Very good to excellent (89-92)
Average to good (85-88)
Below 85 - below average
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The Dorchester collection is a collection of world renowned hotels such as The Dorchester in London, Le Meurice in Paris and the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles. The latest addition to the collection is Coworth Park near Ascot. The hotel opened in September 2010 and at the same time the Dorchester Collection added John Campbell to their already impressive list of chefs (Alain Ducasse, Yannick Alléno, Wolfgang Puck) with the "John Campbell at Coworth Park" restaurant.
Before he moved to Coworth Park John Campbell was the executive chef at the then two-star Vineyard at Stockcross restaurant in Newbury; it was during his time at the Vineyard that the restaurant was awarded its second Michelin star in 2007. Presently John Campbell is involved with Coworth Park on a consultancy basis for three days a week. Head chef at the restaurant is Olly Rouse, Campbell's former sous-chef at the Vineyard. Shortly after we visited Chris Meredith signed up as executive chef.
The restaurant is housed in a former Georgian manor house which has been turned into a beautiful country house hotel with immaculate grounds. The restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows offers great views of the grounds. The hotel, the restaurant, the grounds - you can really tell that a lot of money has been invested into turning Coworth Park into a stunning place. Remarkably I only found out about it via Twitter. People had been tweeting about Coworth Park in the previous months but it was Jo Barnes's (@JoBarnesSauce) tweet a few days before my visit that made me decide to go and have a look and lunch.
John Campbell at Coworth Park is open daily for lunch and dinner. At lunch you can choose between the a la carte menu (2 course GBP 48.00; 3 course GBP 68.00), an 8 course tasting menu (GBP 80.00), an 8 course vegetarian tasting menu (GBP 80.00) and on weekdays the restaurant serves a special "Shire" 2 or 3 course lunch menu (2 course GBP 25.00; 3 course GBP 35.00) prepared with local ingredients. We decided to go for the 8 course tasting menu.
Since we visited on a glorious, sunny day our aperitifs were served on the lovely terrace of the hotel. With our drinks we were served some really tasty lime and sesame Indian flatbreads accompanied by some lovely airy bagna cauda and hummus foams. The eclectic foams very cleverly made for a light and interesting snack.
The first course (and amuse-bouche) of the tasting menu was Ham consomme jelly, pea and mint ice cream and ham crisps. A lovely dish to start off the menu with its elegant ham flavour from the jelly, lovely saltiness from the ham crisps and a wonderful pea and mint ice cream with well-balanced flavours. A clever, innovative and playful dish (gone in seconds, forgot to take a photograph).
Second course Ceviche of scallop (first lightly marinated then chargrilled), morels, pak choi, Hawaiian black salt, white tomato essence, hazelnut. Carefully judged pure flavours: beautiful acidity from the ceviche, a gorgeous and perfectly clear tomato essence with a good strong tomato flavour, a hint of lime, lovely marinated morels. Good textures too, the pak choi had a lovely bite to it and the hazelnuts provided a wonderful crunch. An exciting dish, intense and light at the same time.
As a third course we were served a ballotine of foie gras, lime caramel, mango, ginger and mint compote, honeycomb, pistachio, pain d'epices (gingerbread). A modern make-over of the obligatory foie gras dish. I am not generally a big fan of foie gras but this interpretation was fantastic. Lovely rich foie gras with a hint of smokiness served with a delicious sweet lime caramel. Lovely refreshing mango, ginger and mint compote. The spiciness of the pain d'epices and the heat of the ginger gave the dish a lovely warmth. Again lovely textures too, nice crunch from the pistachio and the honeycomb. A dish that scintillated on the tongue. Wonderful aromas too.
Fourth course Tomato salad, marinated tomato, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil sorbet and powder, shallot crisp, artichoke. Lately tomato dishes seem to be making their way into tasting menus and I love it. A terrific salad, top-quality tomatoes, exciting flavours, balanced by the shallot and artichoke. Seasonal. Summery. Fragrant.
Fifth course braised 5-spice Cornish monkfish, smoked aubergine and tomato, drained yoghurt, sultanas, barbecued gem lettuce. The beautifully cooked monkfish seemed somewhat overpowered by the strong flavours from the smoked aubergine and tomato and chargrilled gem lettuce. All the individual flavours were wonderful but I am not sure they really came together in this dish.
On the sixth course: Rabbit wrapped in pancetta, freshly shaved and braised fennel, rabbit stew, risotto gnocchi, fresh herbs, cauliflower puree. Delicious and perfectly cooked rabbit and a rich and satisfying rabbit stew. Wonderful and tasty risotto gnocchi. The freshly shaved fennel turned out to be an really important ingredient because it balanced the dish. The cauliflower puree was nice and velvety and was the perfect accompaniment.
Seventh course (and pre-dessert) was Hay chocolate, lychee sorbet, rose foam. Lovely chocolate dessert. Full-flavoured lychee sorbet and an elegant rose foam. (no photograph)
The last and eighth course: Gariguette strawberries, peppery granola, rhubarb ice cream, fromage frais parfait. The Gariguette strawberry has become very popular in restaurants because of its intense flavour, sweet and fresh at the same time and it was the perfect choice for this light and elegant dessert. Fantastic crunch from the granola, delicous light fromage frais parfait. The strawberries and parfait were an excellent combination.
John Campbell at Coworth Park served us a refined and very interesting 8 course tasting menu comprised of very well thought out dishes. The cooking is clearly very accomplished and strikes an excellent balance between the classical and the modern, the simple and the complex and the intellectual and the hedonistic. Meticulous care and attention are clearly poured forth over the conception, the preparation and the presentation of all the food that emanates from the kitchens at Coworth park. One does get the impression that the dishes are being created by a team of people rather than by a single person and this perhaps makes it less easy to put into words what defines the food at Coworth park other than its sheer quality. But no need to worry; there is very little doubt that this restaurant's excellence will win it many accolades.