also display dishes that are an homage to mentors of their past.  The first star is perhaps a hurdle on the path to displaying a full repertoire in line with these chefs’ own consistent creative instincts and personality.  “Wherever I ate this dish I would know it was Michael Wignall’s food” is perhaps a compliment befitting a chef that reaches two Michelin stars as opposed to one Michelin star.

Ben Murphy has his own distinctive signature and although there are the five criteria by which these standards are measured, he is surely knocking on the door of a first star and with his playfully themed consistent offering on full display, he must enjoy the significant potential to go further.  Fine dining guide senses that if there are gains to be made they are at the edges of touch rather than the search for anything fundamental.  The full dining room and growth in customer base year on year are testament to that fact.  No doubt under the watchful eye of the likes of Michelin, long may his career continue to blossom and fine dining guide looks forward to following Ben’s career with interest.

AA Restaurant Guide 2020 Press Release, September 2019

Posted on: September 24th, 2019 by Simon Carter

UK’S TOP RESTAURANTS AND PUBS REVEALED AT AA HOSPITALITY AWARDS

  • Jason Atherton crowned Chefs’ Chef of the Year
  • Restaurant of the Year and Pub of the Year announced
  • The Ritz, London named best restaurant in UK for service
  • New Rosettes awarded

London. 23 September. The best hotels, restaurants and pubs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were celebrated at the AA Hospitality Awards tonight in a glittering ceremony at Grosvenor House in London.

The twenty-second annual awards were presented by Kate Silverton and honoured the best establishments in the UK across twenty-three categories, including Chefs’ Chef, Restaurant of the Year, Pub of the Year, Hotel of the Year, Food Service, Win, Lifetime Achievement, College Restaurant of the Year, and beyond.

AA Hospitality Awards 2019 Winners:

Chefs’ Chef

Restaurant of the Year

Pub of the Year

Lifetime Achievement Award

Wine Award

Food Service Award

College Restaurant of the Year

New 5 Rosettes

  • Lympstone Manor, Exmouth

New 4 Rosettes

  • Coworth Park, Ascot
  • Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead
  • Hipping Hall, Lancaster
  • Hrishi at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Windermere
  • Old Downton Lodge, Ludlow
  • Roganic, London
  • Sorrel, Dorking
  • The Angel at Hetton, Hetton
  • The Greenhouse, London
  • The Dining Room at Whatley Manor, Malmesbury

The full list of this year’s AA Hospitality Awards winners can be found at www.theaa.com/hospitality-awards/hospitality-awards-winners

Quotes & Award Details

Restaurant of the Year

The AA Restaurant of the Year recognises restaurants that provide cuisine of a truly excellent standard, as well as demonstrating innovation and ambience and providing a high standard of hospitality.

  • Restaurant of the Year, England – Fordwich Arms, Canterbury

Guy Palmer-Brown, Daniel and Natasha Smith, Owners of Fordwich Arms: “When we opened the Fordwich Arms we could not have imagined such a phenomenal first 12 months. We feel truly blessed and it has proven to us that the hard work and dedication from our team in such a young business has paid off. This will only spur us on to achieve as much as we possibly can going forward. A huge thank you to our team for their continual hard work, without whom none of this would have been possible, as well as our guests for their never-ending support of us.”

An AA Inspector said of Fordwich Arms: “The 1930s country boozer with a terrace and garden looking over the River Stour was begging for a makeover, and that’s just what it got when high-flying young chef-patron Dan Smith took the helm in 2018 and immediately turned the place into a foodie destination. Smith’s cooking is firmly in the new-wave modern British camp, allying sharp technique with intriguing combinations of first-class materials.”

  • Restaurant of the Year, London – Cornerstone by Chef Tom Brown, London, E9

Tom Brown, Chef Patron of Cornerstone by Chef Tom Brown commented: “I’m thrilled to have won the ‘AA Restaurant of the Year London’ award, it is such an honour to be recognised by such a prestigious association. I’m so proud of our fantastic team who work tirelessly to ensure we are constantly evolving and delivering a memorable experience to all our guests. Thank you to all the inspectors who have visited us since opening, this award means so much to us.”

An AA Inspector said of Cornerstone by Chef Tom Brown: “This new seafood joint is making big waves. The vibe is super cool, light and relaxed; a handsome monochrome, industrial look with retro bow-back chairs and black tabletops and dominant central-hub kitchen. Confidently exposed, Brown’s team turns out dazzling seafood sharing-plates in the simple but brilliantly executed genre, backed by standout ingredients, flavour and balance.”

  • Restaurant of the Year, Wales – Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias, Colwyn Bay

Bryn Williams, Co-Owner of Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias said: “We are extremely thrilled and excited to win this very special award and to be recognised by such a prestigious organisation within our industry. This is all down to the dedication and hard work of our team at Porth Eirias.”

An AA Inspector said of Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias: “Floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of Colwyn Bay, and exposed steelwork, pendant lights and industrial-chic create the feeling of a hip, big-city eatery. Bryn Williams made his name alongside celebrated chefs and has been chef-patron of Odette’s in London’s Primrose Hill since 2008, so you can expect sharp modern British bistro ideas.”

  • Restaurant of the Year, Scotland – Sugar Boat, Helensburgh

Will Smith, Owner of Sugar Boat commented: “This award is an incredible achievement by the whole team and is testament to the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that has gone into opening and building the restaurant.  Thrilled, elated, blown away, astounded and so very proud to be recognised at a national level. Thank you to everyone who has helped us on our journey.”

An AA Inspector said of Sugar Boat: “On a square in the heart of town, with tables out front and back, Sugar Boat is done out in natural colours of earth and sea, with a marble-topped bar and viewable kitchen. The hearty modern bistro cooking features big flavours and an essentially simple approach.”

Pub of the Year

The AA Pub of the Year is awarded to great all-rounder pubs or inns. They successfully combine the provision of enjoyable food, a great pub atmosphere and a warm welcome with a high standard of management.

  • Pub of the Year, England – Three Daggers, Edington

Richard Smith, General Manager of Three Daggers commented: “It’s a huge compliment to be awarded AA pub of the Year. It is true testament to the hard work of all the staff and the vision and its owners. Hospitality is a tough business and it’s great to see the long hours, sacrifice and passion being recognised by the AA.”

AA Hospitality said of Three Daggers: “A pub with its own microbrewery, farm and farm shop, The Three Daggers has plenty to offer locals and destination diners. Bare tables, mismatched wooden chairs, exposed brick and heritage colours add to the informal country pub feel, as does the seasonal modern cooking.”

  • Pub of the Year, Wales – Glynne Arms, Hawarden

AA Hospitality said of Glynne Arms: “This fine-looking old coaching inn’s success is down to Charlie and Caroline Gladstone. Charlie’s great-great grandfather was 19th-century prime minister Sir William Ewart Gladstone, who married into Hawarden Castle’s Glynne dynasty. Meat, fruit and vegetables come from the couple’s Estate Farm Shop down the road.”

  • Pub of the Year, Scotland – Meikleour Arms Public House, Perth

Claire Mercer Nairne, owner of the Meikleour Arms commented: “We could not dream of winning such a coveted award! Giving a new lease of life to a rural Scottish country pub has been a marvellous journey for our team and now attending a prestigious event in Mayfair to collect an award recognising our hard work is just surreal. The AA Quality standard is the highest in the industry and we are so honoured and over-joyed.”

An AA inspector said of Meikleour Arms Public House: The inn’s own Lure of Meikleour real ale inhabits the bar, as does an extensive wine list; with one of the pub’s owners coming from Bordeaux expect some good clarets, as well as wines from off-the-beaten-track vineyards elsewhere. Eat in the traditional flagstone-floored bar, the woodland-themed stone barn, the more intimate private dining room, or in the garden. The restaurant serves country food, including venison from estate woods, beef from Aberdeenshire, white fish from the East Coast, mussels from Shetland and rod-caught trout from local lochs.”

Chefs’ Chef – Jason Atherton

A popular and coveted title, this unique award, introduced in 1996, offers all AA Rosette-awarded chefs the chance to decide which of their peers deserves the ultimate recognition of their performance over the past twelve months.

Jason Atherton started out working alongside chefs including Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adria at el Bulli, before joining the Gordon Ramsay Holdings in 2001 and launching ‘Maze’, first in London and then another five globally. Jason opened ‘Pollen Street Social’ in April 2011 and now runs 16 restaurants internationally. Jason is married to Irha Atherton who works alongside him as co-director at The Social Company.

Jason Atherton commented: “When you win Chef’s Chef of the Year it’s that award where the chefs vote you, so for me to be voted by my peers it’s just incredible. I was not expecting it, I’m absolutely thrilled to bits.”

Simon Numphud, Managing Director of AA Media said: Jason is one of the UK’s most respected and successful chefs, a reputation hard earned through his relentless commitment and passion for his craft. Given his success and commitment to the industry, he is an inspiration to many and hence no surprise that the AA rosette chef community has voted for him to become this year’s AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year.

Lifetime Achievement – Robin Sheppard, Chairman, Bespoke Hotels

The AA Lifetime Achievement Award, introduced in 2006, recognises professionals within the hospitality industry who have committed their lives to the pursuit of perfection within their discipline. Winners of this award are to be congratulated for making significant fundamental contributions to the industry which have had a notable impact and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress in their field.

Robin has been an hotelier for 40+ years winning many Hotel/Hotelier of the Year awards.  In 2000 he co-founded Bespoke Hotels which has grown into the UK’s latest independent hotel group with over 200 properties, including the multi-award winning Hotel Gotham.  Most recently he won the Hotel Catey and the Oxford Brookes awards for Outstanding Contribution to the Hospitality Industry. 

He is also the Government’s Hospitality Sector Champion for Disabled People.

His greatest achievement, though, has been to fight back from GBS, a totally paralysing illness.  His slow recovery inspired him to launch the Bespoke Access Awards in conjunction with RIBA encouraging better design and empathy from architects, interior designers and hospitality professionals alike.

Robin Sheppard commented: “I just got married, and it doesn’t get any better to spend the second night of your honeymoon winning a lifetime achievement award, so I’m thrilled to bits, astonished and just absolutely delighted.”

Simon Numphud, Managing Director of AA Media said: “An incredible and engaging hotelier for over 40 years, his contribution to the industry speaks for itself and has been recognised by various personal awards in recent years. His success is an inspiration to us all, made even more remarkable given the determination to overcome significant disabilities and his continuing achievements.”

Wine Award

This award recognises an outstanding contribution to promoting, understanding and appreciating wine. Nominees are judged on the quality of their wine list and their ability to inspire customers to make wider and more adventurous choices in selecting wines.

·         Overall Winner / Wine Award England – Hampton Manor, Solihull

James Hill, Managing Director at Hampton Manor commented: “Winning this award is a special moment that is shared with our friends running other restaurants, families growing vineyards across the world, wine makers treating their fruit with love and passionate importers caught up a rich conversation about the future of our soils and the sustainability of our farming systems.  A special nod goes to our friends Sam and Lucy who are leading the natural wine conversation in our region through their ground-breaking business Wine Freedom. They have significantly shaped our thinking.  Natural wine is a movement and a dialogue that is capturing the imagination of a new generation of wine drinkers.”

An AA Inspector said of Hampton Manor wine list: “Super impressive list and is wonderfully curated. Features include funky producers, difficult to source wines via innovative keg system. A list that is totally engaging. Amazing, very stylish and one that takes you on a journey and story. The wine list is a feature in its own right and an innovative way to organise a list, very helpful. A list that pushes the boundaries, such personality.”

  • Wine Award Wales – Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel, Dolgellau

Mark Watson, Director at Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel commented: “It is an honour to be recognised by the AA for the hard work which goes into the formulation of our wine selection.”

An AA Inspector said of Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel wine list: “A list full of passion and much effort. The hotel clearly knows their market and customers, love the tasting notes and the vintage chart is a nice addition. Really good pricing and nice sherry selection. You sense there is a real personality behind the list, and it’s very accessible.”

  • Wine Award Scotland – Castle Terrace Restaurant, Edinburgh

Joel Bastian, Group Head Sommelier at Castle Terrace Restaurant commented: “Passion, curiosity and hard work always pays off.”

An AA Inspector said of Castle Terrace Restaurant wine list: “A beautifully laid out list that is really accessible and easy to read. Whilst leaning towards French wines, overall it is nicely balanced with a strong New World selection. Vintage selections were excellent, pricing appropriate and great magnum selection. A list packed full of Interest.”

Food Service Award – The Ritz, London

This award recognises restaurants that deliver excellent standards of restaurant service and hospitality. Teams will deliver technical service skills and food and beverage knowledge of the highest standard.

Simon Girling, Director of Food and Beverage at The Ritz London:It is the greatest honour for the hotel to have been recognized by the AA, the leading authority in the hospitality industry, with this prestigious award – thank you! I am extremely proud of the entire Front of House service team whose passion is to deliver the very best experience, and demonstrate the highest quality of personalised service and technical expertise, to every guest who comes into The Ritz and The Ritz Restaurant, every day.”

An AA Inspector said of the Ritz: “Hospitality and service are delivered so fluently, that the overall experience feels completely seamless and service just happens at all the appropriate points.  It is all underpinned by a passionate, professional team that have a well-deserved reputation of being one of the best in the industry.”

College Restaurant of the Year – Academy, Cheshire Colleges South & West, Cheshire

A new award in 2016, the AA College Restaurant of the Year Award has been developed in conjunction with our partner People 1st to recognise accredited colleges within the AA College Rosette Scheme that have shown outstanding achievements in a realistic working environment.

Academy, Cheshire Colleges South & West commented: “We’re overwhelmed – it means the world to us but it’s not just us three, we’re three members representing a bigger team, the college our industry and our members.”

New Rosettes

The long-established Rosette scheme recognises successful cooking at different levels across the UK. Success or failure in achieving Rosettes is based on one or more visits by an AA inspector to a hotel or restaurant. Essentially, the visit is a snapshot, whereby the entire meal, including ancillary items (when served), is assessed. About 10% of restaurants nationwide reach a standard that is worthy of one Rosette and above. This is indeed a huge achievement, and not to be underestimated.

The full list of this year’s AA Hospitality Awards winners can be found at
www.theaa.com/hospitality-awards/hospitality-awards-winners
.

All AA Hospitality Awards winners will be included in The Restaurant Guide 2020, published by AA Publishing.

Chef Interview: André Garrett, Corinthia London, September 2019

Posted on: September 16th, 2019 by Simon Carter

[Above: André Garrett, Executive Chef, Corinthia London]

Since January 2019, André Garrett has been settling into his new role as Executive Chef of the 280 bedrooms Corinthia London Hotel, which is situated just off Embankment in the heart of London.  The hotel epitomises definitions of modern luxury in every aspect, while at the same time maintaining a sense of accessibility and lightness of touch, traits which are much in line with the natural requirements of the day and likewise happily complemented by the food offerings of their new Executive Chef.

André previously honed his skills, most recently, as Executive Chef at Cliveden House, having also worked with Nico Ladenis, Bruno Loubet, Guy Savoy (post Roux Scholarship win) and the Galvin Brothers.  With natural charm and humility in equal measures, André is proud to have been inspired by his grandmother, who once worked in the Pump Room restaurant in his hometown of Bath.  As the 1980’s drew to a close, André was qualifying from City of Bath College and taking a position as commis chef at Hunstrete House Hotel. With a natural inkling towards long stays, partly through loyalty and partly through a desire to see a job through, André’s subsequent curriculum vitae displays strong foundations at every turn.

After those initial three years, André moved to London as commis chef to Nico Ladenis at Simply Nico, before rising to Chef de Partie at Nico Central.  He then achieved the same at the three Michelin starred Chez Nico at ninety Park Lane (1992-1994). To further round his experience, André spent two years with Bruno Loubet at Bistrot Bruno, before returning to Nico Ladenis as head chef of Nico Central.

The next major step in his career was joining the Galvin brothers from 2000 until 2013 where André was to hold various positions within the Galvin Group. From 2002 to 2006 André was Head Chef at Orrery and from 2006 to 2013 Head Chef at Galvin at Windows. These restaurants respectively retained and gained a Michelin star. He then opened Restaurant André Garrett at Cliveden House, which proved a great success, gaining early accolades such as Best Newcomer from the likes of The Waitrose Good Food Guide. 

With natural self-effacing modesty, André would credit a continual desire to self-improve, while at the same time helping the next generation to grow and succeed as keys to bringing him career satisfaction.  He has sat on the board of the Academy of Culinary Arts, having received a Master of the Culinary Arts (MCA) in 2005. He is also patently humbled and proud of what he describes as the honour of the increasing leadership, mentoring and judging roles held at the prestigious Roux Scholarship.  The extended Roux family have clearly welcomed André with open arms since he became a Scholar in 2002 – an immediate prize of which was the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen of Guy Savoy – the subsequent bond has continuously strengthened, which is testament to both his ability and character.  In 2007, André was selected to represent his country at the Bocuse d’Or, arguably the world’s most recognised and prestigious international chef competition.  With an on-going thirst for knowledge, André has also successfully completed a Level 5 management and leadership diploma.

[Above: Corinthia London]

The current role at The Corinthia London Hotel takes on board responsibility for the breadth of F&B, which at 280 bedrooms, perhaps makes it the largest of the roles held by Executive Chefs in London’s set of the elite, top end luxury hotels.  Covering The Northall restaurant, room service and in room dining, events, conferencing and banqueting (two rooms, one sits 180 and the other 80), a mezzanine floor for private dining and meetings, two all day dining lounges and a beautiful afternoon tea offering.  André is delighted to have an Executive Sous Chef who operationally oversees F&B to ensure the smooth running of each of the cogs in the wheel of the hotel offerings. Ioannis Polychronakis has previously held positions such as Executive Sous at The Connaught, senior sous chef at Jumeira Carlton Tower, and senior chef de partie at The Square, which have collectively rounded his experience in both luxury hotel F&B as well as high performance independent restaurants.

Dominic South is the head chef of The Northall, having previously worked in luxury hotels in Hong Kong as well as independent restaurants such as Hibiscus, Tom Aikens Group, One Aldwych and Nobu in the UK.  Dominic will drive the development of the market menu, which changes monthly and is seasonal.  André oversees the creative process to evolve and develop the a la carte menu with Dominic’s input.  The style of cuisine is continuously evolving along side André’s signature, “there’s more flexibility given a London clientele and a cosmopolitan feel to the signature of the house,” André observes.  Provenance wise he finds there’s so much to tap into in the capital, with an audience to match.  Suppliers from his Galvin and Cliveden Days have complemented a rich roster of producers and suppliers on the books of the Corinthia London Hotel.

[Above: The light and airy Northall Restaurant, Corinthia London]

The Northall lunch times see a significant business trade where the customers will look for one or two courses from the market menu with ultra seasonal, lightness of touch and precisely cooked food.  Dinner times perhaps tap more into the resident based audience, while there is scope to cater for the likes of pre-theatre diners with the lunch menu for early sitting dinner from 5.30pm, an offering which gets The Northall dining room and bar buzzing in the early evenings.

[Above: Selection of a la carte dishes from Northall Restaurant, Corinthia London]

There is also a Head Chef for Conference and Banqueting and an Executive Pastry Chef, so the overall management team is experienced and strong and supports the luxury hotel operation perfectly.  So while there’s a great base that meets the shared objectives of the hotel strategic team regarding food and beverage, projects are continuously scheduled to drive forward and ever improve the offering to guests.  Over time, some of André’s objectives are to have his attention to detail, signature and style palpable across the breadth and depth of the hotel F&B offering. 

Over the next year, for example, along with building standards generally, André will be looking to develop the room service offering as well as work with a reconceptualised events side of the business, an area where The Corinthia London Hotel sees significant future opportunities.  The team, menu and offering at The Northall Restaurant will see André further stamp his name on the product.  The bar area may become more interactive along with a refurbishment of the front of house.  The service side of front of house at The Northall Restaurant works very well thanks to the astute recruitment of Gold Service Scholar Daniele Quattromini and Gold Service Scholarship Team Gold Member James Dainton who maintain high standards of service throughout the restaurant.

[Above: Gold Service Scholar, Daniele Quattromini demonstrates the cheesboard, Northall, Corinthia London]

Overall, André Garrett finds himself in a strong leadership position at The Corinthia London Hotel – a large, trail blazing, top-end luxury London Hotel.  Far from being out of his depth, André is found to be thriving, relishing the opportunity to make his mark on this great hotel, which is quickly becoming an iconic London institution.  The situation has not happened by accident, André finds himself in this enviable position through a dedicated career of hard work and perseverance coupled with a nature that allows him to lead with humility and a calm authority.  No doubt, he will also continue to give back and grow those around him in the manner befitting a wise leader of his craft. Best of luck for the future André…

Chef Interview: Peter Jospeh, Kahani, September 2019

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse three of their signature dishes against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained under interview by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below as he described:-

“The first and most important criteria is the provenance of ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours… The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

Peter Joseph held a Michelin star for six years as head chef of the original UK Indian Michelin starred restaurant Tamarind.  A restaurant that has become something of an institution and while it continues to be based in Mayfair, Tamarind is now under new stewardship having reopened in 2019 after significant refurbishment and a change in culinary direction.  This came about after Peter moved on at the end of 2018 to set up his own venture in the relative suburban idyll of Chelsea, with his own chic, high-end dining restaurant offering Kahani.  The name Kahani means story in Hindi, which perhaps signals Peter’s intent to revisit his roots when writing his menus.  To explore the link between past and present at the new restaurant, we must consider Peter’s background as well as his thoughts on the future needs of his local audience.

Peter grew up in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state in Southern India.  They say that southern Indian cuisine has its roots in the secretly guarded recipes of private homes.  Well, Peter’s early inspiration for cooking certainly came from observing his mother, indeed “my sibling and I would compete to get the last of the pot of our mother’s chicken or lamb curries,” fondly remembers Peter. Culturally at that time it was a man’s role to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant but not a cook, nevertheless the young Peter was found borrowing ingredients from his mother’s kitchen to cook a dish with his friends as part of a social gathering around food.  He was also in awe of the chefs he had seen on TV in their smart uniforms creating colourful and flavoursome food.  So after schooling Peter enrolled at Hotel Management School on a three years course.

Peter’s first role thereafter was at Sheraton Group of International Hotels starting as a pastry chef, before becoming a sous chef at the hotel, this experience exposed Peter to a variety of international cuisines to match the international clientele of the hotel – from classical French to Malaysian, or from Chinese to regional Indian and so on.  Peter’s executive chef, Rakesh Upadhya, proved an inspirational figure, teaching him the importance of channeled passion, such that he was able to plan accurately and be adaptable to new challenges.  From 2004, after five years with the Sheraton Group, Peter moved to London and a hotel at London Bridge. Peter’s first understanding of the rigours of a Michelin starred restaurant came two years later when he joined Tamarind as a sous chef.  This was a challenging time, as through all his previous experiences, he had not encountered anything like the demands of this type of cooking – the expectations, the challenges, the consistency required.  By 2012, Peter had earned his stripes delivering the right taste and texture service in, service out and was rewarded with the head chef role at Tamarind, holding the Michelin star in his own right continuously until his departure at the end of 2018.  Peter was ready for a new opportunity and challenge, so his own restaurant, Kahani was conceived.

[Kahani restaurant interior with impressive glass walled wine cellar which is home to some beautiful wines and vintages]

The concept at Kahani was to be different from Tamarind, a move away from traditional curries and spices, to develop his own personal cooking signature and identity.  Part of this would involve taking the spices of traditional sauces and making powders to effectively lift and flavour enhance through seasoning a dish.  This would replace the need for a heavy or overwhelming sauce applied to ingredients that at Kahani might be prepared on the robata grill or in the tandoor.  The sauces to food, where such apply, are made far lighter than the traditional recipes that we might associate with Indian restaurants.  This, no doubt, will appeal to the modern British audience and to those of Chelsea and Belgravia particularly.  The theme is also of sharing, like Peter once did in the quintessential Indian practice of young friends cooking and sharing a meal – a real social occasion to his diners at Kahani.

So now for the chef to analyze three of his signature dishes against those Michelin criteria.  These will be the Broccoli, Prawn and Butter Chicken based dishes found on the a la carte menu.

[The Kahani broccoli dish is one of the customer favourites and a dish Peter is proud to have created]

Peter believes that there is a window for getting cooking techniques right and that window applies to cooking time, method and seasoning.  For example, should you over boil broccoli it will lose its texture, colour and flavour.  Likewise cook broccoli too long in the tandoor it will become burnt, crisp and bitter.  So essentially there is a direct correlation between cooking technique and consistency, so both are fundamentals and basics that must be got right.  There is also a link to consistency from provenance.  Overall consistency checks and balances are achieved through knowing the recipes clearly, practice, calm but clear communication, tasting, ensuring constant quality of ingredients and training. Peter continuously conducts this orchestra of taste in his kitchen and instills the right values in his team. To enhance both flavour and texture of the broccoli, Peter’s technique is to coat with roasted lentil flour.  Balance and harmony is achieved through marination using honey, combined with nigella seeds and wheat crisps for texture. The finishing touch that lifts the tandoor dish to dizzy heights is a tamarind infused yoghurt garnish. 

[Kahani King Prawns impress with complementing sweet and sour notes]

Exceptional Indonesian prawns are selected for the next dish.  These were found to maintain a sweet meaty texture, avoiding the smaller, mushier textured products that might populate lesser menus. The dish leans on Malabar cuisine – south west Indian coastal origins – but instead of a wet curry sauce, here Peter makes a powder from coconut, green chilli, curry leaves and ginger and cooks the prawns in a tandoor to avoid heaviness or grease. A smoked tomato chutney is served as a garnish to cut through the natural sweetness of the crustacean and the marinade. 

[Bottom left: Kahani Butter Chicken has a lightness of touch that is so appealing to modern tastes]

The Kahani butter chicken is a signature because it is lower on cream and butter compared to more traditional makhani recipes. Garam masalas from India are used in the traditional way, there is no compromise on flavour with finest quality herb-fed chicken, which is chargrilled.  The consistency of the chicken supplied is a key objective of Peter’s with this flavoursome dish that exudes a lightness of touch.

Overall the menu at Kahani is impressive and Peter’s thinking about appealing to the more residential audience of Chelsea, who may have particular tastes, has struck a winning formula, with a refreshing new perspective on traditional Indian cuisine.  There’s a lot more to this restaurant than the phrase ‘modern twist’ might evoke.  The front of house is large – counting ten on a Wednesday evening in August – who are faultlessly well drilled, engaging and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. The glass walled cellar on display at one end of the restaurant boasts a collection of grand crus Burgundies and Grand Cru Classe Medocs perhaps fitting of the lofty list at Le Gavroche.  The open kitchen and extensive bar fill two other sides to the basement room and are impressive in equal measures.  Peter’s vision is to satisfy happy customers and perhaps one day Michelin recognition will follow, one senses that both have been earned and deserved.

AA: Chef’s Chef of the Year Award Shortlist

Posted on: September 3rd, 2019 by Simon Carter

The ten chefs shortlisted for the Chef’s Chef of the Year Award are:

·         Aaron Patterson (Hambledon Hall, Oakham)

·         Andrew Wong (Kym’s, London)

·         Angela Hartnett (Murano, London)

·         Clare Smyth (Core, London)

·         Gareth Ward (Ynyshir, Machynlleth)

·         Hélène Darroze (Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, London)

·         James Sommerin (Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth)

·         Jason Atherton (Pollen street Social, London)

·         Lisa Goodwin-Allen (Northcote, Blackburn)

·         Mark Birchall (Moor Hall, Lancashire)

·         Paul Ainsworth (Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Padstow)

·         Tom Kitchin (The Kitchin, Edinburgh)

A popular and coveted title, this unique award, introduced in 1996, offers all AA Rosette-awarded chefs the chance to decide which of their peers deserves the ultimate recognition for their performance over the past twelve months.

The Chef’s Chef winner at the 2018 AA Hospitality Awards was Claude Bosi, Chef Patron at Bibendum.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media, commented: “The Chef’s Chef of the Year Award gives chefs a unique opportunity to recognise and honour their peers. Each of the chefs on this year’s shortlist is a pioneer in the world of food and is truly an inspiration in their field. We look forward to celebrating each of these fantastic chefs, and revealing the winner, at the AA Hospitality Awards in September.”

The Chef’s Chef of the Year Award winner will be revealed at the AA Hospitality Awards on Monday 23rd September, at Grosvenor House in London, in a ceremony hosted by Kate Silverton.