Million Pound Menu star Ruth Hansom may have put her concept restaurant on hold, but her innovative talent has been put to good use at the Luton Hoo hotel. Lisa Jenkins reports
Ruth Hansom has undeniable talent. She first publicly demonstrated this by winning the Young National Chef of the Year competition organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs in 2017. Then she achieved further recognition by appearing on this year's BBC Million Pound Menu, where she was offered investment into her concept restaurant, Epoch, with sommelier business partner Emily Lambert.
With this plan still in its infancy, and after seven months of filming for the BBC programme, Hansom was missing the kitchen. She recently secured her first head chef role at the two-AA-rosette Wernher Restaurant at the five-star Luton Hoo hotel and spa on the border of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Purchased by Sir Julius Wernher in 1903, the famous diamond dealer commissioned Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, the architects of the Ritz London, to redesign the interior of the hotel.
h parents she describes "as the enemy" (environmental health officers), Hansom grew up around restaurants. Aged 13, she swapped her trampoline in a deal for a polytunnel, kickstarting her love affair with British ingredients.
The 22-year-old describes her style as modern British, which is in keeping with her traditional surroundings. Nearly everything on offer is British, excluding the wines - although they do list Chapel Down. The style of the restaurant plays to the chef's strengths and she intends to focus on technique. Classics such as salmon en croÁ»te and beef wellington, stuffed with foie gras and carved at the table, sell out every weekend.
She's found time to rewrite all the menus for the restaurant, including a new vegetarian tasting menu and, in consultation with pastry chef Mark Rainbow, a new dessert menu. She also works closely with executive head chef Christopher Mouyiassi.
som's current favourite dish is pan-roast halibut with pickled grapes, almond and confit artichoke. The chunky snow-white fish fillet works perfectly with the sweet base and the pickled grapes adds the desired acidity. "This dish has to be cooked to perfection; there really is no place to hide," she says. Produce is sourced - from suppliers include Stickleback Fish, Watts Farm and Yorkshire Meat.
Half of diners in the evening opt for the six-course tasting menu. Customers include - hotel and spa guests and golfers, with more families on Sundays, when a carving trolley is operated from midday to 6pm. A three-course lunch menu is priced at £39.50, and the Á la carte at £55 with a supplement of £20 for the wellington and salmon. The tasting menu is £69.50 per person.
The brigade is five-strong, including Hansom, which she admits is tight, and it's a shorter working week than she's been used to, with the restaurant closed from 6pm Sunday to Tuesday inclusive. The chef reports average numbers of 20 per day for lunch during the week, with covers at - dinner between 40 and 90 per service. Sundays can see more than 100 guests being served.
n the future, the team will be making their own bread, wheeling out a cheese trolley and repurposing some old equipment from the cellar. Tradition is king and Hansom has been working hard to standardise skills within her team.
And with more time on her hands, the talented chef has spent time preparing for competitions, which have been a superb springboard for her career. Next on her agenda is the Copa Jerez challenge, alongside restaurant manager Jonathan Boyer. -
"The Ritz made me the chef I am, but competitions and the TV profile has helped me secure a head chef's role," she concludes.
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, the Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ
From the menu
- Chestnut velouté, Champagne and truffle
- Yeasted cauliflower, apple, pickled mushroom and hazelnut
- Surrey Farm beef fillet, kohlrabi, beef cheek ragÁ¹, leek and cep mushrooms
- Duck breast, liver, beetroot, blackberry and pine
- Peach Schnapps and yogurt parfait, poached peach, basil and white peach sorbet
- Chocolate, praline and Cointreau tarte, chocolate ice-cream, chocolate sauce
Six-course tasting menu, £69.50Optional wine flight, £49.50Three-course lunch menu, £39.50Three-course Á la carte menu, £55
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