Great Fosters, Egham TW20 9UR - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 16:39 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:39 26 November 2013
Steeped in history, Great Fosters in Egham is about as close as you can get to staying in a stately home – and with its two new restaurants, The Tudor Room and The Estate Grill, pulling in the plaudits, there’s never been a better time to visit
REVIEWED: Great Fosters, Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 9UR Tel: 01784 433822 / greatfosters.co.uk
What we ate:
Vegetarian eight-course tasting menu, £75
Classic eight-course tasting menu, £75
Champagne aperitif: Ayala, Brut nature, zero dosage, £11 per glass
Bottle of Reisling: Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, Pfalz, Germany, £38 per bottle
REVIEW: “That’s where Charlie Chaplin’s trapdoor was,” says the friendly porter, having just hauled our luggage up the 17th century staircase to our room. “He had it installed so he could check on his children without having to use the stairs.”
He’s already gone before we have time to investigate this intriguing fact any further and, besides, we’re a little distracted just now exploring every last detail of our sprawling suite at the historic Great Fosters – from the magnificent moulded ceiling to the wooden panelled walls and the panoramic views of the topiaried gardens below.
Removed from the rarefied surroundings of the downstairs entrance hall, we rush from one mullioned window to another – as Chaplin’s own young family must once have done – trying to take in almost 500 years of history.
Originally built in the 1550’s as a royal hunting lodge, Great Fosters was passed down through generations of noble families, before being bought in the 1930’s by the Sutcliffe family who converted it into a hotel.
Still owned by the same family today, the Grade I listed building remains one of the county’s finest examples of domestic architecture, on a par with the likes of Loseley and Ham – the difference being of course that you can stay here.
Now, in the latest chapter in the hotel’s history, the owners decided earlier this year that it was time for a complete overhaul of its dining offering.
The result is that the original restaurant, The Oak Room, has been converted into a more contemporary, relaxed style of eatery, The Estate Grill, while The Tudor Room provides an intimate, altogether more sophisticated, dining experience.
It was to the latter we would be heading and, after a freshen-up in our elegant quarters, we descended the ancient staircase to make our way to the exclusive dining room – so exclusive in fact that you could quite easily miss it altogether.
The wooden panelled door is designed to blend into the walls and, unless you already know it’s there, like us you’ll walk straight past.
Luckily, one of the attentive staff (who are always waiting discreetly on-hand to help out with anything) steered us gently in the right direction.
Walking into the lavishly decorated dining room, with its opulent red walls, huge 17th century tapestry and grand fireplace, fellow diners whispering in hushed tones, you know you are in for something special.
With just 24 covers, it’s an intimate space, where the emphasis is all about service at its finest – and that’s exactly what we got from the moment we arrived.
Heading things up front of house is the charming Alper Sahin, always ready with a smile and a fascinating insight into each dish – while also having that innate ability to know when a diner prefers to be left to their own devices.
Behind the scenes meanwhile is head chef Shane Hughes who joined Great Fosters at the beginning of this year, coming with a wealth of experience at the highest level.
Having received his classical training at the five-star Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, he worked his way up through the ranks to contribute to the five AA rosettes and two Michelin stars awarded to John Burton Race at The Landmark in 2001.
Later, in 2006, he was awarded his own Michelin star as head chef at Ynyshir Hall in Wales, before being head-hunted to oversee The Tudor Room.
When we meet earlier the same day, he is full of enthusiasm for his new venture, telling us about his distinctive style of fusion cuisine, combining influences as diverse as Japanese and Asian to Spanish.
While the inspiration may come from faraway, however, the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, with many coming straight from the hotel’s own kitchen garden.
On the menu
Back at The Tudor Room, he and Alper had both suggested that we go for the eight-course tasting menu (as opposed to the three-course à la carte) so that we could appreciate and enjoy as many of the dishes as possible.
In my case, it was a specially devised vegetarian version (understandably, they ask that you phone ahead) while my sister Lindsey decided to go for the classic meat-based selection.
As we waited, we sipped a delicious Champagne aperitif and tried hard not to demolish Shawn’s sensational home-made breads – still warm from the oven and good enough to make a meal in themselves.
The menus change regularly, depending on what’s in season, but to give you at least an idea of what to expect, we began our eight-course feast with an amuse bouche of poached quail’s egg, pickled girolle and melt-in-the-mouth brioche croutons – best just to ‘pop ‘em in’ advised Alper, keen to save us from any wardrobe malfunctions.
Then it was on to the menu in earnest – mine containing everything from artichokes à la greque with Gala apple purée and horseradish espuma, to spiced lentils du puy with ginger cream and lemon sorrel, to Parmesan gnocchi with pimento, shallot and purple basil pesto – and a trip through some of the finest vegetarian food that I have ever tasted.
Truly, when so often the vegetarian dish remains an after-thought, it is such a joy to be treated by someone who pulls out all the stops to make it a memorable meal.
Across the table, my sister seemed equally enchanted with her own selection, which included everything from pig’s head brined in beer and braised in honey (okay, rather her than me on that one), to smoked eel with carrot, chardonnay vinegar and styrian pumpkin seed oil, to seared cod and scallop.
Again and again, our taste buds were assaulted with a medley of the finest ingredients, beautifully combined in creative combinations, building to a crescendo of warm roulade of celeriac and mozzarella with seasonal root vegetables (me) and tortellini of spiced beef shin and Cardigan Bay lobster with black truffle (my sister).
Then, when the cheeseboard came, I thought all my Christmases had come at once: a tasting board of 12 European cheeses graced the platter, starting with the mildest, Tomme de Savoie, and continuing through to stronger ones, such as the famous British variety Stinking Bishop. Oh, and that’s not to mention the sensational digestive balls alongside (try them…).
A signature dish
With dessert still to come, we wondered how we would manage, but manage we did, my sister going for the superb raspberry soufflé while I was powerless to resist Shawn’s signature dish called The Asian Forest.
I’m not normally a dessert person but found myself totally seduced by the combination of lemongrass marshmallow, lime leaf pannacotta, green tea meringue, coconut cream and galangal ice cream.
Finally, while we resisted coffee, wanting to make the most of the luxurious beds that awaited us upstairs, the family on the next table had no such hesitation – and what a spectacle that turned out to be! I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but just order it and see!
Throughout the course of the evening, I was left repeatedly clutching for superlatives over the quality and originality of my vegetarian dishes, Alper and his team could not have been more helpful and attentive, and all set against the backdrop of that historic setting.
Such is the reputation of this restaurant (already) that the majority of diners are not even guests at the hotel but people from the surrounding area – though a stay here comes highly recommended as well (especially now, during the wintertime, when the roaring log fires will be lit).
We’ll be back, I’m sure; and not least because we still need to get to the bottom of that Charlie Chaplin story...
3 GREAT HOTEL RESTAURANTS IN SURREY
Michael Wignall at The Latymer
Pennyhill Park, London Road, Bagshot GU19 5UE: 01276 471774
Crowned Surrey’s first double-Michelin star and with an impressive five AA rosettes, The Latymer offers spectacularly technical cooking with an artistic attention to detail. Popular with celebs – and also members of the England rugby team who use the hotel as their base.
The Manor at Foxhills
Foxhills, Ottershaw KT16 0EL: 01932 704480
Located inside the magnificent 19th century manor building, this rising star in the world of fine dining was awarded its first AA rosette earlier this year. Headed up by executive chef David Hanlon, they promise to tantalise your taste buds with their award-winning range of dishes.
Mulberry at Langshott Manor
Ladbroke Road, Horley, near Gatwick RH6 9LN: 01293 786680
Set in a beautiful Elizabethan manor house, this sophisticated restaurant now has three AA rosettes (see more about that in our Gourmet Life pages). A passion for quality ingredients blended with seasonal inspiration has helped shape the menus formed by executive chef Phil Dixon.