Head chef Hadleigh Barrett is thriving with the diverse demands of his new Devon kitchen, says Russell Brown
The Deer Park Country House Hotel has that ‘miles from anywhere' feel but, in truth, it's only a five-minute drive from Honiton and just 16 miles from Exeter.
The immaculate gardens on the southern side of the hotel gently slope down to an outdoor kitchen complete with a wood-fired oven, and from there it is only a short walk across the fields to the river Otter, on which the hotel has fishing rights. Head back through the Italian garden to the north side of the hotel and you will find a kitchen garden that, in many ways, is the heart of the property.
In mid-summer the produce is abundant: tomatoes, radishes, carrots, courgettes, squash, runner beans, garlic, onions and an array of herbs all provide new head chef Hadleigh Barrett with plenty of variety for his menus.
"The garden is a huge inspiration," he says. "I have a good relationship with Olly [Forster], the head gardener, and we certainly don't have to worry about food miles!" The two have already started to discuss planting schedules for the future, with Jerusalem artichokes and sea kale on the chefs' wish list.
Barrett took over as head chef in early June this year, having left Combe House Hotel at Gittisham in Devon when it was bought by the Home Grown Hotels group in 2015. He had spent 14 years at Combe, initially as sous chef and then as head chef from 2006. During this time, he achieved a score of five in the Good Food Guide, two AA rosettes and was listed as a rising star in the Michelin Guide. Barrett's CV also includes time at L'Ortolan and Penny- hill Park, where he did his initial training.
But the Deer Park, he admits, is "a very different challenge". "It is varied with no two days the same. The restaurant, the outdoor kitchen and the banqueting all add to the variety."
Strawberries, basil, parfait, honeycomb
The restaurant offers a choice of five dishes at each course with the addition of a small grill selection and a number of sides. The main menu is priced at £35 for two courses or £40 for three, with the dishes from the grill priced individually and ranging from £18 to £25. A six-course tasting menu is also available at £85 or £125, with matched wines.
The influence of the kitchen garden is obvious throughout the menu, with beetroot, peas, lettuce, carrots and chard all making an appearance. A current bestseller from the starters is a ballotine of foie gras with gooseberry, pickled garden vegetables and brioche. A main course favourite is Moroccan-spiced duck breast and leg roll with baba ganoush and salted lemon couscous. The leg meat is encased in a crisp filo shell, adding real contrasting texture to the dish. Sommelier Mark Steward suggests matching the 2011 Amigos Red from McHenry Hohnen, a blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mataró.
A a thick fillet of plaice is cleverly breadcrumbed on one side only, pan-fried and served with pomme purée, chard, brown shrimp butter and capers. A 2012 Pouilly-Fuissé from P Ferraud et Fils is the suggested wine pairing. On the dessert menu, an espresso mousse cake with pistachio ice-cream and a milk foam crisp is proving popular.
Venison tartare, oyster cream, garden beets
Recently introduced banquet dishes include confit duck terrine with pickled vegetables and truffle cream and a blackberry vanilla cheesecake with blackberry sauce.
Another side of the business is the outdoor kitchen, which can be booked for private groups of more than 15 people. Here, the tapas options range from £2 per item and pizzas are from £12.50 per person.
Thankfully, even with all these different aspects to the business, Barrett doesn't feel over-stretched. "I feel just as confident butchering a whole lamb as I am making delicate macaroons," he says. "And I am excited to be sharing my expertise with a new brigade."
Crispy veal sweetbread, peas and lettuce
Moroccan spiced duck, lemon cous cous
From the menu
- Goats' cheese mousse, pickled garden beetroot, spiced hazelnuts
- Pan-roasted sea bass, crushed Ratte potatoes with pesto, baby fennel, sauce vierge
- Mushroom and leek pithivier, garden vegetables, tarragon cream
- Pork tenderloin, braised shoulder, boudin noir, baby garden carrots, sour cabbage, pork jus
- Poached walled garden rhubarb, gingerbread, iced yogurt
- Strawberries and basil, honey parfait, honeycomb
- Two courses, £35; three courses, £40
Deer Park Country House Hotel, Honiton, Devon EX14 3PG
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