Waldo’s Cliveden – Restaurant Review. September 2009

Posted on: September 11th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

This site has been witness to a series of notable executive chefs, the most recent being Robert Thompson, Daniel Galmiche, and Mark Dodson. Each has added their individual stamp – no matter how briefly – to the reputation of Waldo’s, the fine dining restaurant, but none has shown the unique approach to fine dining offered by the present incumbent.

Chris Horridge, late of the Bath Priory Hotel, displays a missionary zeal in promoting a style of cooking which is has all the richness and sensuality of haute cuisine whilst also maximizing nutritional benefit. This is his “3 dimensional cuisine” emphasing presentation, flavour and nutrition. He speaks with the passion and erudition of a chef scientist who has skillfully created dishes which present delicious and nourishing ingredients in a beautiful, well balanced way.

His cooking is necessarily complex and labour intensive, but the effect is not heavy or cloying. Impeccably sourced ingredients – notably baby vegetables from Richard Vine- are treated with imagination and sensitivity. The menu and kitchen are a constant hub if invention

Descend the wide spiral staircase off the Grand Hall to the intimate setting of Waldo’s. The light mahogany paneling, large portraits, wall lighting, elegant settings on well spaced tables, and deeply upholstered banquettes create a discreet, traditional setting for the very modern cooking. This incongruity does not, happily, detract from the enjoyment of the overall experience

Diners can choose from a three course menu with four alternatives at each stage (£68), or opt for one of two gourmet, seven course menus, featuring smaller versions from the carte. (£79)  The “With” menu opened with Lambourne crayfish and veal sweetbread, coated in an unctuous crayfish-butter sauce. Acknowledging the debt to Fernand Point, this dish epitomized the utter sophistication of classic French cuisine. With other courses featuring red mullet and squid, pan fried and torchon foie gras, and a stunning “mosaic” of lamb, this alternative provided a more classical route to fine dining

However, the main attraction has to be the “Without” menu which avoids the use of sugar, cream and gluten. Not that the diner will notice, given the rich taste and polished appearance of the dishes.

The amuse bouche, normally a prelude to more memorable courses, was, perhaps, one of the most accomplished of all. An essence of tomato, enlivened by a little gas, was poured around some tiny vegetables and a sorbet of cod liver oil, olives and parsley. The clear, pure sweetness of the essence balancing the pungent intensity of the sorbet produced a true taste sensation

The Paillette of young vegetables was an exemplary summer dish: a delicate medley of asparagus, peas, broad beans, mushrooms and crispy sea kale, each retaining their distinct flavour, and contrasting in textures and temperatures. Pollen and omega rich seeds were scattered in the light dressing for added nutriment and contrast, whilst the whole dish was enhanced by the perfume of summer truffle.

Seared scallops were exactly timed to produce a gentle caramelisation that worked well with a puree of sweetcorn. Two garnishes elevated this dish: the roe had been powdered and baked to the thinness of paper; and a basil seed “all sort” resembling the liquorice variety gave the nutritional lift. When one appreciates that basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes anise smell like liquorice, and that it contains large amounts of E beta caryophilline – good for inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis – the cleverness of this dish is confirmed.

Sea bass is rarely served cured, yet this was successfully executed using the natural salt in samphire. The result was a fish a denser texture and more robust flavour. A delightful touch was the skin rolled to resemble a sardine tin being opened, facilitating its removal if preferred. The garnish of caviar added a luxurious finish to the dish

Perhaps the most classical and least adventurous course was Aylesbury duck breast. Here the skin had been replaced by a coating of “crisp tongue dredging,” The dish had all the deep game flavour of duck without its fattiness, the richness being cut by purees of apple and turnip

The cheese course clearly broke the non dairy stipulation of the “Without” menu. However, it would have been a shame not to grant this indulgence given the variety and prime condition of the selection.

Desserts exhibit the same invention and artistry of the other courses. “Lime burnt cream, without the cream?” is a signature dish whose recipe is a closely guarded secret. Its creaminess and delicate texture would match the finest of creme brulees, whilst the presentation – in an eggshell perched on a heap spun sugar – mimicked a bird’s nest

The final course was a stacked composition featuring chocolate fondant, opera and sorbet on an orange and carrot sauce. Here the main Valrhona ingredient contained the healthier Xocoline, the alcohol based sugar substitute. Similar attention to nutritionally biased eating was seen in the Probio soup of summer fruits, accompanying a Lemon Berbena blancmange on the “With” menu.

Petits fours of Lemon grass and orange jellies, tiny meringues and cumin flavoured chocolates completed a memorable meal.

Service was highly professional and friendly without being intrusive. The maitre d’ demonstrated an extensive knowledge of the cheese trolley, whilst the sommelier expertly paired Old and New World wines with each course. For instance, Domaine du Trapadis, Rasteau, 2006 was a perfect match for the chocolate dessert.

The quality of Chris Horridge’s cooking is rare in the ever advancing world of top end restaurants. There seems to be no end to the creativity backed by a vision of healthier gastronomy. Having achieved a Michelin Star at the Bath Priory, Chris must surely repeat this achievement at Waldo’s, and perhaps go further.