Stovell's, Chobham GU24 8QS – restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 10:07 21 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:04 16 May 2017
When Stovell’s sprung up in Chobham five years ago, it was a shot in the arm of Surrey’s dining scene – a modern British restaurant with fiery Mexican heritage (it’s not a Mexican!). Matthew Williams visits and finds a magical mystery tour
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2017
Need to know
Windsor Road, Chobham GU24 8QS
Tel: 01276 858 000
What we ate
Tasting menu, £78pp
Wine flight, £55pp
REVIEW: A new chapter is being written at Stovell’s – and early signs are that it could be as exciting and intriguing as anything they’ve achieved in their first five years. I’ve certainly never seen anything like it in my 10 years of pottering around the county for Surrey Life.
It all starts in the cosy and intimate bar area, with fire roaring and weighty drinks list to hand – if they don’t have it in stock, it’s hard to imagine it exists. This is led by their own ‘wildcrafted’ gin, which sets the tone as a product reliant on its foraged ingredients.
It’s at this point, while you’re sipping on an aperitif, that an old favourite of chef and owner, Fernando Stovell, arrives featuring various root vegetables to dunk into a pot of ‘soil’. It’s a bit like a picnic, I suppose, but that’s just the beginning of this tale...
We’re not then whisked off to the low-beamed dining room as expected, but instead to the ‘laboratory’ of mad professor bar manager, Geyan Surendran. It’s in this tiny room that Stovell’s gin is concocted, with bottles lining a cabinet and a motley mix of ingredients labelled up on shelves on the wall.
A taste of Stovell’s gin acts as a palate cleanser with lime, mint, candied angelica and blackberry in a clever iced tablet.
The floor of the next room is gravelled, a wooden wine cask acts as a table and the extensive Stovell’s cellar is on display. Here we meet sommelier, Daniel Davies, for the first time (sadly he’s off to the two Michelin star Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds soon).
He greets us with a small glass of Ancre Hill, Chardonnay from Monmouthshire, Wales (yes, from Wales) and Fino CB Sherry, Bodegas Alevar from Jerez, Spain to complement the cauliflower (a roast in a mouthful) and pata negra (my dream meat) tasting dishes. It’s all brilliantly surreal and highly enjoyable, especially with the clatter of the kitchens seemingly yards away.
The journey beneath the skin of Stovell’s finishes with a taste of Fernando’s heritage: exquisite tortillas wrapped in the dry store - or Mexican room as they call it – with a drop of Mezcal (a smoky distilled spirit from, you guessed it, Mexico). A picture of Fernando as a kid is proudly displayed on the wall.
As introductions to tasting menus go, this is an exciting window into the restaurant and chef’s soul – although the practicalities if every table opts for it must be interesting to manage to say the least!
The main events
It’s only now that we’re taken out into the bustling main dining room to our more traditional sitting. We sit down and receive stunning breads and a black bean soup and sope (a maize-based treat) amuse-bouche. The latter cutting through the deep, black-as-the-night soup perfectly.
‘Flowers’ (an Osmanthus and Chyrsantheum broth with abalone mushroom) is next and still-life painting stunning. You want to drink it like a cup of tea. It’s moreish and served with a Jean Luc Colombo, les Collines aux Lavandes Rosé from Aix en Provence, France.
‘Fungi’ is a naughty little nod to Mexico with huitalacoche (also known as ‘Mexican truffle’ and pronounced whee-tla-KO-cheh, for those who were wondering), ravioli, poblano (a mild chilli pepper) and cheese curds. It’s served with an Aurora Chardonnay, Bento Goncalves from Brazil. I could have eaten a bowlful.
If Stovell’s was a book, it’s here where the action really starts and the next four dishes are all playful big hitters. First up is ‘Veal – cold’, which is a dish I’ve tried variants of before. The veal carpaccio is presented on a block of ice, so the flavour really builds once it’s in your mouth with the corn, huitlacoche, avocado and smoked jalapeno
The next dish is a complete surprise as we don’t see the actual menu until the end. We work our way through the three small bites, which turn out to be, in full nose-to-tail fashion, brain, tongue and sweetbread from the veal, prepared three ways. Less adventurous types may struggle with the thought, but I found it a clever bit of play.
Both the veal dishes were served with a Gruner Veltliner, Strasser Weinberg by Martin and Anna Arndorfer from Kamptal, Austria.
I remember seeing ‘Fish’ when Stovell’s served their one-off Mexican Day of the Dead menu last year and wanting to eat the picture. The real thing is spectacular – cooked over their citrus wood (Stovell’s use different woods to cook the majority of their dishes, managing the heat by lowering or raising the grill as appropriate). Its chunky flesh is packed with flavour – it’s a big eating plate. An absolute winner served with Gewurztraminer, Michel Wust from Alsace, France.
Bringing the mains to a close is the vibrant ‘Quail’, which is served up alongside an excerpt from Like Water for Chocolate by Mexican novelist, Laura Esquivel, rose petals across the dish and a glass of Lake Ranco, Pinot Noir, Casa Silva from Patagonia, Chile.
The night reaches its dénouement with ‘Orchards’ (a light pear and ginger dish), ‘Cheese’ (a British and French cheese selection) and ‘Piñata’. With room as it is on these pages, it’s this last one I want to focus on. Placed on our table since the start of the desserts, it’s a multi-coloured sphere that houses secrets. A fresh scoop of Mexican vanilla ice cream on top and the piñata is cracked open to reveal Brazilian nuts and milk chocolate nougat. It’s a lot of fun, but tastes great too. A Chateau Monteils from Perignac, Sauternes, France completes the wine flight.
A unique experience
Having first reviewed Stovell’s not long after it opened, nearly five years ago, and then judging for the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards a few years ago, I’m delighted to see they are holding on to what makes them a unique and exciting proposition. While they’re definitely a fine-dining, modern European restaurant, they’re increasingly unafraid to embrace Fernando’s Mexican heritage with clever little tweaks and additions to dishes.
A night at Stovell’s is an assault on your senses in the most welcoming way. Every dish hits you with bold and exciting flavours. He’s a chef who is in his element when trying to surprise the diner and their tasting menu experience takes you on a journey through the mind of someone who owns a collection of more than 1,000 cook books. The great news is that he’s getting better and better at bringing all those influences together.
As their confidence continues to grow Stovell’s has, rather like a best-selling author, found its voice, embraced its characters and is unafraid to shout about its truly unique offering in the area.