Michael Wignall at The Latymer
Pennyhill Park Hotel and The Spa,
Surrey, GU19 5EU
Tel. 01276 486 156
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: –
Website: The Latymer
Continuing on the theme of local Surrey Michelin star restaurants, this week I make it to Pennyhill Park to dine at the Latymer. Michael Wignall formerly of the Devonshire Arms, has recently been appointed as the head chef in2007 to helm the high end restaurant in this luxury hotel and spa which literally a 5 minute drive from where I live. Well I say 5 minute drive but due to my poor sense of direction, and night blindness, I managed to make a chore of locating the hotel.
Michael Wignall like most chefs started off in catering college before having stints at Broughton Park (when Paul Heathcote was cooking there) and L’Ortolan (during John Burton Race’s time there) befire moving on to Cliveden where he was appointed head chef at Waldo’s. Wignall won his first Michelin star here under the guidance of executive chef Ron Maxfield. Ever since then, stars have been following him wherever he went – at Old Beems in Waterhouses and Michael’s Nook. Wignall was then approached by Devonshire Arms to head up their Burlington Restaurant and turn their fortunes around. Within 6 months, the restaurant was awarded a star and 4 AA rosettes.
Of course, Pennyhill Park, home of the England ruby team, came calling and Wignall could not resist the siren’s call to return back to the south of England. Again, recognition came quickly and in abundance. The restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star and Wignall has been nominated as Best Newcomer in the 2008 edition of the Good Food Guide.
The menu here is an interesting read with many tempting options. The ALC dinner menu is £58 for three courses whilst the ten course tasting menu is £78. Wine pairing with the tasting menu is a spicy £65 with 6 glasses although they are poured generously. This is of course as expensive as most One star restaurants in London. Lunch is £33 for 3 courses. A nice touch is that there is both a proper vegetarian tasting menu as well as a fish-only tasting menu available which was greatly appreciated by one of my guest. We tried the tasting menu on this visit.
Nibbles here are certainly elaborate with a broad selection of nibbles. A little spoon of Bloody Mary sphere showed good technical skill, with a nice kick, but had a touch too much salt for me. Other nibbles include a very enjoyable butternut squash arancini and duck liver “cigarette”. Various breadsticks and potato crisps were accompanied by two dips – a very enjoyable cheese, crème fraiche and truffle dip (topped with red pepper pearls) and a aubergine caviar dip. The breadsticks themselves were fine, but were not as good as say, the ones at Zafferano. The same could be said about the Anchovy Frazzles which are shadow of the version served at the Square. I want to talk specifically about a particular nibble – prawn and sesame toast which was simply baffling. I have to question why a Michelin starred restaurant would deem it worthy to serve something that would be more at home at a Chinese takeaway. When you deem it worthy to serve prawns on sesame toast, you are taking a HUGE risk – you have to either make it the single most divine morsel ever or it will just be relegated to the obscurity of being a takeaway clone. Unfortunately, it was the latter. For me, the canapés were very difficult to score, given some were very good (butternut squash arancini) and some utterly baffling (prawns on toast) so an average score of 5/10 is about right.
Bread – Black Olive, White, Brown
Bread here is nicely presented in a nifty little packaging to resemble a small loaf of bread. When you break open the seal, you will find individual slices of home made white, brown and black olive bread. These are good texture, but the bread was severely lacking in seasoning with even the black olive slice having very muted flavour of the said ingredient. (4/10)
Ballotine of Grouse, Smoked Challans Duck, Beetroot Caviar, Butternut Squash Sorbet
The first official course was a ballotine of grouse served with two thin slices of smoked Challans duck, beetroot caviar, butternut squash sorbet and a hot seared slice of foie gras. The ballotine itself was very well made, with the gamey flavour of the grouse coming through well but for me, there was simply not enough of the main component of the dish to pair with the various flavours on the plate. (6/10)
Cannelloni of Tuna, Lime and Soy Sauce, Octopus Presse, Ginger Marshmallow, Oscietra Caviar
Tuna was rolled up in a cannelloni, wrapped in a lime and soy film, with a thin strip of octopus presse, ginger marshmallow, deep fried squid rings, langoustine tartare, salmon roe and oscietra caviar. The pairing of tuna with Asian flavours is a classical and sensible pairing – the umami filled soy and lime bringing out the tuna flavour very well. Yet again, however, the main problem yet again lies in the fact that there was very little tuna in proportion to everything else on the plate. (7/10)
Roast Calves Sweetbread, Hereford Snails, Comte Fondue, Black Eye Peas, Pumpkin Puree, Spiced Veloute
Sweetbreads were carefully cooked with good texture, served with a few slices of veal, black eyed peas, pumpkin puree and a crisp chicken skin. Whilst the sweetbreads were thoroughly enjoyable, the same could not be said about the Comte fondue which had some weird texture which can only be described as the kind of glue found on the cheese you find on Pizza Hut pizzas. Ignoring this though, the rest of dish was pretty decent. (5/10)
Seared Hand Dived Scallops, Poached Quail Egg, Apple, Cider and Walnuts, Apple Emulsion
Seared scallops with a poached quail egg, apple, parmesan and summer truffles is a combination that should in theory work very well. However, the dish was severely let down by a basic error – lack of seasoning resulting in a very bland dish. If anything, this goes to highlight how important the right amount of seasoning is to elevate a dish from ordinary to very good. Another thing I have to question is the use of summer truffles (yes you read that right) when we are in the deep end of autumn, nearing winter. Summer truffles, if anything, are pretty tasteless – so its addition was pretty pointless. (4/10)
Warm Sardine, Scottish Langoustine, Olive and Anchovy Beignets, Panisse, Braised Fennel
Sardine is a certain ingredient I hold close to my heart. I still fondly remember the simpler times of my life where my mom would grill a few sardines with salt. Simple, full of little bones, but absolutely delicious. So how is it that a Michelin starred restaurant, serving a carefully pin-boned fillet of sardine could be so underwhelming? Yet again, the common theme was the lack of seasoning. Don’t get me wrong – the sardine was perfectly cooked and the ingredients on the plate top notch (e.g. langoustines) yet the dish simply failed to sing as much as I hoped it would for me. (3/10)
Poached and Roast Croise Duck with Agen Prunes, Coriander Gnocchi, Shimeiji Mushrooms, Jasmine Jus
Mains of poached and roast Challans duck stuffed with agen prunes with coriander gnocchi was yet again underseasoned. That was however, not the only flaw of the dish. For some reason which completely baffles me, the duck jus was flavoured with jasmine tea. Imagine a slice of roast duck in a Chinese restaurant that you accidentally dropped into your cup of jasmine tea… and then eating it. (2/10)
Mousse of Crottin du Perigord with Cucumber Film, Honey Pecan, Red Wine Pickled Pear, Pear Crisp
Given a long tasting menu, a plated cheese course was brought out in lieu of an entire cheese board. Crottin du Perigord mousse wrapped with cucumber film showed good technique – the mousse having a pleasant texture and the other elements on the plate (particularly the honey pecan) pairing up well. (6/10)
Roast Fig, Chestnut Panna Cotta, Date Cake, Port Jelly, Honey and Lavender Ice Cream
Roast fig was simply inexplicable. The problem with this dish was many-fold. Where do I begin? First off, the fig used was label ordinaire. Roasting tasteless figs is simply a bad idea since all you end up with is a mushy pulp. Next is the lavender ice cream. Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of using an element more commonly associated with my toilet handwash to flavour my ice cream (there are seriously a hundred other things to flavour ice cream with) so this might be a personal bias. Saying that, the use of lavender should be sparring – a little kiss would suffice, not a huge knockout blow. This was frankly, a very poorly constructed dish. (1/10)
Things did not get any better with a continental breakfast which again sounded conceptually fun but should have been left back at Heston’s (Blumental) drawing board. This consisted of a pink grapefruit jelly, lemon curd pancake, pain perdu with cinnamon, yoghurt sorbet, milk jelly with cereal and the least discernable of all things – ‘pain au chocolat’. The latter was a line of espresso and chocolate syrup with a foam of some sort. I appreciate the thought process going through this (which I am sure the chef has spent countless nights staying awake deconstructing down to the bare basics) but I doubt any regular diner would have been able to pick this up – given the small smear of syrup and the pretty tasteless foam. (2/10)
Chocolate Moelleux, Coconut Sabayon, Pineapple Beignets, Coconut Sorbet
The meal did at least end on a high note with a nice chocolate fondant timed perfectly with a runny centre (my dining companion was not so lucky with his) with a coconut sabayon and sorbet and little pineapple beignets. The twist in this dish came from the space dust sprinkled around the fondant, which gave the dish a wow factor. (6/10)
Petit fours were elaborate featuring a garden variety of every single sweet you think about – maracoons, marshmallow (including a favourite flavour of mine, dandelion & burdock), nougat de Motelimar, cinnamon doughnuts, white chocolate and lychee truffle, fudge, bitter chocolate and hazelnut fondant, chocolate cigarette and liquorice chocolate cigarette. Good fun. (6/10)
Service was pleasant and faultless although they could have been a bit more attentive on the topping of the water. One word sums up my visit to the Latymer – disappointing. The food is simply too complicated for its own good and at times I felt that there were 5 too many components on a plate. There is simply a lack of focus in many dishes. Take for example the starter of ballotine of grouse where the actual main theme of the dish (the grouse) was but a mere mouthful compared to the other condiments on the side. My second problem was the seasoning of the dishes and more specifically the lack of making more than one dish very dull. This is such a shame given the use of premium ingredients which failed to shine. Of course at the end of the day, I always feel that scores should be relevant to the amount paid. The tasting menu with wine at £143 is only slightly cheaper than that at Le Gavroche and the Square (two of my favourite restaurants) and yet the cooking here is not a shade on the two. Heck, this isn’t even the best restaurant in Surrey.
Pros: Good service. Excellent wine list. High quality ingredients.
Cons: Confused, unimpressive food. Ridiculous mark-ups on wine.