The Latymer at Pennyhill Park is a low ceilinged, oak beamed panelled dining room lit by mullioned windows and wall lights and furnished with heavy high backed chairs and luxurious velvet banquettes. The seating and décor might seem too traditional for the modern cuisine of contemporary chefs. Happily, a thorough makeover is planned for January 2017.
In Matt Worswick, Danny Peccorelli, owner of the Exclusive Hotels and Venues group, has found a worthy successor to Michael Wignall, who achieved two Michelin stars at the Latymer. The highlight of Matt’s distinguished career to date was, at the age of 26, being awarded a Michelin Star in 2013 as Head Chef of Glenapp Castle. He previously worked with David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, (two stars), and Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay, (one star), thus his experience in distinguished kitchens is unquestioned. Matt is a chef who actively enjoys being behind the stove, like his mentor at Champignon Sauvage who nurtured his love of foraging and use of less popular cuts of meat and offal
Taking over the reins as Head Chef in March 2016, Matt quickly stamped his mark on the cuisine, creating tasting menus which demonstrated the full range of his influences and talents. To ensure consistency, five or seven course tasting menus at £35 and £50 respectively are available for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and a ten course dinner tasting menu (£100) Wednesday to Sunday. Prices are realistic given the quality and quantity of the ingredients and the expertise in cooking. Particularly good value is the lunch offer of five courses with two “tasting” glasses of wine, half a bottle of mineral water and tea or coffee for £49.
Matt has the confidence not to state the exact provenance of his ingredients, a feature which has become tediously fashionable on contemporary menus. The use of top quality, regionally sourced, organic and seasonal ingredients is axiomatic, true for any chef at this level. That they are treated sensitively, allowing their natural qualities to shine is fundamental to the success of any dish. Matt prefers classical techniques and International influences to cutting edge gadgetry and excessive experimentation; thus innovation is tempered with restraint. More importantly, Matt’s dishes reveal bold depths of flavour, the result of accurate timing, well-judged seasoning and harmonious combinations of taste and texture. Colours are vibrant and presentation is artful without looking contrived.
Menu descriptions are terse and understated, allowing for an element of surprise which may also include a touch of theatre in presentation. How refreshing, also, to see the chef himself presenting some of his dishes and giving the same time to each table – a rarity among high end restaurants.
A trio of amuse bouches with French and Middle Eastern influences; Pig’s trotter cromesquis with piccalilli gel was a dainty porcine treat with crunchy coating and warm, succulent filling. A well flavoured parmesan gougere had crisp choux pastry filled with a truffle puree exuding a heady aroma. Best of all was a delicate cornet of brik pastry filled with smoked baba ganoush, the pureed aubergine being complemented by cardamom yoghurt. The meticulous attention to detail of these delectable morsels augured well for the dishes which followed.
Our tasting menu began with Matt’s signature Octopus dish. The virtues of long slow braising in a water bath, producing a pure, clean flavour and soft, almost melting texture were clearly evident. Oriental elements of miso, ginger, coriander, sesame puree and pickled kohlrabi were carefully balanced to enhance the seafood. Wine: Sake Umetso No Kimoto 80, N.V
A giant, hand dived Orkney scallop was precisely timed to produce a caramelised crust and soft, succulent flesh. Its inherent sweetness was balanced by the gentle bitterness of barbecued leek and burnt onion. A generous topping of caviar helped season the dish and gave contrasting temperature rather than being a mere indulgent flourish. Wine: Dajoar Zenit Riesling Feinherb, Bender, Mosel, 2014
Next, a deceptively simple tomato dish was raised to lofty heights by adept combination and original presentation. Heritage and San Marino tomatoes were semi dried and charred to intensify their natural sweetness and paired with ultra soft, creamy burrata, instead of the ubiquitous mozzarella. Dressed with basil cress and basil oil, this classic Italian flavour combination was enhanced by a “snow” of tomato essence dipped in liquid nitrogen. This lifted the dish, adding contrasting texture and temperature, also providing a stunning colour contrast on the plate. Wine: Bressan Pinot Nero, Venezia, Italy, 2010
The delicate texture and gentle sweetness of butter poached lobster reflected accurate timing that paid due respect to this luxurious crustacean. Its accompanying bisque had a deep, rich intensity and smooth texture – a model of its kind. Peas and mint worked well, adding freshness and texture. This was enhanced by the spectacular presentation at the table when mint dipped in dry ice formed a low level cloud which cascaded across the table, heightening the herbal fragrance.
Herefordshire beef fillet, cooked medium rare, was well seasoned with a good sear. Paired with an unctuous slice of tongue which reflected Matt’s love of offal, this was a marriage of the popular and less attractive cuts, delicious but of contrasting tastes and textures. Giant snails braised in beef jus added richness and texture. The protein elements stood up to the smoked almond pesto, the bold flavours complementing each other. However, perhaps the most accomplished element on the plate, and the undoing of many lesser chefs, was a single pomme soufflé – light, crisp and perfectly formed! Wine: 50th Gran Reserva, Marques De Riscal, Rioja, 200
Desserts maintained the same high standards, revealing the strengths of the pastry section.
An intense strawberry sorbet topped with meringue and elderflower granita combined fruity and muscat aromas with smooth and crystalline textures. Basil and basil oil provided a herbal foil to the sweetness, showing the versatility of this soft herb and helping to make this dessert a celebration of the tastes of summer.
The richer second dessert, chocolate and caramel delice, was a masterclass in the use of chocolate. A light, creamy mousse on a crushed nut and caramelised sugar base was enveloped by a rich, dark and glossy ganache topped with gold leaf. Yogurt sorbet gave a gentle sour note which cut the sweetness, whilst milk crumble gave added texture. Wine: Malvasia Passito Vigna Del Volta, La Stoppa, Italy, 2009
Good coffee and delicious petit fours completed a memorable meal, enhanced by welcoming, efficient and non-obtrusive service. Sommelier Sean Arthur expertly presented the matching wines with a knowledge that belied his years.
Matt Worswick has made a distinguished start, creating dishes of which he can be justifiably proud. There can be little doubt that the Latymer will continue as a destination restaurant, attracting discerning foodies locally and those from further afield. That Matt will emulate his achievement at Glenapp Castle can only be a matter of time, given the quality of the cooking sampled. Fine Dining Guide hopes to return to sample another tasting menu, but in the meantime will follow his progress with interest, anticipating well deserved recognition in the major 2017 restaurant guides.