Experimentation is key to the cuisine at the Conservatory restaurant at Titchwell Manor, reports Katherine Alano
Self-taught chef Eric Snaith is proving that you don't need to train with the best to produce great food, having spent the past 10 years heading up the kitchen at Titchwell Manor, Norfolk creating food that packs a punch.
Titchwell Manor, a former Victorian farmhouse, has been owned and run by the Snaith family since 1988. Snaith began working in the business as a pot-washer at 15 years old. Following a stint of working in Australia and Asia, he returned to Titchwell Manor 10 years ago to head up the kitchen.
With a brigade of seven chefs, Snaith and his team look after the entire food offering at the 27-bedroom hotel, from breakfast in the less formal Eating Rooms to its fine-dining Conservatory restaurant.
Snaith was awarded a third AA rosette earlier this year and in 2012 won the title of Norfolk Chef of the Year.
The 65-seat Conservatory restaurant offer diners a choice of two tasting menus; an eight-course Conversation menu (£60 per person or £90 with wine) and a shorter four-course menu (£45 per person or £75 with wine). There is also an à la carte menu offering diners less formal dishes.
Although reluctant to pigeon-hole his style, Snaith describes it as modern European, but adds he also takes influences from across the world.
He says: "Being self taught has given me the freedom to try new things without restriction. We are constantly experimenting with new techniques. I like to create a bit of interest with the dishes without turning the customer off."
A variety of flavours and textures feature heavily on Snaith's innovative menu with each dish uniquely presented.
"I like the elements on the dish to be strong. I like sourness and salty, as well as sweet and I use a lot of texture like nuts and grains such as millet. It's how I like to eat. We cook what we like to eat," Snaith explains.
Current favourites Norfolk quail and egg is one of the chef's current favourites and offers a light meat course for this time of the year.
Being a fan of using sweet in savoury dishes, Snaith serves the quail with leg schnitzel, hay custard and hedge garlic.
Hay, toasted in the oven, is infused in milk and cream overnight. It is then use to make a classic custard using less sugar and more salt than usual.
"The hay custard is something we've used before. It's an interesting flavour, but doesn't challenge the main ingredient on the plate," says Snaith.
The dish is served with rainbow chard, dressed with a good olive oil, lemon juice and salt and served with a coddled quail egg.
Despite Norfolk being a natural larder for the chef, he does not market his food as "local", opting to use the best ingredients from across the British Isles. However, Snaith admits that there is an expectation to use some of the local ingredients, most notably lobster and crab.
"Having had the hotel for 25 years, we have a great relationship with some local suppliers; Norfolk Quails, Houghton Hall for our venison and Dingley Dell for pork. Our fishmonger, Simon Letzer, supplies us with some of the freshest seafood and fish."
Local lobster, for instance, is served with pollock, asparagus grown nearby, Macadamia and hollandaise.
The dish of Bingham blue is also a perfect example of Snaith taking an ingredient and presenting it in a completely different way. The cheese is served as a mousse with the addition of walnuts, plums pickled with Chardonnay vinegar and foraged Alexander. Granola, which accompanies the cheese, provides added texture.
Diners conclude their meal with desserts such as rhubarb sorbet, orange and sweet millet; and lemon sorbet and curd, pistachio cake and olive oil, white chocolate and pea.
£60 per person
£90 including wine
Jersey Royals - sorrel, summer truffle, yogurt
Pollock and lobster - asparagus, macadamia, Hollandaise
Norfolk quail and egg - leg schnitzel, hay custard, hedge garlic
Binham Blue - plum, Alexander, walnut
Rhubarb sorbet - orange, sweet millet
Lemon sorbet and curd - pistachio cake and olive oil, white chocolate, pea
The Conservatory at Titchwell Manor
Titchwell, Nr Brancaster, Norfolk PE31 8BB
Tel: 01485 210221