125 Windsor Road
Chobham, Surrey, GU24 8QS
Tel. 01276 858 000
Food type: Fusion
Nearest tube: –
Apologies for a lack of updates – I have been fairly busy with work and life. However there will be a flurry of posts in the upcoming days.
Honest fact – I never heard of Stovell’s existence despite living 5 minutes away from the restaurant. I have been living around the area since 2009 and the restaurant opened in 2012. It was only recently when I stumbled an interview online (via my Twitter feed) with chef/ owner Fernando Stovell and subsequently a review by Andy did I start looking into the restaurant. Although the restaurant has been ignored by Michelin (so far), they have also been awarded 4 AA rosettes and rated 6/10 in the Good Food Guide which is a pretty impressive accolade. As a rule of thumb, a restaurant at a 1* Michelin level usually has 3 AA rosettes, so star or no star, the people at AA reckon that there is some serious cooking going on in this kitchen.
I met up with a friend for lunch. The restaurant offers a standard ALC menu at £45 for 3 courses. There are also optional side orders priced at £4 each which we were encouraged to order. There is a cheaper lunch menu priced at £22.50 and a bespoke tasting menu at £78. We were very keen to go for the tasting menu but arriving just shy of 2pm (the cut off time for the tasting menu), we were informed that it was not available as the ‘produce was not up to scratch’. You can read into it what you like. While browsing to the menu, I noted a leg of pata negra in the dining room and requested a portion of it. Our waiter told us that would be no problem but they would serve it when all the other nibbles are brought to the table.
After placing our orders, the kitchen brought out a couple of nibbles. First a pea and ham soup, served in a shot glass with their version of a tortilla sat on top. The soup had decent flavour and the tortilla itself provided a nice textural contrast. A tapioca crisp made from dehydrated onion and tomatoes came carefully balanced on a wire contraption with a squeeze bottle on the side containing chilli sauce and a home made guacamole served on the side. The guacamole was excellent made from ripe avocados and a little tartness and herbaceous note from the wood sorrel. I wish the chilli sauce had a bit more kick to it though. Finally bread was served in a rustic sack with a choice of butter or a sinful herbed pork lard, the latter absolutely moreish. At this point, after eating our nibbles, it was apparent that the wait staff had completely forgotten our plate of pata negra and needed to be prompted.
For my starter, I opted for the barbecued quail which was inspired by the novel “Like Water For Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel. It was a nice touch to be provided an excerpt from the novel as it helped me as the diner understand where the chef had drawn his inspiration from. In the novel, the protagonist, Tita, is able to infuse her emotions into her cooking which affects everyone around her. Of course, the version here is an artistic take on the rich quail in rose sauce described in the novel being more of a salad. The quail had a gentle lick of smoke from the barbecue and the garnish of corn and mushrooms sensible. Instead of a rose sauce, rose petals are prettily scattered on the plate providing just a gentle perfume to the dish.
My dining partner tried the foie gras – a thick slab of foie gras caramelised on the outside and molten in the middle served with generous chunks of brioche. The interesting element here was a hay tea dressing which had a little sweetness to it which helped with the richness of the foie.
I tried the roasted guinea fowl for my mains. The guinea fowl was cooked to perfection in the wood fire oven – the bird plump and moist. The mexican element here comes in the form a mole verde which brought some freshness to the dish. For me, this dish could have done with a bolder amount of seasoning as I felt some of the flavours were somewhat muted, but this may just be a personal preference and no doubt other people may very well feel that the seasoning is spot on. My dining companion tried the rabbit which I had a nibble and was certainly very tasty.
For puddings, I tried their version of a strawberry tart. This was a deconstructed version with three triangles of pastry sandwiching strawberry jelly and an elderflower custard. I was not convinced with the deconstruction here because it felt like a sum of different parts which did not meld together. Individually each component was technically well made but because of how the dish was conceived, it just felt like there was too much pastry to ‘filling’. Also as a side note, the strawberry sorbet featured one of the sloppiest rochers (if it even could be called that) I have seen from a professional kitchen.
I have mixed feelings about my meal at Stovell’s. On one hand, it is nice to see a local restaurant near where I live striving to produce some ambitious cooking and the chef embracing his Mexican heritage in his cooking. This translates into some interesting food outside the predictable high street chains that are found in Surrey. The cooking is definitely correct and skilfully executed yet at the same time the flavours for me just felt a bit muted. I’m not sure if this is because the chef feels he has to tone down the flavours for the local crowd, but for me, it just lacked the vibrancy I have come to expect from Mexican food.
The pricing is ok at £45 for 3 courses, yet dishes do not come complete and there is the irritating thing of needing to order pricey sides at £4. With a side dish tagged on, that’s £49 – the same price as having a 3 course meal at say Medlar where dishes are complete. Don’t get me wrong, Stovell’s is an excellent local restaurant and one I would happily go back to again. And although I find Michelin rather erratic with their rating of restaurants, I do think that in this case they have got it spot on with their assessment.