Executive chef Andrew Wilson is sidestepping the retro vibe at Ashdown Park Hotel with a thoroughly modern menu. Tom Vaughan pays a visit
There can't be many kitchens in the UK with two Roux Scholarship winners and, while that's not quite the case at Ashdown Park Hotel, it's not far off. "I had three stabs at it three times and got to the final in 2007," says executive chef Andrew Wilson, whose senior sous chef Paul O'Neill won the competition this year.
It was neck and neck with me and Armand Sablon, the 2007 winner, but he pipped me in the end. So to have someone in my kitchen win it almost gets rid of some of those demons."
After three years as Eric Chavot's executive sous chef at the Capital restaurant in London, and a stint as head chef at the Michelin-starred Drake's in Ripley, Surrey, Wilson took over the reins at Ashdown Park Hotel 18 months ago and immediately set about revamping its fine-dining restaurant Anderida.
With its heavy curtains and tinkering piano, the 90-cover room feels preserved in time from 20 or 30 years ago, and Wilson has had to tailor his menu to his surroundings and the clientele. "We need to be careful the food doesn't look too out of place. We could have gone bananas, but instead I think we've struck the right balance."
The food juggles the classical techniques you'd expect from a chef of Wilson's calibre with modern methods. "We wanted the food to be light and fresh, so we use techniques like waterbaths and foam guns, and that's where we get our consistency," says Wilson.
The stand-out starter is salmon cured for 72 hours in black treacle, salt, sugar, chilli and lemongrass, which comes with a spring roll, soft-shell crab, passion fruit and peanut dressing. "The cure gives it that slight exoticness that
complements the lighter Asian flavours," says Wilson.
This being a country house hotel, the mains draw heavily on premium proteins: turbot, veal, loin of lamb and chateaubriand. However, it's with a suckling pig dish that the kitchen really stretches its legs. The head is made into a kromeski and is joined on the plate by a boudin sausage, loin, leg and a little apple tart.
In a meal full of dishes incongruous to the dated surroundings, the best is saved for last - a vast trifle of rhubarb and blood orange jelly, lime marshmallow, blood orange cream, toffee popcorn and caramel foam, served in an enormous decorative glass sphere.
"I've seen tables order two of them and, when they arrive, they are like, 'What the hell has just hit us?," says Wilson. "But that's what we want. People tell us that the food is completely unexpected - they're expecting old-school meat and two veg and instead they get something aiming at Michelin."
Sample dishes from the menu
Wild garlic soup, poached duck egg, truffle gnocchi, artichoke purée, smoked yogurt £8
Quail and guinea fowl mosaic, wild mushrooms, beetroot, potato, guinea fowl bon bon, asparagus, beetroot
Poached breast of pigeon, apple and goats' cheese ballotine, pumpkin seed
filo, squash and
apple powder £9.25
Roasted gilthead bream, bouillabaisse, pesto, gruyère strudel, sweet and sour tomato jelly, lobster mayonnaise £25
Turbot pavé grilled and poached, vegetables ProvenÁ§al, basil and mozzarella, tomato fondant, purée of caramelised aubergine £28
Daube of veal, truffles, cured ham and veal lasagne, roasted bone marrow, carrot purée, spring onions £2.50
Pear and ginger nut cheesecake, pear parfait, ginger nut crunch, pear jelly and peanut croutons £9
Lemon curd and coconut ice-cream, hot lemon bon bon, coconut parfait, meringue, warm lemon cake £9
Millionaire's shortbread sphere and salted caramel mousse, cherry ice-cream, hot chocolate fondant pan £10
The Anderida Restaurant at Ashdown Park Hotel
Wych Cross, Near Forest Row
East Sussex RH18 5JR