Set in 240 acres of parkland near Ascot, Coworth Park has had a lot of turnover of chefs in recent years. The latest recruit is Adam Smith, Roux Scholar and formerly premier sous chef of The Ritz. There was a tasting menu at £95, which is what we went for, but there was a full a la carte selection too, at £70 for three courses. The dining room is large with a high ceiling and well-spaced tables, and blissfully quiet if you are used to the sardine tin table packing of dining rooms in central London.
The wine list had labels such as Quinto da Garrida Reserva 2011 at £39 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £9, the excellent Framingham Riesling 2010 at £49 compared to its retail price of £14, and Planeta Cometa Fiano Menfi 2013 at £85 for a wine that will set you back £20 in a shop. There were posher choices too, such as Domaine de Montille Le Champans 2007 at £225 for a bottle whose current market price is £60. As can be seen, the pricing is far from kind. I was impressed that the sommelier steered me away from my original selection to a significantly cheaper wine, which turned out to be lovely.
The meal began with a trio of nibbles. Chervil root mousse with apple and seeds was pleasant, the textural contrast working well. Cod roe Oreo was also effective, the biscuit nicely complemented by the fish eggs. My favourite of the trio was smoked eel with pork, the “surf and turf” flavours combining nicely (16/20). Rosemary sourdough was made from scratch in the pastry section of the kitchen, and was excellent, with good crust and light texture (17/20).
Pickled mushrooms came with artichoke custard, salsify and artichoke crisps providing texture, the dish given a luxurious lift by the addition of white truffles, which were just coming into season. This was an excellent dish, the sourness of the pickling juices neatly balancing the custard, the textures complementary, the truffle scent lovely but not overwhelming (17/20).Salt-baked carrot came with goat curd, hazelnut and more truffle. The earthy flavours were quite harmonious though there are perhaps limits to how thrilling a carrot can taste, at least this one at any rate (15/20).
The only misstep of the night was Exmoor caviar (there is a sturgeon farm in Exmoor) tart with crab, yuzu and creme fraiche on the side. The first problem was the pastry which was distinctly hard, and turned out to be made In the kitchen section rather than the pastry section of the kitchen. Given the skills of the pastry chef here, that seems an odd decision. Moving on, the crab was fine but there was not enough yuzu, and the saltiness of the caviar was the dominant flavour (12/20).
The meal got back on track with carefully cooked turbot. The fish had good flavour, coming from a good-sized 5kg specimen (in general, the bigger the turbot, the better the flavour), served with a nicely cooked cauliflower and a pleasing champagne sauce (easily 15/20). Sirloin of beef was aged for 55 days, supplied from Royal Windsor. It was cooked rare and served with excellent discos of pickled turnip, whose sharpness nicely balanced the richness of the meat and its sauce. There was also oxtail with toasted breadcrumbs on a brown butter mash, the meat having deep flavour (15/20). A vegetarian alternative was actually even better. Ravioli of pumpkin had excellent pasta, served with little croutons for a crunchy contrast, and garnished with excellent chanterelle mushrooms (16/20).
A pre-dessert of apple terrine came with cinnamon shortbread, vanilla ice cream and apple sticks. This was enjoyable, though for me the apple was slightly over caramelised. (15/20). The meal finished in style with a spectacular chocolate sable with milk chocolate and hazelnut cream, topped with milk chocolate and cremeux garnished with caramelised hazelnuts. Next to it was puffed rice with caramelised hazelnuts with gold leaf, a curve of milk chocolate and sugar tube with malt ice cream. This not only looked superb but its flavour was fabulous, the hazelnuts lovely, the chocolate just in balance, the textures gorgeous. This was a truly magnificent dessert of which any kitchen would be proud (19/20). Running the pastry section is Lucy Jones, formerly of The Ritz, and based on this last dessert she is quite an asset.
The meal ended with coffee and very good milk chocolate with honeycomb centre. The coffee was a serviceable Musetti, and surely the kitchen can do better than this as a supplier given the amount of effort clearly going in elsewhere? Service was genuinely classy, led by a Polish assistant managerwho used to work at The Waterside Inn. The bill came to £162 including pre-dinner drinks and plenty of wine. If you went a la carte and shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head might be around £110. This is of course not cheap, but there was some serious cooking going on in this meal. The ingredient quality was high and other than one dish this was, for me, straight down the line Michelin star standard. The hazelnut dessert was a joy, pure and simple.