Editor's note: the head chef revolving door here continued, with new head chef Chris Meredith leaving in April 2012 after less than a year. Treat the review below with the appropriate level of caution. The latest head chef is Brian Hughson, who I wish all the best of luck to in his new role. Brian was head chef at The Dorchester Grill and before that was head chef at Gary Rhodes W1.
The elegant Coworth Park hotel (since April 2011 part of the Dorchester Collection hotel group) is situated near Wentworth golf course on the prosperous border between Berkshire and Surrey. An 18th country house in Palladian style, it reopened in its current form after a major multi-year refurbishment. Its flagship restaurant was initially named Restaurant John Campbell after the chef recruited to open it (who previously gained two stars at the Vineyard). However, as many other restaurant owners have discovered previously, it can be unwise to wed a restaurant brand too closely to an individual chef, since Mr Campbell has moved on, switching to a consultancy contract which finished in November 2011. A rebranding will no doubt follow in due course, as well as reprinting of menus, all of which carried John Campbell’s name at the time of my visit even the cappuccino had the initials JC spelt out in the foam. (Editor's note: the newly branded restaurant will be called "Restaurant Coworth Park"). His departure has caused some senior kitchen staff upheaval, but now Olly Pierrepoint, originally sous-chef here, is in charge of the kitchen. Olly trained at Le Manoir Au Quat’s Saisons, The Square, Texture and Foliage, so has worked in some serious kitchens. He runs a young team, most of whom have been in place since the reopening, with eight chefs working on the shift when I visited, serving around 60 covers.
The hotel is fitted out sumptuously, the main restaurant having a large dining room with large, generously spaced tables, thick carpet rather than wooden floor, coffee coloured walls with large mirrors and a large ceiling ornament depicting autumn leaves. There was some rather unnecessary muzak playing, which was louder than seemed appropriate for this setting.
The menu offered à la carte choices at £60 for three courses, or an eight course tasting menu at £80 (a full vegetarian tasting menu was also available). The wine list firmly reflected the prosperity of the area, with heavy mark-ups at all levels of the list. Choices include Hugel Pinot Gris 2007 at £43 for a wine you can find in a shop for £13, Kendall Jackson Alisos Hills Syrah 2005 at a steep £115 for a wine that retails at £27, up to grander selections such as Lynch Bages 2005 at an egregious £399 for a wine that costs £103 and Latour 1996 at £1768 compared to an average price in the high street of £656. We drank the excellent Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Theo Riesling 2008 at £63 for a wine that retails at about £19, which is hardly cheap but was the smallest mark-up I noticed on a quick scan of the list. This is not a place to splash out on your wine.
An initial nibble was crisp Parmesan tapioca that had strong parmesan taste (16/20). Breads were made from scratch in the kitchen and were very good: rosemary and potato bread, pumpkin and onion, country bread and baguette (comfortably 16/20). A nibble of hazelnut Chantilly cream with Jersualem artichoke crisps and a velouté of Jerusalem artichokes was also pleasant (15/20).
My starter was a pair of large scallops, carefully cooked, with lemon grass, lotus root and cucumber, some lime creating a nice balance of acidity to the natural sweetness of the scallops (16/20). An intermediate course was Anjou pigeon breast with figs, hazelnut and goat cheese. The pigeon itself was of good quality, though I have eaten better figs, and I wonder whether goat cheese is really an ideal foil for pigeon (15/20). My main course was venison infused with lapsang souchong, served with salsify, beetroot polenta, and a sauce thickened with bitter chocolate. The venison was cooked carefully and the sauce was suitably rich; chocolate may sound odd but is commonly used to thicken sauces, and worked well (16/20).
A pre-dessert of apple compote was made with Bramley apples, with coffee and pistachio crumbs, a yoghurt and sage foam on a bed of cabernet jelly. Fortunately the sage taste was quite subdued, and the apple compote was comforting (15/20), For dessert I had a thin slice of apple tarte tatin with caramel and chestnut ice cream, garnished with blackberries. For me the apples could have been caramelised a little more, but the pastry was fine (15/20). Coffee had good flavour. Other dishes I sampled were generally of a similar standard, though in a couple of cases the dishes were not quite as hot as they might have been (understandable as the kitchen is in the basement, and a fair trek from the dining room for the waiters).
Service was friendly and there was no shortage of staff, though it seemed unnecessary to explain quite so many of the dishes in great detail at the start of the meal. Other than that the service was efficient, with good topping up. Overall this was a very good meal, between 15/20 and 16/20, so I see no reason why they should not retain their Michelin star next year, despite the chef change. Personally I would prefer to see a little simplification in the menu and I could do without sage in my desserts, but that is just me. At £60 for three courses this is a fair price for technically skilled cooking with good ingredients, but cost-conscious diners would be wise to stick to a modest choice of wine here.