I often automatically cast my net wide when it comes to searching out the best restaurants.
We accept – and probably expect – the finest of fine dining experiences to come with some travel involved. The neighbouring city of Birmingham, for instance, offers some rich culinary pickings.
How often then, do we overlook what’s under our very noses? In my case, 17 years!
That’s how long I’ve lived in Warwick WITHOUT visiting Mallory Court Hotel & Spa just a few miles down the road in Leamington.
With a talented head chef and a third AA Rosette to its name, it was high time to put that right.
My husband and I received a warm welcome (by both friendly front of house staff as well as a lovely roaring fireplace!) and ushered into a lounge where we enjoyed an aperitif and hors d’oeuvre to whet our appetites for the meal ahead – a meal, incidentally, we had been keenly anticipating. And if the hors d’oeuvre alone were anything to go by, we weren’t going to leave disappointed – or hungry!
After enjoying the ambience for a while, we were led into the beautiful oak-panelled Dining Room restaurant and looked after royally for the rest of the evening.
There was what I suppose I’d describe as a relaxed sophistication about this experience. For me The Dining Room struck just the right balance – formal without being overly fussy. Personally I prefer not to be, albeit politely, pounced upon every time I need a crumb brushing off the tablecloth! Not so the case here. We were thoroughly well looked after – but also found ourselves quickly relaxing into the occasion.
That’s all well and good you say. But what of the food we have harboured such great expectations for and is, after all, the main reason we’re here?
Fresh contemporary flavours combined with a modern British flair is the recipe for success according to Head Chef Paul Evans, who heads up a team of seven after joining Mallory Court from The Devonshire Arms in Yorkshire in May 2017.
Paul’s dishes showcase the best seasonal produce from local suppliers as well as the hotel’s own kitchen garden.
He says: “One of my favourite parts of the day is walking around the garden picking and tasting the latest offerings. With home-grown ingredients and a team of fantastic local suppliers, my aim is to create menus that deliver an exciting dining experience for our guests, ensuring that the restaurant retains its outstanding reputation as one of the finest dining establishments in the area.”
“A dish I am currently working on is Salad of heritage beetroot, local goats curd, nasturtium, hazelnut. We grow the beetroots ourselves and then salt bake them to intensify the flavour, we serve it with some local goats curd that we have added some nasturtium oil to.
“We picked and preserved the nasturtiums from our garden in the summer by turning them in to an oil. By doing this we can use them in the colder months. It is finished with some toasted hazelnuts and a variety of soft leaves and herbs that we have dressed in a vinaigrette made from beetroot juice.”
I often think the phrase ‘less is more’ is appropriate for menus at fine dining restaurants. With five dishes to select from on each course, the quality is so high, it’s less about deciding what to eat as about what to sacrifice eating!
After some indecisiveness, I opted for the Duck Liver Pressing to start things off. Served with soured English plums, almond crunch and elderflower jelly, it created a delicious fusion of flavours and textures, quite unlike anything I’ve tasted before. A first for me – but probably now not a last.
Quail was not a first for my husband – but, according to him, it was certainly the best. The Roast Breast and confit leg of Norfolk quail, salt baked celeriac, lovage and albufera sauce proved a popular choice.
Other starter dishes include Crab (Brixham white crab, brown crab emulsion, dashi jelly and pickled turnip) and Salmon (Cured Loch Duart Salmon, avocado, garden radish and cucumber essence)
Main course was another first for me. I’d never heard of Hogget before, let alone tasted it – and now I would class it as one of my all-time favourites! This dish of loin and belly of south coast hogget, salt baked kohlrabi, fermented black garlic, ewe’s curd and lamb jus was one of the tastiest I have ever sampled – and I’d heartily recommend it. For the uninitiated – like me – hogget is the meat of a young lamb over a year old.
Choices also include Venison (salt chamber aged venison, salsify, parsnip and preserved blackberry venison jus); Duck (roast breast of wild duck, red cabbage, cauliflower and hazelnut puree, garden damson and duck jus) and Turbot (Day boat Cornish turbot, borlotti beans, smoked sausage Jerusalem artichoke AND Champagne sauce).
This season’s dessert menu takes on a slight citrus theme. Choose from ‘Rhubarb’ (Yorkshire Rhubarb, semi frozen ginger cream, Arlette biscuit and rhubarb sorbet); ‘Blood Orange’ (Blood orange mousse, pistachio, white chocolate and blood orange sorbet); ‘Lime’ (Lime custard, blueberries, toasted meringue and blueberry sorbet.) Or, if, like me, you have a slightly sweeter tooth, ‘Custard’ is definitely going to hit the mark. The combined flavours of Vanilla custard tart, nutmeg, prune and granny smith apple sorbet are a sheer delight.
A selection of British cheeses is also available as either a dessert option or add-on course.
Coffee and petits fours follow as we bring our memorable first Mallory Court experience to a close. But our new-found affection for this restaurant will ensure that we are back soon.
Paul said he didn’t have to look far for inspiration for his menu.
“The season and what we can get locally and grow ourselves dictates what I put on the menu. Then it’s a case of working with my team and some ideas they have and then we see where that takes us.
He added: “My ambition is to work even more closely with our gardening team to create more dishes that are literally fork to fork. And always promoting the very best of local Warwickshire produce, and ensuring Mallory Court retains its reputation as the place to dine in the county.”
Amanda Chalmers was hosted for dinner by Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa in Warwickshire, part of the Eden Hotel Collection. The hotel’s flagship restaurant The Dining Room is overseen by talented Head Chef Paul Evans who sources delicious local and home-grown ingredients. To book call Mallory Court on 01926 330 214 (www.mallory.co.uk).