Luke Matthews (above) leads a kitchen brigade of twenty seven. They are busy throughout the year, with an annual food bill of £1,000,000 to provide for maximum of 140 covers in each of the Marryat Restaurant and Banqueting Suite. The Health Club Café is also supplied by the main kitchen.
With seven years as Head Executive Chef and six years as Pierre Chevillard’s sous chef, Luke could be seen as a permanent fixture, a position which he loves. He is grateful for the extensive support he has received. Investment in the well equipped and spacious kitchen has been generous, including a bespoke induction range, separate bakery and excellent air conditioning. These facilities, along with sensible working hours and Luke’s agreeable management style, make for a pleasant working environment, resulting in staff staying longer with the “family”
Given his busy, multi faceted role, Luke has also welcomed the assistance of his sous chef Cameron Rutherford in the development of more innovative dishes. Nevertheless, Luke cooks “food that people want” rather than to boost his ego. The abundance of returning customers, especially for the good value lunches – there were ninety covers on the day we visited – is a testament to his success.
Cooking with the best of local and regional ingredients wherever possible is important, as shown by the list of local and regional suppliers proudly displayed at the back of the menu. The menu, which changes with the seasons, is in a state of transition to add more variety to both fine dining and simpler, casual eating.
The conservatory of the Marryat restaurant is a long, bright room with generously spaced tables and contemporary carver chairs.
The Menu Gourmand, featuring the Chef’s signature dishes, was taken with selected wines. An amuse bouche of tomato soup with a touch of balsamic had a light freshness which served its purpose of exciting the palate.
Anjou pigeon, slowly poached in a water bath to retain its juiciness, was served cold to accentuate its gentle gaminess. The accompanying sauteed foie gras gave contrasting temperature, texture and richness, whilst pumpkin puree and verjuice jelly added balancing elements of sweet and sour.
(Served with 2008 Les Murieres, Mas Brugieres, Coteaux du Languedoc, France)
Seared hand dived scallops were precisely timed to a medium rare and came, thankfully, with their coral. (Why is this delicious morsel not served in so many restaurants?) A lightly curried crust lifted shellfish without overwhelming its natural sweetness. The cauliflower beignet gave a contrasting crispness which seems more appropriate than the ubiquitous puree encountered elsewhere. Parmesan veloute provided a welcome savoury note to the accomplished dish. (Served with 2008 Tiefenbrunner Sauvignon, “Kitchleiten” Alto Adige, Italy )
Each of the alternative meat courses successfully featured cuts requiring short and long, slow cooking.
A well flavoured aged Scottish fillet was partnered with a serving of ox cheek that was bursting with rich beefiness. This understated dish also featured a fabulously rich bone marrow croquette alongside new season’s ceps and tangy horseradish emulsion. Laverstoke Part pork fillet came with braised pig’s cheek which had a delicate, melting texture. This highly satisfying combination was garnished with piquant white onion and caper fondue and earthy mushroom duxelles. The addition of truffle oil elevated this dish without masking the other flavours. (Served with 2007 Paddy Northwick Pinot Noir, Wairapa, New Zealand)
We could not resist the impressive board of British and Continental cheeses, not on the tasting menu. The chosen selection of Epoisses, Mont d’Or Livarot and Gaperon proved to be in perfect condition. (Served with Tawny port or Madeira)
A pre-dessert Lemon grass panacotta with mandarin granite and rhubarb combined creamy smoothness and icy texture with a sweet and sour taste. Chocolate Nemesis was predictably decadent with its ganache, soft fondant covering and gold leaf decoration. The honey and cherry ice cream helped to make this a rich but not overly sweet dessert. (Served with 2004 Domaine Cazes “Grenat” Revesaltes, France)
Other aspects of the meal were first rate. Service was efficient, with dishes were presented briefly but knowledgeably. Deputy sommelier Craig explained the selected wines in a lively, informative manner, avoiding the grandiose pomposity one so often encounters. The wine matching was particularly impressive, reflecting the quality of the cellar.
Overall, this was a highly accomplished meal, demonstrating skilful cooking, careful balance of flavours, textures and temperatures, refined creativity and conscious artistry in presentation. Why achievement of this quality fails merit a Michelin Star defies comprehension, although in lesser surroundings it doubtlessly would be awarded one.