A new venture from Ken McCulloch, Aviator hotel is serving up simple, well-sourced food. Janet Harmer reports
Aviator is a major departure for both hotel operator Ken McCulloch and Farnborough Airport, the location of the newly built 169-bedroom hotel.
Having successfully created and sold One Devonshire Gardens and Malmaison hotels, and built up the three-strong group of Dakota Hotels, McCulloch is now operating the newly opened Aviator hotel on behalf of its owner TAG Aviation, the company which has heavily invested in Farnborough over the past eight years to create one of Europe's leading business airports.
As might be expected from a location which welcomes private jets from all over the world - around 75 take off and land there on a daily basis - the hotel is sleek, sexy and contemporary, with interiors by Amanda Rosen.
With direct views on to the runway, the 100-seat brasserie is equally swish, with its cream leather chairs, walnut finishes and black and white photos of Hollywood stars from a bygone era stepping in and out of aeroplanes.
Surrounded by all this glamour, one might expect the food to be somewhat flamboyant, but it is not. It is what head chef Allan Pickett describes as "easy eating", allowing the carefully sourced, top-quality ingredients from small, local suppliers to shine through.
As a result, there are plenty of familiar dishes on the à la carte, such as Loch Fyne smoked salmon, soured cream and blinis (£8.50), fillet of line-caught sea bass with fennel and vine tomatoes (£12.50) and summer fruit pudding (£6).
It is the kind of food that Pickett and Roy Brett, executive chef of Dakota Hotels, who helped devise the menu, hope will appeal to the mix of customers beginning to use the hotel - private jet passengers, local residents and businesses.
A passion for good, honest cooking shines through the menu and is a reflection of the restaurants Pickett previously worked in, most notably London's Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, where he spent the past year.
For instance, a starter dish of pressed smoked ham and duck liver terrine (£6) is an influence from working alongside Jeff Galvin.
Ham from cooked hocks is layered with poached chicken breast, roasted duck livers, mushrooms, baby onions, and Savoy cabbage combined with fat from the liver, all pressed into a terrine with a jelly made from a reduction of the ham cooking liquor. An accompanying piquant gooseberry compote nicely cuts through the richness of the terrine.
To follow, Pickett serves a slow-roast pork belly (£12.50). He starts the dish by coating the meat with four spices and Maldon sea salt, which he vacuum packs along with some garlic, thyme and duck fat, and cooks in a water bath for five hours. The meat is quickly brought to room temperature and rolled in clingfilm. To serve, the meat is roasted on one side to caramelise it and presented with some creamed Savoy cabbage, Bramley apple compote, cider jus and a strip of crackling.
Alongside a raspberry soufflé (£7.50) and a bitter chocolate tart with pistachio ice-cream (£7.50) for dessert, a plate of Hampshire cheeses is offered, together with raisin and walnut bread (£8.95).
"I was very keen to offer a selection of local cheeses and have discovered some wonderful ones close to Farnborough," says Pickett.
Pickett believes using small, local producers will be crucial to the success of Aviator and is doing business with a honey supplier in Liphook Secretts Farm in Milford, Surrey, which is supplying the fruit and vegetables Beechcroft Farm in Winchester for bacon and lamb and the Real Jam and Chutney Company, also in Winchester.
Menu du jour
As well as the à la carte menu, which runs at lunch and dinner, a menu du jour is also available at lunch, offering two courses for £15 and three courses for £18.
A typical du jour menu may offer a rillette of pork or mussel soup with saffron, confit duck salad or roast skate wing with creamed potatoes, and lime parfait or Rosary goats' cheese.
To accompany the food, a choice of 80 wines have been selected by the hotel's food and beverage manager Eric Handts, previously at Mews of Mayfair in London.
What's on the menu
- Endive and walnut salad, £6.50
- Chilled vine tomato and basil soup, black olive purée, £5
- Steak tartare, £7.50
- Roast cod with cockles and clams, £12.50
- Roast rack of Cornish lamb, broad beans and thyme, £14.50
- Gnocchi with artichoke and Parmesan, £12.50
- Fruit jelly with vanilla ice-cream, £6
- Savarin of raspberries, £5.50
- Welsh rarebit, £6
Aviator Hotel, Farnborough Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 6EL Tel: 01252 555890 Web: www.aviatorfarnborough.co.uk
Away from the stove
"I recently ate at Midsummer House in Cambridge and was completely blown away by Daniel Clifford's food," says Allan Pickett. "The assiette of pork was cooked to perfection. I can quite see why he has two Michelin stars."
Midsummer House, Midsummer Common, Cambridge CB4 1HA. Tel: 01223 369299