Phil Yeoman’s return to Lainston House, now as Executive Chef, allows full scope for his creative talents. He runs a calm kitchen of five chefs, an approach which aids retention which in turn promotes consistency in cooking. Ideas for new dishes are bounced around his team and adapted before appearing on the menu. They may appear first in The Avenue, the Chef’s Table opposite the passe, where six diners can comfortably watch Phil and his team dress dishes on the six course tasting menu. This theatre of food showcases the depth and breadth of his rejuvenated passion for cooking.
[Executive Chef Phil Yeomans at The Chef’s Table]
Phil’s cuisine, based on the classics but employing modern techniques, is unashamedly complex. Dishes are multi-component, showing a skilled approach with a clear understanding of technique and flavour. Invention is tempered with a keen culinary intelligence. Combinations of ingredients may occasionally surprise, but all satisfy in terms of taste, texture and temperature. Often using seasonal and local ingredients, including those from the hotel’s Kitchen garden, dishes might also include more exotic produce reflecting his travels as a chef. Cooking is accurately timed, seasoning is judicious, and saucing accomplished but restrained. Presentation is clean and precise, devoid of elaborate flourishes, each element serving a purpose on the plate.
Fine Dining Guide visited The Avenue on a mid-week evening in March, finding much to admire in the chef’s tasting menu – there is a vegetarian alternative – and flight of wines.
A trio of canapes served with pre dinner drinks delighted in their creativity and meticulous attention to detail. These included freshly cooked crisp coated arancini exuding the heady aroma of truffle; dainty lemon emulsion tarts; and delicate chicken crackers with chicken crumble which simply melted in the mouth.
A selection of well baked breads comprised seeded roll, herby rosemary focaccia and, best of all, an accomplished brioche with paprika and cheddar.
An amuse bouche featured an ethereally light foam of Lyburn cheese from Winchester layered onto sweet onion puree seasoned with Worcestershire sauce. These deep, rich flavours and soft textures were balanced by crunchy croutons, fresh apple cubes and a drizzle of spicy lovage oil.
Another local ingredient was expertly employed in the first course. Chalk Stream Rainbow trout, farmed in Romsey on river Test, cured in Bombay Sapphire gin and spices had a firm texture and vibrant flavour. Dressed in yuzu to cut through the oily fish, it worked well with candied and pickled beetroot with beetroot jam, which provided an earthy freshness. Finally, a brilliantly innovative yuzu, white chocolate and horseradish ice cream, at once giving elements of sweet, sour and spicy tastes, elevated the dish to higher plane. The zesty Chablis with orchard flavours did full justice to this composite fish dish.
[Wine: Chablis, Domaine Colette Gros, Burgundy, France 2018]
A complex autumnal vegetarian course saw the distinctive earthiness of tender salt baked celeriac and celeriac puree paired with the creamy nuttiness of gruyere cheese. These were complemented, but not overwhelmed, by crispy onion crumb for a little acidity, pickled blackberries for sourness, and Marsala jelly for richness. Shitake mushrooms (from Fundamentally Fungus), black truffle oil and micro rocket gave contrasting elements in taste and texture. As a final flourish which imitated the shaving of truffle, caramelised white chocolate which had been cooked at 90 degrees for 12 hours, was grated over the top at the table. This was not just a playful theatrical effect as the chocolate gave a gentle sweetness, reminiscent of Caramac, the dish needed. Overall, this was a tour de force of vegetarian cookery which balanced a variety of flavours and textures in satisfying mouthfuls. The matching white wine, with its hint of oak and citrus notes, proved a well-chosen partner.
[Wine: Vidal, Reserve Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2017]
Perched on a base of sweet cauliflower puree, an accurately timed fillet of halibut had glistening white flakes of meaty fish. These mild flavours were given a lift by an intensely rich crab bisque, a crisp crab and tapioca crisp and a light crab foam. Fresh apple and calamansi jam added a zingy freshness, making this another perfectly balanced dish. The accompanying fresh white Burgundy, with notes of white peach with a hint of chalk matched this course well.
[Wine: Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine Roux Père & Fils, France 2018]
The beautifully presented meat course starred pork belly which had been cured for 3 days in wild garlic salt cure, smoked in house, then slow cooked for 24 hours. Inevitably, the result was a beautifully succulent, fully flavoured, melt in the mouth porcine treat. A bon bon of pork shoulder added a barbequed smokiness. Turnip puree and pickled baby turnips, and compressed fresh apple compote were suitable accompaniments, while a baby potato croquette with wild garlic, apple blossom, and a light sauce served separately completed the dish. My only reservation, as a greedy carnivore, was that I would have liked a bigger portion of pork, but this understandably would have imbalanced the whole tasting menu! Nevertheless, such a refined and elevated classical dish needed a classical, rich red wine, in this case served Coravin style
[Wine: Chorey-Les-Beaune, Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Burgundy 2017.]
The first hot and cold dessert proved to be an excellent palate cleanser. Passion fruit souffle was well risen, fluffily textured with an appealingly sweet tartness. The accompanying coconut Malibu sorbet was smooth and intensely flavoured. The lingering citrus finish of the sweet wine worked well with this course.
[Wine: Royal Tokaji Late Harvest, Furmint, Harslevelu, Hungary 2016]
The skills of the pastry section were also shown in the second layered dessert. The gentle bitterness of dark chocolate and lemon ganache was balanced by a honey cremeux of velvet like texture. A ginger biscuit base gave texture and a quenelle of honey ice cream gave added richness with a contrasting temperature. This accomplished, boldly flavoured dessert deserved the glass of rich Maury which partnered it.
Wine: Lafage, Maury Grenat, Vin Doux Naturelle, France 2017
Homemade orange, caramel and Baileys chocolates, worthy of a master chocolatier. completed a memorable meal, one showing harmony and balance within each course and across the whole menu. The chef himself was at hand to explain the composition of the dishes and the techniques employed. In addition, sommelier Alberto, who has served Lainston in various roles for 19 years, showed an extensive knowledge and expertise which enhanced our enjoyment of the wines.
Clearly, the Chef’s Table at The Avenue is the highlight of the food and drink offering at Lainston House – a true gastronomic experience. Phil Yeoman’s reputation as master chef is well established, and his current tenure shows him at the height of his powers. Fine Dining Guide wishes him continued success and will follow his career with interest.