Dunford Wood is the head chef of the recently opened National Dining Rooms, a 120-seat restaurant with adjoining 60-seat café and bakery run by Oliver Peyton, in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Although the restaurant opened in February, it wasn't until May that he felt able to introduce his first county menu of the month featuring produce from Norfolk.
"I would have liked to have offered a regional menu when we first opened," Dunford Wood says. "But I struggled to find enough ingredients from one area in the colder months."
It has taken considerable research to source the produce for each monthly changing menu, as well as seek out regional dishes. "The reality is there are not that many local dishes in this country. So, instead I've used the ingredients to inspire my cooking."
So, on the three-course Norfolk menu - with a choice of two dishes at each course - there were the likes of Cromer crab with spring onions, radish and basil; roast Norfolk lamb with Hispi cabbage; and scented geranium mousse.
He also served a skate, cockle and samphire stew with chervil which was inspired by his trips as a youngster to the Norfolk coast, where he collected cockles and gathered samphire.
On the June menu - featuring produce from Cornwall - the starters included a carpaccio-inspired dish of marinated Cornish beef with pickled celery and mustard seeds, and Cornish asparagus with chopped duck egg sauce. To follow was a choice of roast gurnard with a stew of squid, oranges and fennel or organic chicken with summer vegetables.
Then to finish, customers could select either a crème brûlée made with Cornish clotted cream and served with elderflower fritters or a plate of Cornish Yarg cheese.
For the Kent menu (see left), which is being featured this month, Dunford Wood has once again sought out a number of new suppliers including the Weald Smokery for the smoked salmon, and the Hop Shop for the hops.
"I'd never cooked with hops before and I've discovered that hops are very strong and so you have to use them very delicately - so I'm grinding them up and dusting a little over the bream prior to cooking."
Next month - August - The National Dining Rooms will feature a Yorkshire menu. The choice of dishes will include York ham with Yorkshire relish and toasted rye bread, Whitby cod with minted English peas and a warm tartare sauce and Yorkshire curd tart.
Having spent three years cooking to a very rigid manner at Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, Dunford Wood is now enjoying working in a more spontaneous way. He says:
"It allows for a more relaxed and freer attitude to cooking and is something I've picked up while working on my travels at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and at several restaurants in Australia."
September will see a menu inspired by Dunford Wood's home county of Warwickshire. As the calendar moves into autumn he does not yet know how long he will be able to sustain the county menus.
The county menus are available at the National Dining Rooms, alongside an à la carte menu, every day from 10am to 5pm, except Wednesday when the restaurant is open until 8.30pm.
What's on the menu July menu featuring Kent produce.
£22 for two courses.
£27 for three courses.
- Salad of Heritage tomatoes with tarragon and pickled shallots
- Warm smoked salmon with courgettes and lemon
- Gilt head bream baked with hops served with new carrots and rainbow chard
- Organic Romney lamb with wet garlic and buttered potatoes
- Rice pudding with marinated Kent strawberries and basil
The National Dining Rooms, Sainsbury Wing, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
Tel: 020 7747 2525
You can see a map of this restaurant here