Asian flavours ensure surprises in chef Martin Burge's new tasting menu. Andy Lynes heads to Wiltshire to try it
In March this year, chef Martin Burge took the decision to scrap the à la carte offering at the Dining Room, a fine-dining restaurant within Whatley Manor, the luxury country house hotel and spa in the Cotswolds where he's held two Michelin stars since 2010. In its place is a fold-out menu of three mix and match, seven-course £110 tasting menus, two with meat and fish and one vegetarian.
"We were mindful that the customers should have options, so that's why we did a 'three-in-a-line' format, which was quite a novel idea and people warmed to that. It also means that every two months we can change the menus completely and be much more on point with the seasons."
Given Whatley Manor's idyllic English country garden setting and mostly traditional décor, it's something of a surprise to find a few strong Asian influences on a menu that Burge describes as 'modern classical'.
One of the first things served is a canapé of foie gras mousse topped with a teriyaki jelly made from soy, ketjap manis, lemongrass, ginger and chilli and set with gelatine. A show-stopping Cornish lobster starter for two sees the tail cooked in a waterbath, then caramelised and topped with petals of coconut gel, mango and cucumber and served at the table with a consommé made from langoustine stock infused with lobster shells and clarified with prawns, egg white and Thai spices. The claw is served on the side with a lobster mousse wonton dumpling and pak choi.
"The Thai and Indonesian influence came from working with John Burton Race at L'Ortolan and then the Landmark hotel. He used to do a grilled, spiced lobster dish and I've refined that idea," says Burge, who has also worked at Pied Á Terre for Richard Neat, another Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons alumnus, as well as spending three years at Le Manoir himself.
There's even a 'hidden' Asian element to what is an otherwise classical beef main. Burge brines Angus/Herefordshire beef cheeks from Walter Rose butchers in Devizes, then marinates them in ketjap manis before waterbathing for 40 hours. "Not to give the dish an oriental flavour, but just to season them," explains Burge. They accompany a beef fillet cooked at 58Â°C for 40 minutes in a waterbath, then they are caramelised.
Fillet of turbot
"There are two types of waterbath cooking. You can either cook in the waterbath, chill and re-gen, which we mainly do with chicken, quail, duck and pigeon. Lamb and beef fillet tend to weep blood more, so we waterbath, rest, caramelise and serve. It's easy to cook a piece of beef pink in a waterbath, but it can be dry. You have to time it no different from roasting it in an oven."
The dish is finished with a kidney sauce made by infusing caramelised veal kidney, thyme and garlic into a sauce made with red wine, port, shallot, chicken stock and veal glace. The sauce is seasoned, finished with some reduced red wine and then strained.
While looking simple and elegant on the plate, Burge's food is intricate and process-heavy in its preparation. So having a brasserie operation - where dishes include steak served and cooked on a hot stone with triple-cooked chips and a selection of sauces - is the perfect training ground for new entrants.
"When we first started we had the ridiculous ambition to go for a Michelin star in the brasserie as well as two stars for the dining room, but the number of staff you'd need to do it wasn't financially viable," says Burge. "If we've got someone we know is not quite up to the Dining Room, we can start them off in the brasserie doing all the sauce cookery, stocks and bases to get their confidence up."
From the menu
- Fillet of turbot, pan fried, with a caramelised obsiblue prawn and truffle macaroni
- Young Brillat Savarin and truffle ravioli with compressed apple and baby leeks
- Fillet of beef caramelised, dressed with braised beef cheek and red wine kidney sauce
- Garden pea risotto with creamed baby onions, girolle mushrooms and shavings of heritage carrots
- Textures of clementine with mandarin sorbet and juniper granité
- Strawberry and lemon soufflé with a lemon and Chartreuse granité and lemongrass ice-cream, topped with strawberry consommé
Seven-course tasting menu, £110
The Dining Room
Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0RB
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