Editor's note: Steve Smith, formerly of Bohemia, took over as head chef in December 2019.
Pennyhill Park is a vast country spa and hotel in leafy Surrey. The estate dates back to 1609, but has been operating as a hotel since 1973. The Latymer is its flagship restaurant and since March 2016 has as its head chef Matt Worswick. Matt won a Michelin star at Glenapp Castle at the age of 26, and most recently worked as executive chef of Thornton Hall before coming here.
The restaurant is in the main building and has a thick carpet and wood panelled walls. There is a view out over the extensive grounds. With no music playing, the carpeting leads to blissfully low noise levels in the room. The dinner format is either a five (£55) or eight course (£75) tasting menu, but in an appealing touch there is a full vegetarian, and also pescetarian, version of both menus. We opted for the eight-course seafood menu.
The wine list has moderated considerably in price since the change of chef. Examples include Andreas Bender Riesling Dajoar Fineherb 2012 at £49 compared to its shop price of £18, Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2013 was £75 comapred to its retail price of £22, and the lovely Chateau Musar 1999 was £85 for a bottle that will set you back £31 in a shop. At the posh end of the list, Didier Dagenau Silex 2012 was £190 compared to its retail price of £112, and Coche Dury Meursault 2008 was a relative bargain at £430 for a wine that has a current market value of £470.
The meal began with an array of nibbles. A cornet contained smoked baba ganoush (the classic version of which has aubergine, tahini, spices and olive oil) with cardoman yoghurt and Bombay mix. The cornet was very delicate and the filling pleasant. Even better was a rich Parmesan and truffle sphere, and best of all a terrific pea and mint arancini, where the pea flavour really came through and the mint taste was nicely controlled (17/20 on average). Bread was from a London bakery called Dolce Forno and had excellent crust. This was served with choice of butter or wagyu dripping.
The first course was octopus with sesame, miso and coriander, as well as pickled kohlrabi, peanuts and sate sauce. Octopus is a difficult ingredient to work with as it can often end up rubbery, but here it was slow-cooked for twelve hours and was very tender, the Asian flavours nicely balanced and going really well with it. The pickled kohlrabi in particular was lovely, the pickling juices a pleasingly sharp foil for the octopus (17/20). Next was salt-baked celeriac, celeriac remoualde and lovage flavoured with a Australian black truffle ice cream. Celeriac is a fine ingredient, and the truffle flavour nicely added a luxurious note to its earthy flavour (17/20).
This was followed by Dutch freshwater eel with pickled turnip, compressed apple, shiitake mushrooms, dashi and a garnish of marigold leaves. The eel had good flavour and the pickled turnip was excellent, both going well with the Japanese stock (easily 16/20). Butternut squash open ravioli came with cep mushrooms, leek ash, sage and hazelnuts. The sage flavour worked nicely and the squash avoided being too sweet. My only comment here is that it seemed a little odd to be serving this winter vegetable in June, but it was certainly an enjoyable dish (16/20).
Lobster came with spiced crab, shellfish bisque and seaweed. There was also a theatrical touch as dry ice was wafted over crab shell to give an aroma of crab. The lobster tasted lovely and was very tender, the crab was excellent with it, and the bisque had deep flavour (18/20).
Turbot was from a 3kg fish (with turbot, generally speaking the bigger the fish the better the flavour) and was precisely cooked. This came with green asparagus, mushroom duxelle, hen of the woods mushroom and black truffle, along with mushroom ketchup and foam. I particularly liked the mushroom foam, whose flavour came through well, and the asparagus was also good (16/20).
A pre-dessert comprised cones of strawberry gel with vanilla ice cream, popping candy and milk crumble. The cone was delicate and the acidity of the fruit worked well with the crumble (16/20). The first formal dessert was passion fruit with mango gel and little meringues. There seemed to be a hint of vanilla, which worked nicely, and the fruit was refreshing, the meringue bringing a contrasting texture (17/20). Chocolate delice came with salted caramel and yoghurt sorbet with milk crumble. The sorbet was deliberately quite bland to offset the rich chocolate, the texture of which was excellent, the salted caramel working really well in combination (17/20).
There was a separate coffee and tea menu, though at £5.50 for either I would have hoped for something more than a Nespresso pod coffee, especially given there was no mignardise offered. Service was terrific throughout the evening, the pacing of the dishes just right, the staff patient, helpful and attentive. The bill came to £135 each. If you went for the shorter menu and opted for a cheaper wine than a typical all-in cost might be nearer to £95. This seems to me a bargain given the obvious effort and skill that has gone into the cooking here. Michelin ignored this restaurant in the 2017 guide (whose inspections occur mostly in spring 2016), perhaps because of the recent chef change. However this meal was very classy. If you are ever in this part of the world then I highly recommend The Latymer.