Michael Wignall at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot GU19 5EU - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 12:12 21 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:47 02 June 2015
Having been crowned as Surrey's first double Michelin star restaurant, expectations were high when Matthew Williams visited Michael Wignall at The Latymer - the flagship restaurant of luxury hotel, Pennyhill Park
Michael Wignall at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, London Road, Bagshot GU19 5EU: 01276 471774
Need to know:
What we ate
10-course taster menu at £92 per person
Plus wine flight at £Varies
Coffee, Jing teas or infusions with sweet box £6.50
REVIEW: A few years ago, Surrey Life caught up with chef Michael Wignall shortly after he had taken up the apron at Pennyhill Park’s The Latymer restaurant. At the time, he spoke of the challenges he faced in transforming the menu into the product of his vision and ambitions to put the hotel firmly on the foodie map.
Well, since he moved in, in 2007, he has indeed gone on to garner two Michelin stars – a first for Surrey – as well as five AA rosettes. So, is it mission accomplished or just the beginning for a chef and restaurant that have so quickly become Surrey stars? Well, we were certainly looking forward to finding out, when we visited!
Set within 123 acres of rolling Surrey parkland, Pennyhill Park is perfectly located, near Ascot, Sunningdale and Wentworth, to be a bit of a honeytrap for a certain clientele – as well as the somewhat less likely England rugby team, who train there, and Russell Crowe, who has stayed in the past while filming.
Home to the five-star The Spa, one of the highest rated in the country, the hotel certainly aims for the Hollywood treatment and, having just coincidentally dropped a guest’s car off in the car park, a kindly concierge offered to carry our night bag into reception.
With our ten-course feast ahead and a day spent stuck behind the desk in mind, I politely declined, and took the labyrinth-like stroll towards the front desk, bag in hand with my wife Sylviane.
Civil engineer James Hodges built the original house in 1849 and over the years it passed through various prominent business types’ hands before eventually becoming a hotel in 1972. The stunning manor house and grounds are accompanied by a host of other more modern buildings hosting state-of-the art gyms, swimming pools and such.
Our room for the night, the Royal Lytham suite, was exceptionally appointed – with walk-in shower, its own terrace, a ‘pillow menu’ and enough room to swing the proverbial cat. With rooms from £335 a night, high standards are of course expected and in our room were met spectacularly. So much so, we wondered if it might be possible to sell up our own flat and move in – that terrace looked so inviting for sunny mornings – but sadly the sums didn’t quite add up.
To the food, though, which after all is the point of a restaurant review, isn’t it? Or so I’m told.
You find The Latymer’s dining room by passing a majestic staircase and colossal artwork and, as you approach, so the ceilings begin to fall and the spaces become more intimate. Manager Bruno Asselin, who has a long track record at Michelin star garnering restaurants and joined just after Michael Wignall took the reins, welcomed us into the room with its exposed beams and well-spaced tables. There is obviously a huge attention to every detail at The Latymer. This only became more apparent with the designer ceramics on offer, sculpted to the chef’s dishes in many instances.
We opted for the 10-course tasting menu with wine flight but cheaper options such as the three-course lunch menus are currently available from around £32.
The evening started quietly, with a hushed reverence about the place. As the courses passed, however, the diners around us seemed to relax into the surroundings. The early calm did allow me to overhear a nearby couple ordering a 10-course vegetarian tasting menu, one without nuts, and despite the obvious complications this must have presented, the situation was handled with a cool, experienced ease. Remembering my manners, I turned back to our bread, which is made from scratch, served in a wooden rack with little paper seal and feels like a promise of good things to come.
Stars are rising
The real art of Michelin star cooking for me is the chef’s remarkable ability to transform a set of ingredients that would usually leave you staring at the menu weeping, into a spectacle that leaves you pleading for more.
Eel, our first course, for instance. Or, to be more specific, smoked eel and feuille de brick cigar! Try offering that to your gran for her birthday. And yet, elation all-round as the playful dish hits the palate and wows. A series of intricate dishes followed, each with its own unique presentation: fresh garden peas exploded with the rabbit and morel, rich foie gras danced with duck and artichokes, and subtle winter truffle helped add a touch of warmth to the cod. An unusual seafood cassoulet of cockles, clams, cuttlefish and soya beans followed in a raised bowl before poached rose veal and barbequed tongue swept away with the honours for me – perhaps not the most subtle dish on the menu but its well-muscled depth provided an excellent contrast to its forebears.
Tomme de Savoie, a fromage from the French Alps, came as the cheese dish; its mustard frills and truffle shavings adding up to a rather upmarket cheese on toast.The exotic egg was a spectacular feast for eyes and taste that brought a few chuckles from surrounding diners – a lot of fun as the unknown secret comes to light like a magician’s prestige. Strawberries and peanut butter joined baby jelly doughnuts as the dénouement drew ever nearer before a coffee parfait with jelly chocolate caramel brought the night’s performance to a close.
And that’s what it is, an all-singing, all-dancing, night of entertainment. Spectacularly technical cooking combined with an artistic attention to detail during service that leaves you slightly searching for your bearings by the end but with a happily dazed expression as you try to pick through the evening’s festivities.
If you can stretch to the wine flight, do so. Our choices were all extremely well-matched despite my occasional worry of a glass straddling two courses and such complex flavours. The wines always heightened the courses and never battled against the chef’s offering laid before us.
The Latymer is very different from Drake’s, just down the road in Ripley, where our taste buds had led us only months before. It offers more traditional Francophilic face compared to the latter’s relaxed vibe. While my natural inclinations leave me more at home in Drake’s, The Latymer avoids being stuffy.
Of course, these kinds of experiences do not come cheap and, depending on your financial circumstances, this is a restaurant that is likely to be the preserve of the special occasion… but what a special occasion it will be.
As we forced ourselves to leave the next day, following an excellent breakfast, we did indeed bump into the England rugby team a few days before their then all-conquering demeanour was brought crashing into the mud at the Millennium Stadium. At the time, the sports fan in me found it hard to forgive the performance. In hindsight, the foodie in me wonders whether Michael Wignall’s tantalising temptations may have something to answer for. I, for one, would completely understand.
3 great Michelin stars
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