Sam Moody (aobve) has been head chef for over a year, having worked under Steve Crane, his predecessor. With four and a half years’ experience at Gidleigh Park under Michael Caines, the two Michelin starred chef who is also Executive Head Chef at Bath Priory, Sam‘s talent and skills will be deployed to good effect.
His time at Gidleigh Park taught Sam the importance of clarity of taste and balance of flavour. A chef, he claims, should be organized, disciplined and needs to create a stable team in the kitchen. But he must also know his limitations. Sam’s a la carte menu of five each of starters, mains and desserts is a wide enough to ensure consistent quality and demonstrate his range, without overstretching his abilities. He also offers two tasting menus. With seasonally changing dishes, he benefits from the excellent organic produce of the West Country.
Although a protégé of Michael Caines, Sam is by no means in his shadow; they collaborate over dishes and enjoy the cross fertilization of ideas.
Guests have an embarrassment of choice between the carte, and two tasting menus The Classic tasting menu, chosen on the night of my visit, fully demonstrated Sam’s high level skills and creativity. Also impressive was the way in which the Head Sommelier quickly but in a highly informed way, chose a flight of matching wines. This showed expert mastery of his craft.
Brixham Scallop gently caramelized and retaining its succulence – came with a bacon veloute. This amuse bouche could be seen as a playful interpretation of the classic dish of English scallops with bacon.
(Wine: Verdelflo, Herdade Do Esporao –Allgntej, Portugal, 2008)
Foie gras terrine was a superior version of this often badly prepared dish. Properly marinated and seasoned, the result was rich, intense and melting, doing full justice to this expensive ingredient. Madeira jelly gave a subtle sweetness, whilst green bean and truffle salad added crunch and a heady, but not overpowering, earthy fragrance
(Wine: Pinot Gris, Calcarie-Zind – Hombrech, Alsace, France, 2007)
A fillet of Sea bass was well timed to preserve maximum flavour. The pak choi added crispness, whilst the parsnip and ginger puree garnish and chicken and vanilla jus gave a sweet and savoury note without being overpowering.
(Wine: Riesling Kabinet Piesporter. Goldtropfchen, Vereinigte Hospitien, Mosel, Germany 2006)
The Hinton estate beef main course was a tour de force of precise cooking, harmony of tastes and balance of textures. The medium rare fillet was garnished with a tangy mustard remoulade, wafer thin Pommes Anna crisp –welcome, but rarely seen nowadays – wilted (but not watery!) spinach, and sweet glazed shallots. The classic red wine reduction and a generous portion of earthy wild mushroom ragout brought the dish together, helping to make it extra special.
(Wine: Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido, Tuscany, Italy, 2002)
The selection from the impressive board of French and English cheeses supplied by Paxton and Whitfield and Premier Cheeses, came in perfect condition and temperature. Little Wallop from Somerset and Sherham Rustic from Devon reflected the excellent use the kitchen makes of prime quality local ingredients. This was the first time I had encountered advice on what bread – three different slices were provided – to eat with which cheese. For instance the balance of sweet fig bread with salty Forme d’Ambert worked well.
(Wine: Port LBV Quinta Do Portal, 2003)
An exotic fruit salad of crystalline pineapple and passion fruit sorbet provided the ideal pre dessert palate cleanser.
Finally, chocolate desserts always provide the acid test for the pastry section, and here it passed with flying colours. The Chocolate orange confit mousse and chocolate ice cream were properly rich and indulgent, their richness offset by a gently sharp orange sorbet.
(Wine: Ice cuvee, Peller Estate, Niagara, Canada.)
Good coffee and petit fours, taken in the drawing room, completed a superb meal prepared by an excellent chef.
Other aspects were also first rate. In the restaurant itself, large round tables with linen drapery are well spaced, the room the long, spacious room being lit with wall lamps and spotlighting. The efficient, friendly and well timed service, was overseen by the charming manager, Akim Korner.
Sam Moody is clearly a chef in full control of his kitchen, producing an excellent classical repertoire. A trip is essential to sample other features from the carte and the chef’s tasting menu. Sam’s cooking is clearly of Michelin Star quality, and there can be little doubt that he will soon emulate his mentor in being recognized at this level.