Head chef Philip Yeoman’s early career spanned the kitchens of The Dorchester, Harvey Nichols and Soho House before crossing the Atlantic to gain experience in the USA and Bermuda. Seven years at Lainston have seen his cooking acquire a distinct identity under the auspices of Executive Chef Andrew Mackenzie, who encourages maximum freedom of creativity. More recently, the two Michelin starred John Campbell has been has been acting as a consultant. This, combined with the inherent abilities of Phil, have led to a blossoming of The Avenue’s cuisine, which has been awarded three AA rosettes.
Leading a team of 15, Phil caters for a maximum of 60 covers in the restaurant, together with a host of special functions – the hotel is very popular for weddings and conferences. As a leading member of Hampshire Food Fair and Farmers’ Market – the largest in England – Phil is passionate about the sourcing of high quality regional produce, the suppliers of which are credited on the menu; hence scallops come from Portland Shellfish, lamb from the Hinwood flock, Broughton and pork from Lainston’s own pigs. The four acre kitchen garden, developed over the last two years and inspired by Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, provides 90% of his herbs and root vegetables, alongside a range of other vegetables and fruit.
Phil’s style, modestly described as “English cooking with a modern twist”, is based on classical roots, with the employment of modern techniques. Using water baths to maintain consistency of cooking is clearly in evidence, as is a degree of molecular wizardry in the production of foams, gels and spherification. However, they are not used to excess and are integral parts of the dish, adding flavour and texture.
The menu is adventurous, showing an assured understanding of taste and texture. Unusual but compatible combinations are seen in a starter of scallops with smoked eel, and mains of veal rump with goat’s curd and lemon, or halibut with oxtail, parsnip and walnut. Meat can involve two cuts cooked differently, best seen in the top selling roast loin of lamb with braised shoulder or pork fillet with braised pig’s cheek. Desserts such as white chocolate, hob nob biscuit, toffee popcorn and mandarin sorbet can be playful and innovative.
Although some dishes appear relatively simple, this is not to underestimate the complexity and labour intensity of their production. Flavours are pure, with main ingredients allowed to speak for themselves. Textures and temperatures are well judged whilst the final presentation is clean and delicate.
The structure of the seasonally changing menu features five choices in each course, with cheese instead of dessert or as an additional course. Breads are baked on the premises. The ones sampled, onion brioche, baguette and country bread were all exemplary in their crisp crust and firm crumb.
The seven course tasting menu (with a vegetarian alternative) does not duplicate any of the dishes on the carte, showing the versatility and range of Phil’s cooking.
An amuse-bouche featured beetroot jelly, with goat and lemon curd. This combination of strong flavours was brilliantly conceived, the sweetness of the beetroot and richness of the goat’s curd being cut by the citrus. Candied hazelnuts added crunch to balance the other smoother textures.
A terrine of loin and confit shoulder and leg of wild rabbit had a depth of flavour not usually found in bland inferior versions. Layered with cabbage and shitake mushrooms, it was moist and well-seasoned. Blackberry and pear puree with turnip shavings gave an element of sweetness and crispness. (Wine: Nyetimber Classic cuvee, Sussex)
Beautifully fresh seared scallops were perfectly timed to produce and caramelised crust and soft sweet flesh. An intense bisque, reduced almost to a demi-glace, complemented the seafood well, as did the silky smooth cauliflower puree and a “dressing” of sliced razor clams, which added a firmer texture. A molecular “snow” of beurre noisette powder gave an exciting temperature contrast to this warm dish. (Wine: FMC, Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester; Stellenbosch, 2008)
The next dish was a tour de force of vegetarian cookery. Jerusalem artichoke cooked to an al dente texture, and also in puree form, worked well with muted saltiness of parmesan crisps. Roasted black garlic perfumed the whole of this beautifully balanced composition which was finished by a scattering of chestnut shavings.
Beef blade benefitted from long slow cooking in a water bath before being finished in the pan. Apple batons added an element of freshness although the horseradish meringues needed more bite to offset their sweetness. Cep puree added deep earthy notes and the red onion marmalade and rich jus brought the dish together. (Wine: Exclusive hotels edition, Rioja, 2005)
A pre dessert of apple compote, vanilla espuma and crumble was well executed, each component adding a distinct flavour and texture. The star however was a quenelle of kalamansi sorbet which added an intense citrus note.
Finally a highly skilled and ambitious dessert featured quenelles of dark chocolate mousse, spheres of liquorice mousse, and lemon mousse encased in a dark chocolate cigarette. The richness of these decadent elements was offset by a lemon sphere, which oozed an intensely sharp liquid centre when cut. Almonds gave a much needed crunch to offset the overall smoothness of the other elements. (Wine: Elysium, black muscat, Andrew Quady, Central Valley, California 2010)
Strong coffee and excellent petit fours – passion fruit jelly, truffle, Florentine, chocolate crisp and fudge completed this distinguished meal.
All this was enhanced by knowledgeable, unobtrusive service and wines – from an award winning list – chosen by head sommelier| Peter Foulds. His infectious enthusiasm – in particular for Nyetimber wines – and comprehensive knowledge are a testament to his passion and dedication to his craft.
Clearly the quality of the cooking at Lainston House hotel deserves a higher national profile than it has received so far. Certainly, the tasting menu I enjoyed was on a level equal with those eaten at other Michelin starred restaurants. Indeed, Phil Yeomans has created a cuisine of which he can be justifiably proud and Fine Dining Guide will watch his career with interest.