Editor's note: the revolving door for head chefs here continues, with Brian Hughson departing in February 2014.
Brian Hughson has been in charge of the kitchens here for over a year, giving some much-needed stability to the restaurant. Tables are large and well spaced, and one side of the dining room has tables looking out over an attractive meadow of wild flowers. The lighting was rather murkier than I remember it, hence the matching photos.
A tasting menu was £85, three courses at £65, though this includes nibbles and pre-dessert. The wine list had Hugel Pinot Gris 2008 at £59 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £15, JJ Prum Kabinett 2011 at £69 for a wine that retails at £14, Vintage Tunina 2010 at £139 for a wine that you can find for £38, and Antinori Tignanello 2004 at an egregious £420 for a wine that will set you back around £113 in a shop. These mark-up levels are excessive, and would raise eyebrows in Mayfair, though presumably Coworth Park knows its customers, and Ascot is nothing if not a prosperous area.
Bread was made from scratch and included rosemary bread with salt that for me could have had more rosemary, delicate sourdough and ale bread with good texture (15/20). An amuse-bouche of crisp frog leg came with a thyme sauce and garlic foam, the thyme flavour coming through well (15/20).
Mackerel with wasabi apparently used the solitary current English-grown wasabi supplier. It is commendable that real wasabi was used rather than the coloured horseradish paste so often passed for it in the UK, but in this case the wasabi was subtle to the point of invisibility, the mackerel itself of good but not great quality (14/20).
Red mullet with roast scallop came on a bed of durum wheat and bouillabaisse consommé. The scallop was excellent with good inherent sweetness and accurately timed, the mullet less in terms of flavour so though properly cooked, but the bouillabaisse sauce had plenty of depth (15/20).
Watermelon with lemon verbena was prettily presented but the melon had limited flavour (I have been spoilt by my time in Japan when it comes to melon, amongst other things) and the verbena was very subtle (13/20). I much preferred salt-baked beetroot with glazed goat cheese and panna cotta, which had excellent beetroot (16/20).
Pork came in several forms: chargrilled cutlet, crispy belly and brawn ravioli, with turnip puree and Jerez jus. The crackling was particularly good, the pork of high quality (15/20). This was better than confit onion tart with lord of the hundreds sheep cheese, charred violet artichoke and herb vinaigrette. The cheese was fine but the pastry of the tart was rather soggy, the onion lacking enough flavour (13/20).
A pre-dessert of lemon ice cream and burnt meringue was quite refreshing (15/20). Pistachio cake with caramel came with sour cherry sorbet, glazed cherries and yoghurt, the cherry flavour good (15/20). Honey apple bavarois with peach and almond ice cream had a jarring note of basil (14/20). Dark chocolate mousse came with liquid vanilla, malt ice cream, frozen chocolate sugar almonds and popping candy; the chocolate was too hard and popping candy surely was an idea best left in the 1990s (13/20). Coffee was good.
Service was excellent, the sommelier (from Alsace) helpful and knowledgeable, our Romanian waiter very good indeed. If you went a la carte and had a modest bottle of wine the bill all in would come to about £95 a head or so. Overall this latest meal was a little inconsistent. The best elements (the bread, the beetroot) were very good indeed, but there were a few places where the cooking was on less solid ground. As the new kitchen team settles down hopefully these ups and downs will be smoothed out, as certainly there is much to like about Coworth Park, with its lovely setting and slick service.