Since losing their Michelin-starred executive chef a year ago, the owners of the George hotel in Yarmouth have taken the chance to refurbish and relaunch their restaurant. Fiona Sims reports
As makeovers go, the George hotel on the Isle of Wight has delivered a blinder. Not bad considering owners Jeremy Willcock and John Ilsley, a founder member of rock legends Dire Straits, had rather a large dilemma to deal with this time last year when long-serving executive chef Kevin Mangeolles and his equally long-serving partner, the hotel's general manager Jacki Everest, announced they were leaving.
Mangeolles held a Michelin star for more than 10 years for his cooking in the hotel's fine-dining restaurant but, now in his early forties, he thought it was time to go it alone. So the couple upped sticks to the North Norfolk coast, where they can now be found doing their thing at the Neptune in Hunstanton (Caterer, 3 January, page 18).
"We'd often considered the wisdom of running two restaurants, one of which was fine-dining with no sea views," explains Willcock. "But Kevin created that Michelin star and we would have never let him down by closing it. So when he told us that he wanted to move on, John and I felt it was an opportune moment to open up the back."
The back, where the brasserie was situated, is the best bit. It has stunning views across the lawn and the Solent beyond, with the bobbing masts of Lymington's marina just visible in the distance.
When Mangeolles left, so did the Michelin-starred restaurant - reuse of that space is still to be decided - and the dated brasserie, but in its place is now a smart new restaurant with more refined and more expensive food than the old brasserie, but less fancy than the restaurant.
It's a seriously chic spot, with its Philippe Starck lamp shades, zinc bar-top, banquette seating (including one two-seater that's a contender for Most Romantic Table) and 2.7m high wraparound windows, the lot topped off with a lead pavilion-style roof that was given the thumbs up by the folks at English Heritage (the building is Grade II-listed).
They might have lost the covers in the fine-dining restaurant, but they've made them up here - the restaurant now seats 60 inside, with a further 30 seats out on the terrace, which is heaving in the summer months.
And so to the food. The new chef is Jose Graziosi, who spent five years cooking at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow as senior sous chef and then head chef at Terry Laybourne's Jesmond Dene House Hotel & Restaurant, which scooped a regional gong in Harden's annual Rémy Martin-sponsored restaurant awards.
Graziosi is from a medieval village in the Italian region of Abruzzo, about six miles from the sea and eight miles from the mountains. "So I'm comfortable cooking both fish and meat - though fish is really my thing," grins the 39-year-old chef.
"We wanted to put more fish on the menu and really focus on local ingredients," says Willcock. "Plus I wanted the menu to be more Mediterranean. And yes, if I'm honest, we've sacrificed the Michelin star for the sake of commercial reality."
Though I'm not sure Michelin wouldn't consider this star material. Graziosi has a fine touch, and he's certainly fond of gutsy flavours. A popular starter is the warm salad of roasted Rowborough partridge with country bacon, girolles, and roasted beetroot (£9.95).
Moor Farm pork will now make a regular appearance and Graziosi is already a fan of Godshill Organics vegetables he buys sea bass off the coast here, garlic, rare-breed beef, and he's rather partial to Isle of Wight Blue cheese, which makes a (credited) appearance in a salad of chicory, walnuts and pears (£8.50).
There's also roasted breast of local Brownrigg Farm duck with autumn fruits and gratin potatoes (£18.95), and medallions of New Forest venison, with celeriac purée, baby leeks and sweet peppercorn butter (£20.50).
Graziosi is so excited about the potential of the produce that he's talking about organising the island's first food festival, à la Taste of London. Lucky Isle of Wight.
What's on the menu
- Mezze of baba ghanoush, hummus and harissa with pane carasau and warm olives, £6.95
- Fish and shellfish soup with rouille and Gruyère cheese, £6.75
- Crab and scallop lasagne with shellfish cappuccino and basil, £12.50
- Salad of chicory, walnuts, pears and Isle of Wight Blue cheese, £8.50
- Fillet of Isle of Wight sea bass with butternut squash purée, sautéd courgettes, girolles and shellfish foam, £19.50
- Roasted monkfish "osso bucco" with saffron risotto, confit Mediterranean vegetables, gremolata and veal jus, £19.50
- Medallions of New Forest venison with celeriac purée, baby leeks and sweet peppercorn butter, £20.50
- Roast breast of Brownrigg Farm duck with autumn fruits and gratin potatoes, £18.95
- Honey panna cotta with autumn fruits, £6.50
The George hotel, Quay Street, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0PE Tel: 01983 760331 www.thegeorge.co.uk