Acorn Award winner Robby Jenks has put choice and flexibility on the menu at this Lake District hotel. Janie Manzoori-Stamford pays a visit
Robby Jenks, executive chef at luxury Lake District hotel the Samling, likes to keep the food at the property progressive and seasonal.
Jenks, along with his partner, food and beverage manager Rebecca Galland, joined the Samling last spring from the Vineyard in Berkshire. The pair are something of a dream team, with Jenks being recognised with an Acorn Award in 2016, while Galland was named Hotel Restaurant Manager of the Year at the 2016 Hotel Cateys.
A hotel chef throughout his career, on his arrival in Windermere, Jenks was tasked with redeveloping the four-red-AA-star property's food offer with guest choice and flexibility at its heart.
"If someone doesn't like raspberries, it's not that they can't have a particular dish, we'll give them another one. If a guest stays for a second night, they don't get the same menu the next day," he explains.
This ability to adapt is equally evident in the ongoing evolution of the restaurant's fine dining menus. A five-course tasting menu for £90 per head, with optional drink pairing at £60 per head, is offered alongside an à la carte menu priced at £70 for three courses, with an optional drink pairing at £40 per head. A £27.50 three-course table d'hôte menu is available at lunchtimes, as well as a £40 Sunday roast. Dishes change as ingredients are at their best, as they come in and out of season.
A starter of cured mackerel tartare, which also features on the tasting menu, is served with apple, caviar and wasabi ice-cream when The Caterer visits. During the summer it featured a garnish of cucumber and fresh shoots from the kitchen garden and when Jenks started working on the dish at the Vineyard, it featured a horseradish ice-cream. But change doesn't happen for the sake of it.
"It's progressed into what it is at the moment," he says. "And if you come back in four months, it might have progressed again. Or it might not."
A main course of halibut is another to have evolved over the course of Jenks' career. Initially developed during his first head chef job, at Amberley Castle in West Sussex, it is based around the idea of "pure fish in a bowl with a really nice sauce".
He explains: "The vegetables change throughout the year so at the moment we've got chanterelle mushrooms and samphire, which work great in the dish. We cook fresh mussels daily and make the sauce to order using the mussel juice."
"It's just so full of flavour and it's what people want to eat. It's proper comfort food for a more fine dining environment."
The process of cooking the fish changes according to the garnish too. When served with the mushrooms and samphire, the halibut is gently pan fried in a beurre noisette, which gives it a caramel-like depth of flavour, but Jenks says this would be too over powering for more delicate ingredients, such as the courgettes used during the summer.
The dessert menu features another stalwart dish that has proved too popular to replace entirely: a chocolate millefeuille. Light puff pastry is layered with decadent, but also light chocolate and served with a whiskey crémeux and a yogurt ice-cream that helps to cut through the richness.
"It's a blend of where I came from," says Jenks, who says that while he first started cooking at the age of 16, he didn't really start to learn until he worked with Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon. "He's been the biggest influence on me from a chef's point of view."
The fact that he has only ever cheffed in hotels has also shaped the way Jenks operates, with his ethos formed by the association's five Cs: character, courtesy, calm, charm and cuisine.
"These are the five things that as a guest you'd want from a hotel stay," he says. "And that's what we try and do: make guests as happy as possible. If they ask for a pan-fried piece of fish with vegetables, that's what we give them."
From the menu
Scallops, sweet potato, shiitake, dashi
Veal sweetbread, chestnut, hay, lemon
Beef tartare, textures of red cabbage
Cured salmon, wasabi, cucumber
Pigeon, black turtle beans, grapes, Indian spices
Cod, Swiss chard, eringi, port
Venison, blackberries, beetroot, shiso
Risotto, mushroom, truffle
Chestnut, frangelico, chocolate.
Figs, mulled wine, hazelnuts, bay leaf
Cheesecake, Earl Grey, bergamot, mandarin
Cheese from the trolley
Three courses, £70 per person; drink pairing, £40 per person
The Samling, Ambleside Road, Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1LR
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