Overseeing the brigade of three in the kitchen is head chef Martin Adams. Surprisingly relaxed after a busy evening’s service, he was kind enough to spare the time to chat about his career. This has included working with Michelin starred chefs Nathan Outlaw and Chris Eden and in the kitchens of big hotels including the Bristol Swallow, followed by the Fowey and Carylon Bay hotels in Cornwall. His present position, although in a much smaller establishment, nevertheless gives him a free rein in developing his style of cooking, which he describes as “modern English with a “fresh, exciting” feel.
With minimum of gadgetry and a preference for the classical techniques in which he was trained, his seasonally changing menu is executed with an “eye for presentation” and “solid skills.” These qualities, which include accuracy in timing, harmonious combination of ingredients with well-considered balance of tastes, textures and temperatures, were commended on Masterchef the Professionals, where he reached the quarter finals in 2012. More importantly, his cooking has gained Tudor Farmhouse two AA rosettes, inclusion in the Michelin and Good Hotel Guides, and Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay. In 2013 it was winner of the Hotel of the Year in Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards and has been listed in the Tatler Restaurant Guide, 2014.
Regionality and seasonality are particular important in Martin’s food philosophy. Most of the produce is sourced within a radius of 20 miles. For instance, poultry comes from Madgetts Farm overlooking the Wye Valley and game and venison from Lyndley Park, just three miles away. Even fruit juices, cider, real ale and local wines are supplied by dealers in Ross on Wye, Monmouth and Tintern respectively. Foraged produce comes from Raoul van den Broucke a “local legend” based in Monmouth. The hotel’s own kitchen garden has expanded, giving more immediate supplies, although Martin’s love of seafood cookery, nurtured in his time in Cornwall, means fish and shellfish are inevitably sourced from that more distant county. On his current menu, skate is a best seller. (see food review )
The a la carte menu of six starters, (£7-£9), mains, (£14-£22) and desserts, including a cheese option, (£8-10) presents a generous choice not usually encountered in smaller country house hotels. This is supplemented by daily specials and a six course tasting menu (£60), with an option flight of wines, (£30).Considering the impeccable quality of the produce and the skills employed in cooking, these prices are realistic and fair. Portions are large by dainty London appetites, if not for local ones, and menu descriptions are detailed but still understated, giving an element of surprise when dishes arrive. Occasionally this generosity of spirit can lead to busy plates. Foraged herbs and leaves together with edible flower petals are used in moderation as garnishes.
The wine list impresses in terms of range – a combination of Old and New Worlds supplemented with British artisan producers – and price, where mark ups are reasonable. There is also a good selection by the glass and carafe. Useful notes, including those on a special list of Pinot Noir, show a deep and passionate interest. Not that other beverages are neglected, as shown in the list of local beers and ciders and the specialist tea menu.
Unable to decide from the embarrassment of choice, I opted for the logical option – the tasting menu with wines. This would also show the breadth and depth of Martin Adam’s repertoire.
The two types of bread were baked well: the crisp white roll had a light, fluffy crumb whilst the country style bread was fuller flavoured with a denser texture.
An amuse bouche of duck and black pudding fritter, crumbed and deep fried, was rich and succulent. This was a clever use of the leg meat which worked well with earthy black pudding. Melon chutney gave the required touch of moist sweetness.
The first dish comprised freshly cooked crab cakes, bursting with the rich full flavour of brown meat – so often ignored by chefs – and given a herby lift with a generous addition of coriander. Balancing this was a quenelle of crab salad, featuring the delicate flakes of sweet white meat, which provided a good contrast of flavour, texture and temperature. A dressing of sweetcorn and chilli jam which added sweetness and lively heat, brought the elements of this visually stunning dish together. The crisp white – Royal Tokaji Dry Furmit 2011 – with rich honey notes and plenty of acidity did full justice to the seafood.
The next dish of rabbit fritter – Martin seems to be like this way of preparation – was hot, well-seasoned and with a spicy kick. A kebab of loin was soft and melting, not overcooked as is so easily done with rabbit. Whilst the garlic aioli might have been a little thicker, it did not lack flavour. The bitterness of curly endive leaves was balanced by the astringency of tiny pickled peppers which was the surprise element of the dish. The gently oaked matching red wine – Pinot Noir, Esterhazy 2011 – with its strawberry and cherry scent, was a well- judged pairing.
Poached skate with beurre noisette was a classic dish given a new twist. The precisely timed wing had been perfectly cooked and deboned, the delicate flesh rolled and perched on soft, buttery crushed new potatoes. Accompaniments of smoked cockles, confit celery and crisp sea vegetables including samphire added flavour and texture, with extra richness given by a herb butter. Carrot puree added sweetness and colour, but was not needed to make this a successful dish. Here was a fish course that worked well with red wine – the same light Pinot Noir
Pan fried duck breast, timed to a blushing pink, had crisp skin, well rendered fat and moist flesh. The leg meat was combined in a crisp spring roll, whilst the overall richness was cut by caramelised pineapple. Sweet potato fondant proved a meltingly delicious accompaniment, wilted bok choi added freshness, cashews and burnt coconut added crunch, and a light jus rounded off the composition. This dish of strong flavours deserved an equally bold wine: the Chianti Classico ( Isole e Olena) 2010, with its tobacco and spice notes, fitted the bill perfectly.
Given the vogue for deconstructing desserts, it was pleasing to be served lemon meringue pie which had not been taken apart as to be unrecognisable. This frozen version, with piped nodules of crisp meringue on top of a tangy lemon filling, was enhanced by a even sharper lime curd. A raspberry sorbet of velvety smoothness and intense flavour, and a dusting of orange sherbet completed this refined dessert. The citrus spiked Australian Riesling proved a refreshing wine match.
In true British fashion cheeses came after dessert. A selection of goat’s, hard and blue, all in the perfect condition and sourced from artisan producers, came with a lively tomato chutney, savoury biscuits, celery, apple and a glass of rich ruby port.
Double expresso and petit fours – fudge and chocolate truffle cups – completed a memorable meal, made even more enjoyable by the welcoming, efficient service of Manager Laura Adams, cheerfully and knowledgeably assisted by Georgina Parker.
Overall, Martin Adams and his team have created an accomplished fine dining restaurant, a real foodie destination of which they can be justifiably proud, and fully deserving of the accolades already heaped on it. And yet one feels this is a chef who has still not reached the peak of his powers, whose potential augurs well for the future. Fine Dining Guide will watch his career with interest.