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Menuwatch: Whatley Manor

17 November 2017 by
Menuwatch: Whatley Manor

Whatley Manor may be steeped in history, but this country house hotel couldn't be more forward-thinking with its cuisine.

Whatley Manor is full of typical Cotswold charm. The Grade II-listed manor house and spa, situated in Easton Grey in Wiltshire, is set within 12 acres of rolling land with 26 exquisite gardens, many based on plans dating back to the 1920s.

But while the 23-bedroom, five-AA-red-star property is oozing with historical allure, executive chef Niall Keating, one of the most exciting chefs in the UK today, is at the stoves and ensuring the food is most definitely on the front foot.

niall-cooking
niall-cooking
Keating, who is just 26, joined Whatley Manor a year ago, having bagged himself a career any young chef would dream of. Originally from Standon in Staffordshire, Keating's first serious role came in 2010 when he became a commis chef at Bath Priory under then executive chef Sam Moody. He was only 19 years old, but he swiftly learned the ropes, working his way up to sous chef in two years.

A year later, he moved to the creative power­house of Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham before acquiring a one-year visa to work at three-Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Benu. It was where Keating met his fiancée, Laetizia Madsen (now research and development chef at Whatley Manor), and together they visited her native Denmark to work before moving to the UK. While in Copenhagen, Keating was chef de cuisine at the legendary Kong Hans Kaelder, while Madsen worked at Kadeau, also in the city.

While Whatley Manor might seem quite a traditional property for such a hot-to-trot chef, Keating was appointed by its then relatively new general manager, Sue Williams, who was last week crowned Hotelier of the Year and with whom he had worked for back at the Bath Priory.

Chicken fat custard, tamari, caviar
Chicken fat custard, tamari, caviar

"I know I can trust Sue," confides Keating. "There's no smoke and mirrors with her and I knew what I was coming into." And that was a big pair of shoes to fill, as outgoing executive chef Martin Burge had held two Michelin stars at the Dining Room since 2009.

But Keating has filled those shoes with aplomb, delivering a multi-course tasting menu heavily influenced by his past masters and his travels to Japan, Korea and France.

"Whatley Manor gives me an opportunity to bring all of those experiences together and showcase what I've learned," explains Keating. "There isn't one job that I haven't loved and it would be wrong of me not to portray a little bit of every one of those places I've worked in."

What belies the fashionably minimalist, £110, 12-course menu is tonnes of technique. Take the egg white custard, tamari and salmon roe. The steamed custard is served in the style of a Japanese chawanmushi, topped with delicately fragrant salmon roe, marinated in Japanese soy sauce, mirin, saké and citrus oil, and dressed with borage flowers. An extremely inventive dish, it led respected international food writer Elizabeth Auerbach to describe it as "a highly seductive combination".

‘Risotto' with chorizo and raw scallop is made using sushi rice, dressed with a spicy chorizo dressing, an Orkney scallop tartare and topped with a sprinkle of powdered scallop roe.

"I'm never going to pretend I'm some sort of Asian-styled whiz-kid because of the ingredients I have been exposed to," says Keating, "but I do know how to use them."

The Dining Room
The Dining Room

e also has the responsibility of the hotel's entire food and beverage department to keep him grounded. "I'd forgotten how much there is to do in a hotel, with teas, breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week in the brasserie, and then also looking after the fine-dining restaurant five nights a week, which was and still is of a very high standard," he says.

To ensure every outlet is firing on all cylinders, Keating rotates the 14-strong brigade so they work across all areas of the business. "If we didn't do that, the Dining Room guys would feel under too much pressure and the brasserie guys would feel devalued," he says.

In addition to Williams' prestigious new award, last week the 65-seat brasserie also relaunched, so all eyes are on Whatley Manor. "But I'm not fazed," concludes Keating, "and that's because the team behind me are unbelievable. I am incredibly proud of their achievements in such a short space of time - winning a star is testament to the non-stop focus, hard work and determination we instilled from day one."

Whatley Manor
Whatley Manor
*Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0RB www.whatleymanor.com* From the menu - Spiced cracker, sesame, Exmoor caviar (served as a canapé) - Oyster, seaweed mignonette - Tempura, kimchi aigre-doux - Egg white custard, tamari, salmon roe - Brown butter, buttermilk - Mackerel, preserved raspberry, greens - Tortellini - black - 'Risotto' - chorizo, raw scallop - Salmon, charred allium, pear, shrimp - Pigeon, kohlrabi, spiced date, wood ear - White peach, rosemary, olive oil - Apple, caramel, passion fruit - Black sesame kouign-amann (Breton cake)

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