Michael Wignall at The Latymer
Pennyhill Park Hotel and The Spa,
Surrey, GU19 5EU
Tel. 01276 486 156
Food type: Modern French
Website: The Latymer
It has been a long time since I last visited the Latymer following a less than impressive first visit there. At that time of my first visit, the restaurant had 1 Michelin star but was subsequently promoted to 2 stars a few years later. I do think it is unfair to pass judgement on a restaurant based on a solitary visit (or two… or three for that matter) but I had very little incentive to revisit anytime soon despite living only 5 minutes away from Pennyhill Park given that I could just as easily get down to London where there are a myriad of dining options available. However, my fiancée has been very keen to try this restaurant so I booked a table on a rainy Wednesday night. As you would!
On any regular night, there is a standard a la carte menu priced at £90 and a tasting menu priced at £110. On Fridays and Saturdays, the a la carte menu is replaced by a shorter tasting menu priced at £94. These are serious prices commanded here, London prices in fact, and at such a price point the food has to deliver.
And boy did it deliver big time! The first highlight of the meal was a dish of poached cod with a charcoal emulsion & cauliflower. I will freely admit that I am not the greatest fan of cod as it does not have great big flavour. Lovely texture, sure, but I would also like my fish to pack a punch and cod is more like a dainty little princess of the sea. Which made this dish seem even more surprising as the charcoal emulsion made a huge impact on the plate. Barbecued cod – if that were ever to be a new foodie trend, then this dish would be where it all started. The small blob of black gold gave a lovely punchy, smokey flavour to the fish. To heighten the impact of the dish, a little cured lardo is also added. Because, everything tastes better with lardo!
Following the first haymaker, the next haymaker of the night was Wignall’s signature ‘Cassoulet of clams‘ featuring shellfish of different varieties. Razor clams will always be an ingredient I look at on the menu and go “Oh this is one of my favourites” only to be frequently let down because it is either not properly cleaned or it is cooked to resemble the consistency of a rubber boot. So when a dish is delivered with clams that simply melts in your mouth, you know that this is the real deal. The description of the dish does not do justice as to the amount of work that goes into this humble dish. My only wish was that I did not have a huge big bowl of it!
If there was one dish that just did not quite hit the same heights as the other dishes it would be the cheese course. Call me old-fashioned but I just prefer to eat my cheese as is, with a nice glass of wine and maybe small bread. I am not a big fan of ‘designed cheese courses’ where I am sure plenty of work goes into the construction of the dish but ultimately detracts from the main ingredient.
But if the cheese course did not tickle our fancy, one of the desserts certainly hit all the right marks. The menu describes it as “Malt and yeast frozen cream, Jersey milk skin, malt styrofoam, chocolate caramel ganache, caramelised walnuts, Horlicks“. Really they should have just renamed it ‘Horlicks’ because this is in essence what the whole dish really tries to capture – that malted drink I remember drinking as a kid before bed. Again a lot of work has gone into the construction of the dish, but eating it just brought a nostalgic smile to my face.
If I were to sum up Wignall’s cooking in three words it would be Complex, Complicated and Delicious. With every single plate that comes out from the kitchen, it becomes quickly apparent that a lot of work has gone into each dish. Nothing has changed between my first visit and my more recent visit in terms of complexity of each dish but what has indeed developed is that each element fits in harmoniously and is on the plate for a reason. Whilst in the past, one of my criticism was that some of the flavours were rather muted, this was not the case this time around with even the smallest blob on the plate giving maximum impact. Ultimately, it is not how many techniques or elements that can be cramped onto the plate but how the dish eats, and our meal here was simply delicious. If I exclude the cheese course, which by our own admission, is not to our taste, we received course after course which were simply perfection. Special mention must also go to his excellent Front of House team who are one of the friendliest and knowledgeable bunch – the latter important given how complex Wignall’s cuisine is.
All being said, we really enjoyed our meal here and given our proximity of where we live to the restaurant, I am sure we will soon be frequent customers here.