Colette’s At The Grove is the flagship restaurant of the Grove hotel, a sprawling country hotel near Watford. It is sufficiently large that, once inside the grounds of the hotel, we took about ten minutes to actually find the building that houses Colette’s. The restaurant is split into two dining rooms, both nicely appointed with high ceilings, carpeted rooms and well-spaced tables. The restaurant can seat 42 diners at full capacity.
Russell Bateman is the head chef since April 2009, having worked at some very serious restaurants over the years including Nico’s, Marc Veyrat, The Capital, the original Petrus, Midsummer House and Danesfield House. A la carte options ran to £65 for three courses, and there were also tasting menus at £75 and £85, including a full vegetarian tasting menu. We tried the “symphony” and “nature” tasting menus.
The wine list had around 200 selections, ranging in price from £27 to £1,538 and a median of £65, with a very fair mark-up level of 2.4 times retail price. Examples included Domaine du Cros ‘Lo Sang del Pais’ Marcillac 2008 at £29 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £7, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2008 at £85 for a wine that costs £52 in a shop, and Unico 1989 at £300 for a wine that actually costs a bit more than that retail. This was a really well put-together list at a price point that encourages wine drinkers to enjoy something good with their meal, the mark-up levels tapering down sharply at the higher end of the list. Mineral water was £4.95 a bottle.
Nibbles comprised parsnip bhaji, cream cheese and herb tartlets and chicken liver parfait on brioche toast. The bhaji had quite subdued parsnip flavour and little spice, but the herb tartlet was pleasant and the parfait was smooth and had good liver flavour (average 15/20). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and served warm with Brittany butter, a choice of white, rye and granary caraway rolls, the rye bread being the best of these for me (16/20).
Butternut squash with brown butter was the amuse bouche, pleasant enough and with pumpkin seeds to add a little texture (15/20). Chilled foie gras with slices of pineapple, puy lentils and ginger bread sauce was not a particularly pretty dish, but the lentils had good texture, and the pineapple gave balance to the foie gras (16/20). Goat cheese parfait with beetroot and pistachio had good Bosworth’s cheese, the beetroot shaped into cylinders, a combination of flavours that went together reasonably well (14/20).
The dish of the night was a single large scallop with peanut tuile, radish and lime. The scallop was very nicely timed and had excellent inherent sweetness, nicely balanced by the acidity of the lime, with the radish and tuile adding textural contrast: a well-balanced dish with a high quality central ingredient (easily 17/20).
Also excellent was beef tartare with sour cream, watercress, horseradish and sourdough crisps. The beef was 28 day aged Angus, and the horseradish was nicely judged, lifting the dish without dominating it (17/20). Truffled egg had truffle from Piedmont grated at the table over a ring of baked potato and hen’s egg. This was enjoyably rich (16/20).
Brill topped with seaweed and sea kale with pickled clams and salsify had carefully cooked, good quality brill (15/20). This was better than Roscoff onion (originally from Portugal but popularised in Brittany) poached in English cider with Braeburn apple, the onion needing a touch longer cooking in my view, to bring out more of the inherent sweetness in the onion (13/20).
Loin of venison was served with thin layers of Brussels sprouts, parsnip and pear, and dusted with cacao. This was a nice dish, the pear giving some balance to the richness of the other elements (15/20). This was much better than risotto of potatoes, leeks and capers, which was over-salted, the leeks a little stringy, the caper taste too dominant, so it ended up like a salt and vinegar risotto (12/20).
Instead of a cheese board there was Comte soup with grapes and apple, an interesting idea and pleasant enough, though I am not sure this was really better than a nice piece of Comte (14/20). A base of lychee jelly was topped with clementine granita, the latter very nice, though the lychee flavour was rather subdued (14/20). I preferred Yorkshire rhubarb with lemon meringue disc and ginger curd, served with a yoghurt sorbet: the rhubarb was not too sharp, the yoghurt a sensible balance to the lemon and rhubarb (16/20). A “Bounty” dessert of coconut ice cream, chocolate crumb and coconut cream seemed to me a little dry, with too much crumb relative to the rest of the dish elements, though it was otherwise nice enough (14/20).
Coffee was good quality (Musetti), served with a quartet of petit fours: white chocolate truffle with sherry vinegar, pineapple lollipop with fennel seed caramel, a ginger and white chocolate fudge and a mini lemon curd tart. These were nicely made, the lemon curd tart in particular very good (15/20 on average).
Service was excellent, with a manager who used to work at Gilbert Scott and a well-trained set of waiters. The bill came to £156 a head before service, with a nice bottle of wine and pre-dinner drinks. If you ordered a modest bottle of wine from the list and went for the three-course option then you could eat here for around £95 a head. This is not a bargain by any means, but the surroundings and service are classy. Colette’s offers a generally high standard of cooking, and is certainly somewhere to consider if you are looking for a posh meal in this area.