Matt Worswick at The Latymer
Pennyhill Park Hotel and The Spa,
Surrey, GU19 5EU
Tel. 01276 486 156
Food type: Modern French
Website: The Latymer
In January 2016, the Latymer announced that Michael Wignall would be parting ways as he had taken up the executive chef post in Gidleigh Park, replacing the departing Michael Caines. Wignall had after all single handedly built up the reputation of the Latymer, then a 2 AA Rosette restaurant, winning them their first star in 2009 and a subsequent second 3 years later. This left a gaping hole and big shoes that needed to be filled and fast. For a brief period of two months, Steven Edwards (Masterchef Professionals winner 2013) held fort before the appointment of Matt Worswick.
Worswick is probably most famous for his appearance in last year’s Great British Menu where he won the regional heats (North West) and had his fish course short-listed in the finals. Prior to that Worswick had also appeared on Masterchef Professionals 2010 where he made it to the semi finals. He has an impressive CV working with the likes of David Everritt-Matthias (2* Le Champignon Sauvage aka Champion Sausage), Kenny Atkinson (then 1* Teän) and Simon Hulstone (1* The Elephant). Worswick himself previously held a star at Glenapp Castle. Although his most recent stint at Thornton Hall in Wirral saw him retain the restaurant’s 3 AA rosette status, a Michelin star was not forthcoming. As such it will be interesting to see if he will be able to maintain at least a Michelin star at the Latymer.
The menu format remains relatively unchanged. At dinner when we visited there were two separate length tasting menus – 6 courses priced at £80 and 10 courses at £100. The two menus feature completely different dishes although the kitchen is flexible enough to swap around dishes from either menu if there are any particular dislikes. There is no a la carte option available which is a departure from when Wignall was cooking (where an a la carte option was available during midweek). We opted for the 10 course menu and with that drank a Barbaresco Bruno Giacosa 1995.
The first course on the menu were actually a selection of canapés. First, a pigs trotters cromesqui had a good balance of fatty, gelatinous skin and succulent meat – the fritter crisp and was enlivened by a piccalilli gel. I felt the chef could have been slightly bolder with the amount used although I must admit that this could be due to my bias for piccalilli. The second was a parmesan goujere which was fine with good amounts of cheese flavour but the choux pastry could have been a lot lighter if using the version at Ducasse and Hibiscus as benchmarks. The last canapé was my favourite – a cornetto filled with smoked baba ganoush which ticked all the boxes of salty, sweet, umami, crispy and creamy. As an aside and this has nothing to do with the actual cooking, my wife commented that there was a bit of a wait from when we were seated until the first official bite arrived. This was not the case when the restaurant was under Wignall where the diners will be brought a sequence of canapés while looking at the menu and enjoying their champagne. In this case, the canapés were only served after we had finished our aperitif and once our orders had been taken. Given that the canapés are similar whether you choose the 6- or 10-course menu, it would make sense for the kitchen to just fire off the canapés when the guests are seated. It helps put them at ease immediately, instead of having to stare at the decor which has remained unchanged for a good part of the many years I have visited the restaurant.
This was followed by one of Worswick’s signature of octopus with sesame and miso. The octopus tentacles, draped under petals of thinly sliced kohlrabi, were braised until tender sitting on top of a sauce made from a combination of miso and sesame which tasted a bit like a satay sauce. The dish was finished off with some coriander oil and baby coriander cress. I like how the octopus had taken on a slightly sweet characteristic from the slow cooking process which married well with the umami hit from the sesame-miso sauce. This would have been all too rich but for the refreshing notes from the coriander. A very solid dish and I like the thought process of the chef already.
I was not expecting to enjoy the next dish as much as I did. Salt baked celeriac with truffle ice cream sounds like a car crash waiting to happen but I was pleasantly surprised with the combination of the cold truffle ice cream with the slices of celeriac – their earthy characteristics complimenting each another. More importantly, the truffle ice cream was not completely overpowering but rather added a subtle fragrance to the dish. Yet again, Worswick uses herb oil, this time in the form of lovage and adds a peppery note to the dish with some nasturtium.
The next course was red mullet which had been grilled, sitting on some brown crab meat with a brown crab meat foam. The mullet was ok (could have done with a fraction less cooking but by no means overcooked and dry) as were the squid used to garnish the dish. However, the squid ink cracker that came with the dish needs a bit more work. I have eaten my fair share of squid ink crackers – the Square and Pied a Terre both do fantastic versions, but the version here was a bit too dense for want of a better word. The cracker didn’t just melt away in the mouth and wasn’t as light and airy as the versions mentioned above. Overall, a tasty dish, but there were a few things that could be done to improve the dish further.
With our next course, I had the hot duck liver – essentially a foie gras beignet with a lovely prune and tamarind puree to help cut through the richness of the dish. Whilst I enjoyed this dish, I did wonder about the portion size of the dish here which was essentially another canapé. My wife who is not a big fan of foie gras swapped hers for the tomato and burrata which she was very happy with. I did have a nibble of the dish and was impressed by the amount of flavour from their tomatoes.
Viewers of last year’s Great British Menu will recognise the next course of lobster with peas and mint. This was of course Worswick’s dish which was shortlisted in the finals. Two tender slices of lobster sat on top of a bed of freshly shelled peas and mint oil before an intense, heady lobster bisque is poured table side to complete the dish. The lobster was cooked extremely well, bang on the money and despite the simplicity of the dish, it ate extremely well. For me, this was easily the dish of the night.
Our main course for the night was beef sirloin with braised snails. The beef, from Hertfordshire, was served pink and had good flavour. I also enjoyed the idea of the braised snails, the cooking process giving the snails a deeper flavour. There was also a wild garlic pesto hidden in the midst to give some freshness to the dish although this element was very powerful and the dish could have done with less of it. The dish came with an unannounced tongue and pomme souffle, the later still in need of a bit more work. The potato had slightly deflated by the time it hit the table and had this dark brown colour to it as if dusted with some mushroom powder of some sort. Also it is interesting to note that both our dishes were plated differently. I am not sure whether this was intentional or not, but the plating of all the other dishes were identical.
Before desserts, we enjoyed a selection of British cheeses from the trolley (with a supplement of course) served with an excellent chutney (I ate the whole pot!), fruit bread and crackers.
The first two desserts were fine, pleasant but forgettable. A strawberry sorbet with elderflower granita had a nice texture, with good strawberry flavour coming through. I liked the idea of the elderflower granita with the strawberry as it gave the dish an additional floral perfume. Dessert number two was poached apricots with a chamomile pannacotta. While the dessert looked pretty, the pannacotta was simply too rubbery and had an unpleasant texture to it – a case of too much gelatine in the mix. A shame really because the apricots themselves had a nice texture to them.
Finally, we finished on a chocolate delice – Worswick’s take on the Louis XV chocolate croustillant. This dessert more than made up for the previous course – the chocolate rich, silky and indulgent but with a fresh yoghurt sorbet to refresh the palate.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I live very close to Pennyhill Park, and the Latymer is my local Michelin starred restaurant. As such, I very much want Worswick to succeed. It is still early days for Worswick and his kitchen staff who are settling in and adapting to his cooking style. There were definitely some technical issues which needs to be ironed out, particularly for a restaurant with Michelin star ambitions. The pomme souffle and squid ink cracker are elements, which by no means are bad, but in need of more refinement, with better versions delivered elsewhere. On the other hand, the chamomile pannacotta was a clear technical slip unless the chef’s intention was to serve rubbery pannacotta. I also touched on portion sizing with the canapé sized duck liver which felt odd half way through the tasting menu and the simple solution would be to move it to an earlier course in the menu. All said, we enjoyed our meal at the Latymer and there were indeed plenty of positives to warrant another visit once Worswick has had more time to bed into his new kitchen.