Restaurant Coworth Park
Blacknest Road, Sunningdale,
Ascot SL5 7SE
Tel. 01344 876 600
Food type: Modern British
Nearest train: Sunningdale
Website: Restaurant Coworth Park
This year has seen the usual merry-go-round of chefs. Unfortunately this has left me with very few good dining options near where I live. Michael Wignall departed Latymer at the beginning of the year for greener pastures, and while it is nice to see the hotel put their trust in a young talent like Matt Worswick, my meal there in May was uneven with a few technical slips. Steve Drake left his eponymous Michelin starred restaurant following his split with his wife. Nearby Stovell’s, another restaurant harbouring Michelin star ambitions, was merely pleasant with the standard of cooking a long way from the 1 Michelin star level they are hoping to achieve. Dining options locally have been slim pickings, that was until the recent announcement of a new team heading up the kitchen of Coworth Park.
Restaurant Coworth Park, back when it first opened in 2010, was headed up by John Campbell, who had been tempted away from the Vineyard. They held a Michelin star for a year before Campbell moved towards a consultancy contract and subsequently departing altogether along with the star he won. Since then, the restaurant has had numerous executive chefs with very little success with the Michelin men. However, from August 2016, it was announced that Adam Smith would be taking over as executive chef for the hotel. Smith has quite the CV, having worked at the Ritz for 9 years, before taking up the head chef role at 4 AA Rosette Burlington Arms. Somewhere in between (2012 to be exact), Smith won the prestigious Roux Scholarship and with that a stage with 3* Yannick Alleno (Ledoyen), then of Le Meurice Paris. Smith however is not the only appointment. Lucy Jones, also from the Ritz, has been employed to head up the pastry section. In England, the pastry chef’s efforts often go unrecognised – a stark contrast to France, where a good pastry chef shares equal prominence with the head chef.
We visited Coworth Park on a gloomy Saturday afternoon for lunch and led to a table with views of the hotel gardens. The dining room is simply gorgeous with a bronze leaf decoration encircling the centre of the room. Tables are lined with crisp white cloths, a rarity these days! There were three menus on offer. The standard a la carte menu is priced at £70 for 3 courses and the set lunch menu (called the Best of British menu) is £30 for 3 courses. The tasting menu here is £95 for 7 courses, featuring a mixture of items from the a la carte and set lunch menu. We went the a la carte route.
The meal began with a trio of nibbles. A beetroot macaron had pleasing texture and a filling made from yuzu which provided necessary acidity to complement the sweetness from the macaron. The second bite was something very familiar. An oreo made from squid ink with a smoked eel filling immediately brought back memories of that awful meal at Story. The cookie had good texture (better than the original), but the filling was strangely lacking in smoked eel flavour, much like the version at Story. Hopefully as he is able to settle into his new kitchen, Smith can move towards designing other nibbles which he can call his own. The last nibble, a coronation chicken tartlet had excellent pastry work and filling which had a nice curry bite to it. Bread was presented next with an excellent rosemary bread which was served piping hot.
My starter was an Exmoor caviar tart with crab, cucumber and yuzu. This is a dish inspired from Smith’s time at the Ritz. The tart shell is made from filo pastry (instead of the conventional shortcrust pastry) which gave the dish lightness and a crisp texture. The pairing of sweet crab meat with salty, briny caviar and refreshing cucumber is of course classical but the modern touch here is the addition of yuzu to provide balancing acidity. On the side, a small dollop of creme fraiche for additional richness. I loved this dish – a plate of food which is indulgent, exuberant and delicious. But more than this, this is a plate of food which had a sense of belonging in a beautiful dining room we were eating in.
I followed with mains of squab pigeon – the bird likely cooked sous vide before being finished in a hot pan. The pigeon breast had a lovely, luscious, velvety soft texture which simply melted in the mouth and the final roasting process giving it a beautiful caramelised, nutty note. The accompaniments – lettuce both roasted and as a puree, provided herbaceous, vegetal notes to contrast the snail beignets. There was also dots of mushroom puree for earthiness with the dish tied together with a rich pigeon jus, likely made from the legs. I have eaten plenty of pigeon dishes but none have I enjoyed eating as much as this one.
After a short cheese interlude, we moved on to some highly anticipated desserts. The pre-dessert was a parfait and jelly made from blackcurrants and blackberry with a yoghurt sorbet and crispy buckwheat – modern day jelly and ice cream. More exciting was my actual dessert of Mont Blanc. Hiding within the cylindrical tuile were diced poached pears, topped with a disc of beautifully tempered chocolate and chestnut puree. Every element technically correct, executed with precision, with not a single component out of place. Most restaurants these days choose to serve ‘modern’ desserts which tends to be an excuse for a mishmash of random ideas on a plate which feels incoherent and does not eat well. This on the other hand was a out of the top drawer. The kind of dessert that you would expect from a top Michelin starred place in Paris. The kind with 2 or 3 stars on the door.
This was an impressive showing from the team here at Coworth Park. Even though it has been less than 2 months since taking up the post here, the kitchen is already cooking at a very high level. Most of the dishes we tried were comfortably at a 1* Michelin level. I was so impressed with my meal here that I have already booked my return visit. Of course, when it comes to awarding stars, Michelin themselves are an enigma – the Ritz has been cooking at a very high level for many years, yet it was only in the 2017 guide they were awarded a (paltry) Michelin star. Hopefully, Smith and his team will not have to wait 10 years before getting theirs.