Open less than a year, the Simonds Room at Audleys Wood hotel has already been awarded two AA rosettes. Katherine Alano paid a visit
Audleys Wood hotel sits in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. Built in the 1880s as a private house, it is now a 72-bedroom, four-star hotel, owned and managed by Hand Picked Hotels. In a move to offer diners more of a fine-dining experience, the hotel opened the Simonds Room in September 2011.
At the helm is head chef Adam Fargin, who previously worked at Hotel du Vin in Winchester. Fargin and his brigade of six chefs are responsible for the hotel's entire food operation, including the Conservatory restaurant, its function rooms and room service.
But it is the Simonds Room - named after the family which owned the property - that has taken centre stage in the original oak-panelled dining room of the house.
As well as gaining popularity with locals and hotel residents, the restaurant was recognised by the AA through the award of two rosettes in February.
"Our objective was to get the Simonds Room up to a standard and build a local following," says Fargin. "We are thrilled that after just five months we have been awarded two rosettes. It shows that what we are doing is good and that our customers are enjoying it, too."
The 20-seat restaurant offers the choice of a Taste of Hampshire à la carte menu and a seven-course tasting menu. Fargin is dedicated to showcasing the best Hampshire ingredients and proudly provides descriptions of the produce used on the menu.
The Taste of Hampshire menu offers diners a choice of five starters and main courses and four desserts, including a selection of artisan cheeses, at £42 for three courses. Cheese is offered as an extra course for £10. Coffee and petits fours are £3.95.
Dishes include rabbit royale with cep purée and Jerusalem artichoke soup, pickled mushroom tortellini truffle oil for starters, while main courses include loin of pork, braised pig trotters and black pudding mousse with apple purée, Anna potatoes and cannelloni of butternut squash with pumpkin oil.
Popular starters include king scallops with apple and buckwheat and pancetta, while mallard, trompettes and girolles with butternut squash and confit tamarillo has been a hit among the main courses.
"Mallard can be very tricky to cook and ends up tough if just cooked in a hot pan," says Fargin. "So I ballotine the breasts, slowly poach them, and then lightly roast them, so that they are perfectly pink all the way through."
The seven-course tasting menu (£65 food only or £95 with matching wines) includes turbot and langoustine, with Jerusalem artichoke and pistachio; pheasant and chicory tatin, accompanied by seared foie gras and Savoy cabbage and a dessert of forced rhubarb and custard.
Fargin's suppliers include Coopers of Andover for meat, game and fish; and Chef's Delight for fruit and vegetables, while the selection of artisan cheeses from Turners Cheese includes Tunworth, Lyburn and Rosary Goats, which are all produced locally.
"Hampshire has a lot to offer and I have always liked to use local suppliers," says Fargin. "By keeping the menu quite small, it allows us to be quite diverse in what we offer our guests. I don't want repetition. I want to use the best produce I can get at the time. The food is not overly complicated to ensure that the main ingredient stands out."
Sample dishes from the menu
(£42 for three courses)
Roast quail, poached foie gras, slow-cooked quail Scotch egg, endive tart
Beetroot and Rosary goat's cheese, walnut vinaigrette
Watercress & salt crust-baked sea bass, fennel, crab mayonnaise, saffron gnocchi
Truffle polenta boudin, cauliflower purée & beignet
Dark chocolate bavaroise, poached pear, ginger ice-cream
Selection of Hampshire artisan cheese
The Simonds Room
Audleys Wood hotel, Alton Road, Basingstoke, Alton, Hampshire RG25 2JT
Tel: 01256 817555