It's always difficult to imprint your own personality on the menu of a landmark property like Cliveden, but in the three years since Mark Dodson has been in charge of its kitchens he has quietly set about bringing his wealth of experience at Bray's Waterside Inn to bear at the Berkshire hotel. Not only in its fine-dining restaurant, Waldo's, but also in its more casual outlet, the Terrace.
Dodson's food is wonderfully rooted in classical French cuisine, as you'd expect from someone with 12 years' experience as head chef at Michel Roux's renowned restaurant. But the great thing about his summer menu at the 70-seat Terrace (which, unlike Waldo's is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week) is that it has its feet firmly planted in the modern day.
Yes, there are terrines and foie gras on offer, classical flavour matches such as peas and ham, pork and apple, lamb and rosemary, fish and citrus; but there is also a lightness of touch that is perfect for the summer, and an element of surprise and wit in the forms that these combinations take.
Take the two soups on offer. Chilled avocado and cucumber soup (yes, you think, great retro idea) comes with gazpacho sorbet. So you get a fusion of two absolutely classic chilled summer soups rolled into one but with interesting texture contrasts and a bit of zing on the tongue.
Like most of the dishes on the menu - dinner is £62.50 for three courses - both soups are bursting with summery flavours. "People like flavoursome things but not too heavy at this time of the year," asserts Dodson.
Some dishes have been tried out on the set-price lunch menu first (£32 for three courses) to see how they go down with the diners. Others are taken from the parallel season a year ago and refined - the vegetarian trio of provenâ¡ale vegetable terrine, a smooth basil mousse and goats' cheese served with herb oil and red pepper coulis being a case in point. Last year it appeared as variations on tomato and sweet pepper served with a gazpacho soup. But the gazpacho element on the menu has now morphed into the aforementioned sorbet.
From passion fruit dressing served with a lobster salad to a GewÁ¼rztraminer (instead of Sauternes) jelly accompanying foie gras; from halibut wrapped in lettuce with an open raviolo of mussels to salmon and scallop matched with the sweet-edged, citrussy zing of orange-infused olive oil, the secret of Dodson's food at the Terrace is its clean but often surprising flavour lines and matches.
Obviously, Dodson's experience helps in drawing up the menus, but he also encourages input from his 22-strong brigade, and especially his sous chefs, Neal Dove (in Waldo's) and Sascha Gausselmann (in the Terrace). The collective ownership clearly helps to keep a modern edge to the food. Another key member of his team is pastry chef Sarah Edwards, who has a strong influence on the dessert menu.
Again, classic desserts and flavour matches hold sway. Chocolate and pistachio, apple and blackberry. The latter duo come as an apple, elderflower and blackberry jelly served with a Calvados crÅ me fraÅ'che sorbet. The jelly is a delicate mix of apple and elderflower poured over slices of lightly poached apples and whole blackberries, while the Calvados highlights and deepens the apple flavour tones.
Summer fruits are showcased, too, in the popular quartet of puds comprising the classic summer pudding, strawberries and cream sorbet, passion fruit pavlova and lemon cheesecake served with a blueberry compote.
It just makes you want to head out to Taplow and get eating, doesn't it?
Tel: 01628 668561.
What's on the menuDinner, £62.50 for three courses - Warm lemon and coriander blinis with poached duck egg, caviar hollandaise, vodka foam
- Lobster and citrus salad, passion fruit dressing
- Warm salad of braised pork cheeks with cinnamon apples and cider dressing
- Breast of duck with an Oriental raviolo, deep-fried leek, ginger and raspberry vinegar jus
- Sliced loin of lamb with herb crust, rosemary gratin dauphinoise, pea purâe and pesto dressing
- Fillet of sea bass seasoned with lemon, grilled vegetables, tapenade potato fondant
- Cliveden sherry trifle
- Triple chocolate terrine, pistachio ice-cream
- Golden Mirabelle plum soufflâ
When you de-nerve foie gras, leave it at room temperature before attempting to start, and the veins will come away easily. It saves making a complete mess of - and sometimes having to bin - a very expensive product.