After five years as joint head chefs at London's private members' club the Wellington Club, husband-and-wife chef team Fernando and Kristy Stovell are going it alone in Surrey. Tom Vaughan pays them a visit
It's all too common for a husband-and-wife team to go it alone provincially - one manning the stoves and the other front of house. What you rarely hear of, though, is a couple chasing a collective vision in the kitchen.
Now, after 14 years working side by side as chefs in London restaurants such as the Capital with Eric Chavot, the Cuckoo Club and the Wellington Club (where they were joint head chefs) Fernando and Kristy Stovell have gone it alone and opened Stovell's restaurant in Chobham, Surrey, on the former site of the Cloche Hat. Ambitions, says Fernando, are immediately high: "Tell anyone you know - I want a Michelin star."
Front of house, the beautiful Tudor farmhouse has had a thorough makeover to coincide with launch of Stovell's - which took place in September after the couple had operated it as the Cloche Hat since buying the site in February. What was previously a dark, tired space now comes kitted out in light, elegant shades, with the smell of the log fire from the bar, the low ceilings and beamed doorways all mixing a hefty dose of history with the formal white tablecloths and roaming jamonero.
In the kitchen, Fernando runs the meat and fish section during service and Kristy the pastry, but the menu is very much a joint labour of love, with both sharing the same modern European vision for dishes.
"I might try to add the odd influence from my Mexican background and Kristy the odd touch from New Zealand, especially on the wine list," adds Fernando.
Three courses at the 60-seat restaurant come in at a bargain £38, which is a remarkable achievement when one considers the luxurious ingredients coming out of the kitchen. Starters might include aromatic foie gras - which is poached in a water bath with milk, water and Armagnac, then cold smoked in cherry wood and hay before being portioned, pan-fried and served with silver skin mushrooms barbecued on the robata grill, toasted cobnuts, nasturtium leaves and a hay jus made with boiled, reduced hay, foie gras and rapeseed oil.
As with the foie gras, every component of a dish is assiduously crafted. With the highly popular scallop dish comes a scallop crisp, made by blitzing bruised scallops and roe, then baking them for eight minutes.
"We love texture - so with that dish there is the crispy and crunchy ratte potatoes and highly spiced paprika along with the pan-fried scallops and crisp as well as walnut mayonnaise with a touch of truffle oil," explains Fernando.
Mains include a beef Wellington that has been a presence on the Stovells' menus since their days at the Wellington Club. Deconstructing it so that a robata-cooked beef fillet sits atop puff pastry, chestnut mushrooms and truffle mash has its obvious merits, says Fernando, allowing each piece of meat to be cooked to order.
Elsewhere, an unctuous cylinder of suckling pig contains virtually every part of the animal, as well as Fernando's Mexican influences - with coriander and chillies mixed through the meat - and comes served with prunes, sherry vinegar and cauliflower cream.
The standout among the desserts is a sticky, dainty banana tarte tatin - the work of Kristy's mastery of the pastry section, says Fernando.
Despite it being early days, Stovell's seems to have hit the ground running and if standards can remain this high, the pair may well be on the way to achieving the accolades they are so keen to collect.
125 Windsor Road, Chobham, Surrey GU24 8QS
Sample dishes from the menu
- Wild Berkshire roe deer carpaccio, honey, rosemary dressing and toasted seeds
- Wild mushroom consommé, pickled mushrooms, lychees, Pedro Ximénez cream
- Ravioli of Cornish crab and crayfish, compressed cucumber, ginger, lemongrass bouillabaisse
- Pan-fried wild sea bass, pickled mushrooms and artichokes, Yuzu and rosemary-scented jus
- Pan-fried Gressingham duck breast, puy lentils, rowan berries, spring onions, watercress and citrus
- Lightly spiced tomato risotto, Taggiasca olives, goat's curd and sheep's milk
- Soft-poached meringue, heather, plum sorbet and mascarpone
- William pear confit, lightly spiced cream and pain d'epices
- Warm chocolate fondant, Tudor rose ice-cream and rosebay willowherb