Following a £26m refurbishment at the famous golfing resort, chef-director Glen Watson has transformed the food offer with an emphasis on hearty, classic dishes. James Stagg reports
The Belfry is famous the world over for its golfing credentials. The 319-bedroom hotel and resort is perhaps best known for hosting the Ryder Cup, memorably being the location where Sam Torrance holed a put on the 18th in 1995 to win the trophy for Europe.
Central to the plan of attracting championship golf back to the Belfry is the development of its dining. Hotel guests are now greeted by the American-style Brabazon bar on arrival, from which everything else spins off, including the airy and modern Ryder Grill.
Taking on the responsibility for the food is chef-director Glen Watson, who has form when it comes to golf resorts. He spent the early part of his career at Gleneagles and was also head chef at Hanbury Manor hotel. From 1998 to 2000 he was head chef at the Savoy under Anton Edelmann, and most recently worked as chef consultant for Albert Roux Consultancy at events such as Wimbledon.
The first thing Watson did was to retire the outdated buffet-style service that welcomed hungry golfers after a round. "It was carvery style with velvet sofas and maroon carpets," he explains. "In the 1980s that was the right thing to do but we've moved on since then."
But it was a bit of a shock for some of his chefs - which now number 46, along with 15 kitchen porters - who had to go from operating a carvery for 300 to a brasserie and grill.
From an open-plan kitchen chefs now serve steaks sourced from nearby 19 Gales Farm along with hearty dishes such as seven-hour slow-cooked lamb tagine with cous cous and ratatouille (£17) and a T-bone halibut steak with fennel and tomato salsa (£21.50).
"When I started in August there wasn't really anywhere we could put seasonal dishes on the menu," Watson says. "So in mid- August the grouse was coming in but we had nowhere to sell it. This year it's different - we now have an Á la carte menu that changes fourtimes a year along with a daily menu, which is on a weekly cycle from every Monday."
Among the starters the seared scallops and crispy pork belly (£13.50) is proving popular, with simply cooked, well-sourced ingredients combined with classical undertones.
"The pork belly is put in a salt marinade for 24 hours before overnight cooking," Watson explains. "It's then cut to size and flash-fried so that it's crispy on the outside - and there's no need to season because of the marinade."
It is accompanied by diver scallops from Scotland, which are seared, along with a light chicken jus, golden raisins, cauliflower purée and florets. When it comes to the main course, steaks tend to dominate. Choices include an 8oz fillet (£27.95 and the menu's best-seller), 16oz T-bone (£29.95) and ribeye (£24.95).
All are 28-day dry aged and served with handcut chips or French fries, a garnish of tomato and a choice of sauce. The classical heartiness continues with the
desserts, which include a warm apple crumble with apple sorbet and vanilla sauce (£6.50)and poached pear with sea salt and caramel ice-cream and pistachio tuille (£6.50).
But most eyes are drawn to the Belfry chocolate plate. "We leave the description open so that the chef can use his flair on that. Essentially it's
a trio and very popular," Watson says. "There's always something like a chocolate mousse or delice along with an ice-cream with a chocolate sauce and one other element - it might be a tart or something like that. It means the chef can do whatever he wants with it."
A year into the project and the chefs have taken up the challenge in a restaurant that can serve up to 250 covers a night. "The exciting thing and the challenge is doing that many covers to a high standard," Watson concludes. "It's easy to do volume, but not so easy to maintain the standard."
But with the standards raised across the hotel, driven by the new food and beverage offer, it can't be long before the Belfry is competing for major honours once again.
From the menu
Marinated tiger prawns, avocado guacamole and shellfish mayonnaise £12.95
Duck and foie gras pistachio terrine, spiced fig chutney £9.50
Rabbit rillette cooked in Chablis, toasted sourdough £10.50
From the rotisserie - roast poussin (honey and lemon, peri-peri, cajun or garlic and thyme) with French fries £16.50
Pan-fried duck breast, with star anise, roast garlic mash and spring vegetables £19.50
Classic chateaubriand for two £60
Desserts Prune and Armagnac tart, vanilla pod ice-cream £6.50
Poached pear, sea salt and caramel ice-cream, pistachio tuille £6.50
Lichfield Road, Wishaw, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B76 9PR