After stints with some of Europe's most successful chefs, young gun Russell Bateman is finally making waves of his own at Colette's restaurant at the Grove hotel in Hertfordshire. Tom Vaughan reports.
"I wake up each morning, get to work and all I see is possibility," says Russell Bateman, head chef at Colette's restaurant at the five-star Grove hotel in Hertfordshire.
Bateman is a lucky man. Few restaurants in the UK can boast ready access to the kind of ingredients that the vast walled garden, fruit trees and even crayfish waters of the Grove turn out. But the hotel is also fortunate to have the 30-year-old Bateman at its restaurant's helm.
Having arrived last June from the Feathers in Woodstock, near Oxford, he counts on his CV two years at the three-star Nico at Ninety, time spent helping Marcus Wareing open Pétrus, a spell at the three-Michelin-starred Auberge de L'Eridan in Annecy in France, and positions at the Capital under Eric Chavot and Danesfield House, as sous chef to Aiden Byrne.
As you might expect, such stellar names have produced a talented, creative chef. Bateman's menu at Colette's, priced at £62 for three courses, harnesses the vast potential of the hotel's fruit and vegetable production with his own inventive ideas.
His starter - listed simply as "a flower pot from our garden" - is a perfect example of his cooking. The understated title belies what arrives from the kitchen: a miniature bucket of silky-smooth foie gras yoghurt, made by blitzing yoghurt with marinated foie gras and pan-fried and cooled foie gras, as well as a touch of chicken stock.
To give the look of darkened earth, the dish is topped with roasted hazelnuts and morels and, poking out from the faux soil, are two pickled baby carrots and some coriander cress.
Bateman says the inspiration for his dishes is all his own. "I've got a brain and some great ingredients so I don't need to go borrowing ideas," he adds.
One such pairing, and a stunning one at that, is the diver-caught scallops dish, which is inspired by Oriental satay dishes and served with a peanut brittle, peanut purée and lime. "It's based on the satay dishes that everyone loves from Chinese restaurants," says Bateman. "But it doesn't have to be dumbed down. I want to show that you can refine it, bring in some other flavours familiar to Asia, like the radishes for a bit of heat, but Anglify the dish by serving it with some superb scallops."
Elsewhere, a quail dish showcases onions as its backdrop - white onion purée, poached and roasted grelots, a roasted onion julienne, and shallot rings - with the star of the show a breast and leg of quail. The breasts are rolled, poached, roasted and deglazed with honey vinegar, the legs confited then pan-fried and accompanied by a jus made from the pan juices. Another highlight is the thin slice of sea trout, topped beautifully with garden cauliflower and cucumber, as well as Jersey royals and capers.
Suppliers such as Aubrey Allen, Wild Harvest, Keltic Seafare and Classic Fine Foods supply much of the produce, the rest the garden turns out: broad beans, runner beans, strawberries and a whole host of other fruits are just coming off the production line. Bateman has even bought nets to harvest some of the crayfish that inhabit the streams in the hotel's grounds.
Early summer is a superb time for both Bateman and his customers. With the walled garden kicking out produce left right and centre, dishes become showcases. None more so than the dessert of garden berries with honeycomb, vanilla yoghurt and elderflower, a dish composite of poached gooseberries, wild strawberries, gariguette strawberries, blackcurrants, blackcurrant jelly and an elderflower beignet.
The 40-cover restaurant, which is open evenings Tuesday through to Saturday, serves a tasting menu for £77 as well as a garden menu, a selection of dishes showcasing the season, priced at £30.
Just a fortnight ago, former mentor Marcus Wareing celebrated his birthday at Colette's and said he couldn't find fault, telling Bateman that he was "proud of what he'd achieved". It was praise indeed from the famously straight-talking chef. But praise that Bateman certainly deserves.
The Grove, Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire WD3 4TG
Tel: 01923 294 222
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
• Snails bourguignon, Ardennes frog's legs, new season garlic, pickled pied bleu
• Smoked eel and chicken wings, teriyaki glaze, spring onion, avocado
• Home-cured duck ham, nettle pesto, gherkhin, sour dough, dandelion
• Wild English rabbit loin and blanquette, Chantenay carrots, baby gem lettuce, sweet cicely emulsion
• Line-caught wild halibut, scallop & coconut broth, pak choi, thai asparagus, coriander
• Cornish spring lamb, new season peas, garden mint, feta cheese, purple potato, lamb jus
• Arguani chocolate, Provence olive oil, brioche, fleur de sel
• Earl Grey, milk froth, green cardamom and orange granite
• Pimms O'clock