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Eating at Pennyhill Park

20 March 2008 by

Located near the village of Bagshot, Pennyhill Park is one of Surrey's most remarkable country manor hotels. Set in more than 120 acres of parkland, the Exclusive Hotels-owned property features its own golf course and impressive spa as well as 123 beautifully decorated bedrooms.

Two restaurants provide sustenance to visitors: an informal brasserie serving comforting classics, and the more formal Latymer restaurant, which now bears the name of its new head chef, Michael Wignall.

Best known for his five-year stint as executive chef at the Devonshire Arms hotel in Yorkshire, where he held a Michelin star for four years, Wignall joined Pennyhill Park at the end of last year, stepping into the shoes of former executive chef Andrew Turner, who left to set up the Landau restaurant at London's Langham hotel.

Wignall says his move south was brought on by his desire for something new as well as wanting to live closer to London. He adds that his aim is not only to raise the bar of the dining offer at Pennyhill Park, but also to win the hotel the food recognition its general manager, Julian Tomlin, believes it deserves.

"I needed a new challenge, and having held a Michelin star and four AA rosettes for so many years I now feel ready to push things further and aim for higher accolades," he says.

The Latymer reopened in November after an extensive refurbishment that has retained the 50-seat dining room's manor-house grandeur but has given it a slightly more contemporary feel. Interiors feature dark wooden wall panels alongside green banquettes and steamed glass screens separating tables.

Since taking over the restaurant, Wignall has introduced a set menu of three courses at £55 as well as a nine-course tasting menu at £78. The menu changes every six weeks according to what's in season, with the winter menu typically including ingredients such as pigeon, hare and sea bass.

Wignall describes his food as "quite technical but not overly complicated", with each dish bringing together a number of elements and "lots happening on the plate".

The à la carte menu offers a choice of six starters, main courses and desserts next to petits fours and a selection of artisan cheeses.

Starters include a beautiful combination of cumin-scented sealed tuna loin with cannelloni of sugar snap jelly, native lobster and hand-dived scallops or poached and roasted Anjou pigeon served with prune purée and a liquorice jus that presents a wonderful contrast to the sweetness of the prunes.

Main courses feature some of Wignall's favourite winter ingredients, such as saddle of hare, which is served with braised swede, parsnip purée, honey-poached pear and bitter chocolate-scented juices and John Dory, which comes with oysters, roast langoustines in lardo, confit yolk and Banyuls syrup.

All of his dishes display a perfect balance of the many ingredients he uses, including the desserts, which feature combinations such as Bramley apple mousse with camomile meringue tiramisù parfait with honey ice-cream and pistachio cake with green tea mousse.

Wignall's skill in the kitchen is matched by an equally professional front-of-house team led by restaurant manager Bruno Asselin, as well as a fine wine list overseen by Italian sommelier Davide Vaccarini.

The Latymer presents guests with a dining experience that equals the sense of occasion a stay at Pennyhill Park inspires among its guests. The accolades Wignall hopes to achieve will surely follow.

Tel: 01276 471774

Website: www.pennyhillpark.co.uk

What's on the menu

Three courses £55 nine-course tasting menu £78 (coffee and petits fours £5)

  • Salad of cumin-scented tuna, cannelloni of sugar snap jelly, native lobster with celery and apple, and hand-dived scallops
  • Sauternes-marinated duck liver with semi-dried grapes, five spice wafers and butternut squash sorbet
  • Salad of Lancashire suckling pig, braised leg set in its own consommé, apple crème fraÁ®che and lavender jus
  • Soy and coriander-marinated quail with confit leg boudin, braised swede, celeriac gratin, jasmine jus
  • Pavé of sea bass with diver scallops, razor clam, Ratte potato, braised fennel and Hermitage jus
  • TiramisÁ¹ parfait, coffee tagliatelle, milk foam, cappuccino panna cotta and honey ice-cream
  • Pistachio cake with green tea mousse, bitter chocolate negus, honeycomb and cardamom ice-cream

Away from the stove

"I recently went to Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant in Paris, which was probably one of the best meals I've ever had. The tasting menu beautifully combined classic and modern elements and showed some great ideas that all worked really well together."

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