Chef Chris Harrod takes locally sourced produce to the next level and tells the story of the land around the Whitebrook through his dishes to Katherine Price
Hogweed, fiddlehead ferns, hedge bedstraw and pennywort, all picked from surrounding hedgerows, with Wye Valley asparagus and Tintern mead. All this comes together to make a dish that, according to chef-patron Chris Harrod, sums up the Michelin-starred Whitebrook in Monmouthshire.
When Harrod took over what was formerly the Crown at Whitebrook in 2013, he was still cooking what he would describe as modern French cuisine. It was the kind of food he had cooked while at Colette's at the Grove at Chandler's Cross in Hertfordshire and had learned from his three years under Raymond Blanc as a chef de partie at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire.
"But it didn't seem to fit; it didn't feel right," says Harrod. Then local forager Henry Ashby turned up on the doorstep with a bag of leaves.
"Rather than just use them as garnish, we looked at how we could incorporate them into dishes. We did one dish and it just seemed to click," says Harrod. "We've got the most amazing location and some of the best produce on our
Over the past four years he has gradually decreased the radius from which he sources his produce. Depending on the time of year, 80%-90% of the menu is now made from ingredients sourced from within 12 miles of the restaurant.
Harrod and Ashby forage for vegetables at the River Severn estuary, while herbs and plants come from nearby hedgerows or the kitchen garden. He gets his meat from Richard Vaughan's Huntsham Court Farm, heritage vegetables from Wye Valley Salads in Ross-on-Wye, and charcuterie from Trealy Farm in Goytre.
The only ingredients sourced from further afield are fish from day boats in Cornwall, and these are ordered and delivered to the door in the early hours of the following morning.
The result is a culinary experience that brings the flavours of the restaurant's immediate surroundings to the plate and is intensely of its place and time, an ethos that Harrod wants to develop even further.
As a destination restaurant, Harrod says 90% of his guests come for the tasting menu, so he has removed the Á la carte menus to reduce the pressure on the kitchen. Now the offering includes seven-course lunch and dinner tasting menus, a vegetarian tasting menu and a set three-course lunch menu, which allows him to focus on the dishes and developing the business.
His brigade is small: just three in the kitchen and three more front of house, with his wife and mother-in-law looking after the restaurant's eight rooms. The size of the team is partly dictated by circumstance (Harrod describes recruitment in the area as "an absolute nightmare") but everything from staffing to the refurbishment has been gradual and allows them to keep an eye on costs.
Looking to the next development, Harrod wants the availability of produce to dictate the menu - so the tasting menus may be five or six courses in the winter, but in the summer they could incorporate the abundance across 10 or 12 smaller dishes.
Like their produce, business is seasonal - the winter is weekend-focused and the snow earlier this year closed the restaurant down four times. But this was made up for by the unusually hot summer, when the terrace came into its own.
A normal Saturday sees the restaurant full at 30 covers, while weeknights are much quieter at around 12-15. Weekend lunches tend to draw in 15-20 covers, while during the week lunch is "all over the place".
The bedrooms at the property sell out on weekends; Harrod says they could double the number of rooms and still fill them. Once they are no longer available, people are less likely to book due to the restaurant's out of the way location, so the hope is to add three more bedrooms while keeping the restaurant at a manageable 30 covers. A conservatory over the terrace would also enable guests to enjoy the views across the Wye Valley.
"I'm just trying to create something really special, unique and completely different to anywhere else and make people want to come here," says Harrod. "If that's good enough to get us two Michelin stars, then I would be very happy."
From the menu al beets, vine blackberries, aromatic seeds and herb flowers Kohlrabi, crisp leaves, smoked cod roe, lovage Heirloom cucumbers, mullet, mallow, natural apple vinegar Duck liver, gooseberry, duck croquette, chicory cream, hazlenut, pickled elderflower Line-caught sea bass, heritage tomatoes, fresh chickpeas, Swiss chard, smoked pork fat Ryland lamb, garden courgette and squash, goats' curd, fermented wild garlic, nasturtium Violet, blueberry, rose, lemon thyme Aerated raspberry mousse, Herefordshire raspberries, herb sorbet, cocoa Tasting menu, £82; with wine pairing, £137
The Whitebrook, Whitebrook, near Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP25 4TXwww.thewhitebrook.co.uk
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