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Pennyhill Park & Spa is putting on a series of Michelin star collaboration tasting menus, Jo tasted the first of six.
When it comes to fine dining, five-star hotels can be a bit hit and miss – often unsure of their target audience, or playing it safe with standard dishes – but the current series of chef collaborations, taking place over the next five Sundays at The Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park & Spa in leafy Surrey is well worth the trip.
The first one kicked off last week featuring the combined Michelin-star talents of head chef Matt Worswick and Gary Foulkes of the Angler restaurant in London, £95 per head; excluding wines (signature pairings or wine flight).
Matt’s aim is to please all his customers whether it’s a young couple on a first date, or octogenarians who have been visiting the hotel for 50 years – a task more difficult than it can seem.
The dining room is a cosy affair – all dark wood and flowery velvet banquettes (a welcome escape from spa day crowds that fill the hotel at the weekends, prosecco to the fore). Having waited half an hour in the bar earlier in the day for a coffee, we were delighted to find such professional, friendly and knowledgeable service.
There are seven courses and as head chef Matt Worswick says, ‘A tasting menu should leave you neither too full nor hungry.’ Perfectly pitched satiety – looking forward to this experience. The menu kicked off with what turned out, in hindsight, to be an absolute stand-out dish from Gary: raw Orkney scallop, tomato essence, gazpacho vinaigrette and sour cream.
Its clean flavours had an almost Scandi touch and it was a great way to get the gastric juices flowing. Next up was Red mullet with barbecued aubergine, imam bayildi and garlic buttermilk. Again, Gary matched this strong-flavoured fish perfectly with its accompaniments, allowing neither of them to cancel the other out. Definitely a dish with attitude.
We then enjoyed the most unusual palate cleanser from Matt, that almost shouldn’t have worked but did, as it combined the most intricate of flavours: crisp celeriac, salt-baked, remoulade, lovage and Australian truffle, regarded by Matt as the best in the world.
Truffle and celeriac packed a combined punch, with the earthiness of the truffle challenging the slight pepperiness of the celeriac, but the textures were spot on: crisp, crunchy and light.
Things stepped up a notch with the next two main courses: first was lusciously light Cornish cod with line-caught squid, Scottish girolles and sweetcorn from Gary with delicately sweet flavours and a harmonious colour composition on the plate, followed by Matt’s Welsh wagyu beef with sautéed duck liver and mushroom vol au vent served with sweetbreads.
For me, this dish was a little too rich and would have benefited from vegetable accompaniments – the sweetbreads didn’t add to it in my view.
A succinct little cheeseboard followed with the accent on British cheeses: our selection of Wigmore, Couronne Cendree, Bath Blue, Ossau Iraty and Comte grande reserve, served with crackers and greengage chutney was a wonderful French-style pause before dessert.
Two desserts were listed, which seemed like overkill, but in fact they complemented each other so well that any thought of redundant calories was soon forgotten.
Gary’s preserved berry tart with hyssop, white chocolate and summer berries was an absolute triumph; as one who believes there can be such a thing as too much cream, it was great to find that this white chocolate cream was very lightly whipped to the point of airiness, with the depth and tartness of berries a superb counterpoint.
To finish the meal, we enjoyed Matt’s signature dessert – chocolate delice, with milk crumble and yoghurt sorbet. Again, the richness of the chocolate was alleviated by the other elements of the dish, avoiding any heaviness.
One absolute highlight of the experience was the sommelier, 27-year-old Manu. Despite not having been in the wine world for that long, he blew us away with his sheer enthusiasm and bold choices.
Not content with simply matching the wine to the dish, he asked us each about our preferences and managed to find a wine in every case that not only harmonised perfectly with the food but was a dream to drink.
Both Chateau Gruaud Larose 1996 and Chateau d’Armailhac 2005 hit the spot with the beef dish, as did Winkeler Hasensprung Auslese Riesling 1990 and a wonderful Italian dessert wine, Recioto della Valpolicella with dessert.
Sometimes Michelin-star cooking can be all about the chef, with more flavours than the average taste buds can bear. But these dishes were inventive without being overflown, with great attention to flavour and detail. Worth braving the spa visitors for.
The remaining collaborations in the six-week series are:
9 September, Michael Deane – Deane’s on the Square, County Down, Northern Ireland (Michelin star)
16 September, Tom Brown – Cornerstone, Hackney Wick
23 September, James Close – Raby Hunt, Darlington (two Michelin stars)
30 September, Tim Allen – The Flitch of Bacon, Essex
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