The Lawns Restaurant is the proud possessor of three AA rosettes, attracting both a regular, local following and those from further afield.
Not that it has rested on its laurels, which in the main reason why Thornton Hall appointed Matt Worswick as Executive Chef late in 2014. Liverpool-born Matt, 27, will work across the brasserie, private dining, bar /lounge and banqueting suite, leading a 21-strong kitchen brigade. His main role, however, will be to raise the cuisine of the Lawns to even greater heights in order to gain a Michelin star. This will match Marc Wilkinson’s Fraiche in Oxton , currently the only restaurant in Merseyside with a Michelin star.
Matt has already achieved a Michelin star at the luxury Glenapp Castle in Ayreshire in 2013, when he became the youngest chef in Scotland to gain that distinction. Having previously worked with David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, (two stars), and Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay, (one star), his gastronomic credentials were already impressive. As a chef who actively enjoys being behind the stove, like his mentor at Champignon Sauvage, Matt sees his present position as an exciting challenge.
His use of top quality, carefully sourced seasonal ingredients is axiomatic, true for any chef at this level. (Matt has the confidence not to state their provenance, a feature which has become tediously fashionable – and often meaningless – on contemporary menus.) That they are treated sensitively, allowing their natural qualities to shine is fundamental. Classical techniques with modern European influences are preferred to contemporary gadgetry and obsessive experimentation. Matt’s modern European dishes reveal a depth of flavour, the result of accurate timing, well-judged seasoning and harmonious combinations of taste and texture.
The use of less popular cuts of meat, offal, and fish, presenting greater challenges to creativity, is evident across a range of menus. Bavette of beef may appear on the menu du jour; treacle braised brisket and ox tongue as a starter, and ox cheek and oxtail faggot as a main course have appeared on the carte. Similarly, stone bass and gurnard are offered instead of more luxurious alternatives.
Menu descriptions are terse and understated, allowing for an element of surprise in the finished product. Pricing and choices at this level are very fair indeed. For instance, a set lunch is £17.50 for two courses, £21.50 for three. Sunday dinner at £34 has at least 4 options in each of three courses. However, for bona fide foodies and those celebrating special occasions, the £75 tasting menu is the best way of sampling Matt Worswick’s food
A quartet of freshly baked mini loaves with crisp crust and firm crumb included farmhouse white, granary, and onion and onion seed. The last of these was outstanding in aroma, taste and texture. Spread with slightly salted Irish butter, the bread proved so irresistible one had to be careful not to eat too much.
An amuse bouche of cauliflower and smoked eel paired humble and expensive elements in a delightful spoonful.
Open tortellini had silky smooth, delicate pasta encasing a deeply flavoured duxelle of wild mushroom. Crisp barley added texture, cep powder gave a heady fragrance and raw mushrooms added an element of freshness. A veal reduction with a sweet, lip smacking quality served as a sauce which balanced the earthiness of the other elements.
A layered terrine wrapped in cabbage combined the more delicate flavour of chicken with the stronger tasting ham hock. Accompanied by varied shapes of salt baked swede, this unusual pairing worked both in taste and texture. Mayonnaise judiciously spiked with cumin, added a gentle spicy lift. Although lacking a crisp element to balance the soft textures, this was a skilfully crafted and attractively presented dish.
Accurately timed seared scallops had caramelised crusts and soft succulent flesh. Paired with meltingly delicious boneless maple glazed sticky chicken wings, this innovative “surf and turf” combination was garnished with charred leeks and leek puree which added a mild onion taste to the dish.
A deeply flavoured duck breast had its fat well rendered to produce a crisp skin and rich, gamey flesh. The sweetness of the beetroot puree – perhaps an excessive amount on the plate acting as a sauce – was balanced by the gentle bitterness of caramelised chicory. More accomplished were the excellent pommes Dauphine, with their soft interior and crisp coating.
Our selection of cheeses was aided by restaurant manager James Campbell whose encyclopaedic knowledge of flavour, texture and provenance was most impressive indeed. The three pieces chosen – Brillat-Savarin with truffle, Montgomery cheddar and Epoisses; were in a perfect condition of ripeness. Truffle honey with the Brillat Savarin and wine jelly with the cheddar were ideal condiments.
The two well-crafted desserts showed the strengths of the pastry section.
Pineapple cheesecake with a coconut gel proved amazingly light and not oversweet. Its accompanying sorbet was velvety smooth and intensely flavoured. Roasted pineapple completed this composite dessert of contrasting textures and temperatures.
Salted caramel is ubiquitous and has been overused. One exception is the fondant of salted caramel and white chocolate fondant served here. Its meltingly sweet, warm interior and brownie texture was cut brilliantly by a scoop of slightly sour yogurt sorbet. Yogurt meringue and leaves of lemon balm added a crisp texture and herbal fragrance to this innovative dessert.
Overall, this was a well- balanced and skilfully executed menu, displaying strengths in all departments of the kitchen. This is only to be expected given the Matt Worswick’s background and achievements. Whilst his cooking is not cutting edge – and all the better for it – its consistency of execution at a high level, maximising flavour and texture, with a cautious, well considered degree of innovation, are defining features of his cuisine. Fine Dining Guide is optimistic about his prospects of Michelin stardom and will await the 2016 guide in eager anticipation.