Five months after starting behind the stove at Danesfield House, Adam Simmonds's modern-European cuisine continues to evolve and challenge. Tom Vaughan reports
After winning Welsh country hotel Ynyshir Hall a Michelin star in 2006, rising star Adam Simmonds hasn't hung around in search of his next challenge. Joining Danesfield House near Marlow in Buckinghamshire as head chef in January, Simmonds has filled the shoes of Aiden Byrne, who left last year to head the Grill at London's Dorchester hotel. It wasn't until March, though, that he finally got behind the stove after two months gathering a team and suppliers to do justice to his planned menu.
The summer menu came on later than planned, with Simmonds admitting he was "slightly behind in perfecting the dishes", and it only started in early August. Two options are available - à la carte, which offers three courses for £55, or a seven-course (11 with amuse-bouches) tasting menu for £75, offering smaller equivalents.
The small, elegant room faces out on to Danesfield's well-dressed lawns and seats, at most, 24, with eight tables each having a comfortable capacity of four. Weekends are unfailingly full and numbers tend to average around the 16 mark for midweek.
On inspection of the Oak Room menu, those familiar with Simmonds's cooking from Ynyshir Hall will recognise his excellent scallop starter, featuring the fleshy molluscs gently seared and served with tomato fondue, a clean wash of cucumber jelly, a warming vodka foam and a powerful fennel ice-cream that hits first before the other flavours follow, finishing with the pink meat of the scallops.
A finely layered terrine of duck, cherries, foie gras and mango is accompanied by pickled cherries, the subtle crunch of cobnuts and an added richness of coffee oil. But the most intriguing of the starters Simmonds describes as only really popular with foodies and is, in his own words, "rhubarb and custard with pigeon". This is a simplified assessment of the dish, but not far from the truth, with cooked squab pigeon accompanied by a compote of rhubarb and set custard, a rhubard jelly, ginger crunch and a ginger foam.
The summer mains feature another dish from Ynyshir Hall, slow-cooked loin of lamb, albeit evolved from Simmonds's stint in Wales. Back then, mint jelly cubes, spiced couscous and aubergine caviar (olive oil, garlic, thyme, aubergine, salt, pepper and lemon juice puréed) were the main features, but they have since been joined by the deeper tones of braised tongue, sliced thinly and interspersed between layers of lamb, roasted sweetbread and accompanied by goats' cheese.
The dish Simmonds considers to be closest to a signature is his lobster main. The distinctively meaty flavour of roasted Scottish lobster is juxtaposed with, in Simmonds's words, the "lightness and freshness of apple". Bramley apple (for acidity) panna cotta and Granny Smith sorbet do just enough to control the dominant lobster, with an added lift from the woodland sorrel, while miniature girolles, green almonds and fresh fèves give a welcome side to the main flavours.
The highlight of the desserts is the chocolate and grapefruit mousse, passed through an espuma gun and set in a chocolate shell, making it as light and foamy as a bubblebath. Accompanying it are a chocolate chip ice-cream with hints of grapefruit, a chocolate marquise and pink grapefruit jelly.
The menu changes four times a year, and Simmonds is already preparing for autumn's game offering, with next season's menu aimed for mid-September.
With his cooking evolving continuously, what does the future hold for Simmonds's modern-European cuisine? "It's changing and going forward the whole time," he says. "The food I cook is light, and the flavours, I hope, run through the courses. And that's what I'll carry on trying to perfect."
What's on the menu
- Risotto of cockles, clams, lemon verbena, samphire, shellfish foam, shiso cress, borage flowers
- Pan-fried red mullet, Charentais melon purée, roasted foie gras, spiced lentils
- Roast suckling pig, pommes Robuchon, dried apricots, celeriac purée, Earl Grey jelly
- Pan-fried fillet of sea bass, fennel purée, baby pak choi, lemon, courgette flower, vanilla
- Slow-cooked corn-fed chicken, cocoa beans, cèpe purée, langoustine, summer truffle
- Strawberry and mint trifle, strawberry tuile, almond panna cotta, mint froth, wild strawberries, crystallised mint leaves
- Lemon and thyme cassonade, lemon granité, lemon thyme ice-cream, lime leaf foam, dried lemon meringue
- Poached English rhubarb, blackcurrant mousse, custard ice-cream, drop scones, apple foam
Danesfield House Hotel & Spa, Henley Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 2EY. Tel: 01628 891010 www.danesfieldhouse.co.uk