Stephanie Malvoisin is combining the old with the new at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, one of the British coastline's grandest establishments. Hilary Armstrong reports
It's lunchtime at the Mirabelle restaurant at Eastbourne's Grand Hotel, and Champagne glasses are being clinked. A dapper-looking chap is celebrating his 69th birthday; at another, a sprightly woman is drinking to her 88th. The restaurant itself is positively youthful by comparison: 30 next year and looking well on it after a £200,000 refurbishment of the kitchen and 50-cover dining room earlier this year, following the arrival of new head chef Stephanie Malvoisin last summer.
Burgundy-born Malvoisin follows in notable footsteps at the so-called ‘White Palace', England's only seaside five-AA-star hotel. Her predecessor, Gerald Röser, was chairman of the Master Chefs of Great Britain and, prior to his 16-year reign, Simon Hulstone and Marc Wilkinson (both now Michelin star winners at the Elephant in Torquay and Fraiche on the Wirral respectively) held the job. It's a prestigious gig but a tough one. The crowd is conservative and for many of the regulars (70% of the 280 covers per week are return guests), the Mirabelle, launched as a satellite of the iconic London original, is their special occasion go-to restaurant.
"The first six months were spent learning about the customers, understanding the Grand and my team, while working with menus that weren't mine," Malvoisin recalls. "What I found is the customers like really nice food, but they're still traditional. They want a nice piece of meat, potato and two types of vegetable. That's something we're working on," she adds tactfully. She's introduced a "French touch" and is "slowly, but surely" moving towards a more playful, modern style.
Malvoisin trained in Rully before moving to the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, then London's Goring hotel for nine years (under Derek Quelch and later Shay Cooper). Her first head chef post was at the Laura Ashley Manor hotel in Elstree. Now at the Mirabelle, she's cooking comfortably at a two-rosette standard.
Sea views put one instantly in mind of fish. Malvoisin's decision to offer not one but two seafood dishes per course has found favour with the "ladies who lunch". She differentiates the Mirabelle's offering from the Grand's less formal Garden restaurant by using premium protein, such as lobster.
The six-six-six menu changes weekly. In the evening, this is supplemented by seasonal classics (such as Dover sole, tarragon poached langoustine and lobster bisque) and a seven-course tasting menu at £67 (paired wines cost £38) . This is her playground, where she and her four-strong team experiment with ideas before launching them on the table d'hôte.
Linguistically, the menu is English with a soupÁ§on of French. Clarity is key. While a chocolate and mint religieuse flies out regardless of guests' familiarity with the term - "it triggers an interaction with the waiter" - other terms can confound. Malvoisin's atypical veal blanquette, for example, wrongfooted guests expecting a ragoÁ»t. She's since redefined it as veal tenderloin, morels and asparagus fricassée, confit potatoes and morel cream sauce. Presentation can be a sticking point too: she's reconstructed her deconstructed confit trout with Bloody Mary gel so guests can see what they're getting. Malvoisin does go off-piste: her texture of Camembert dessert is a bold statement, comprising unapologetically cheesy ice-cream, a crisp cromesquis with spiced apple, and a shot glass layered with apple jelly, Camembert espuma and onion cream - rather like a funky trifle.
The response has been good, with The Daily Telegraph's Kathryn Flett praising "first-class ingredients prettily arranged", concluding "there's still a place for timeless elegance". Malvoisin would doubtless agree, though she's thrilled to show off her "classical French cuisine for the 21st century" at a special event in November. "That's where I go crazy," she laughs.
From the dinner menuâ¢ - Comté cheese panna cotta, garlic and onion mousse, onion consommé
â¢ - Cornish mackerel, pickled Jerusalem artichoke, roast garlic, heritage beetroot
â¢ - Duo of lamb, cutlet and rump, pickled courgettes, mint salsa verde, confit potatoes
â¢ - Wild turbot, five-spice aubergine caviar, mustard mousseline potatoes, Marchand de Vin sauce (£12.50 supplement)
â¢ Chocolate mousse, lavender crémeux, berry compote
â¢ - Granny Smith apple millefeuille, apple tartare, cider whipped cream
Two courses, £39; three courses, £46
The Grand Hotel, King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4EQwww.grandeastbourne.com
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