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The Restaurant at The Mandolay, Guildford GU1 2AE - restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 10:34 25 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:46 25 May 2016

The four-star Mandolay Hotel is one of the few indepent hotels in the area (Photo Timothy Ball)

The four-star Mandolay Hotel is one of the few indepent hotels in the area (Photo Timothy Ball)

Timothy Ball

While the well-heeled streets of Guildford may be packed with places to eat, there are surprisingly few options when it comes to fine dining. However, The Restaurant at The Mandolay, recently awarded the coveted accolade of two AA Rosettes, has its sights set on changing that. Surrey Life pays a visit

The Mandolay hope to fill the gap in fine dining in Guildford (Photo Tony Harris)The Mandolay hope to fill the gap in fine dining in Guildford (Photo Tony Harris)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2016

***

Need to know

The Restaurant at The Mandolay

 

36-40 London Road, Guildford GU1 2AE

Tel: 01483 303030 Web: guildford.com

What we ate

Starters:

 

Braised Globe Artichokes, £8

Creamed Asparagus Soup, £6

Main courses:

Cucumber, £19

Gnocchi, £18

Desserts:

Selection of Fine Cheeses, £12

Yorkshire Rhubarb, £7

Drinks:

Glass of Côtes du Rhône, Les Abeilles Rouge, Jean-Luc Colombo, France, £4.90

Pint of London Pride beer, £4.80

***

REVIEW: Considering that Guildford was named ‘luxury shopping capital of the UK’ not so long ago, with consumers apparently clocking up an annual spend of more than £900 million, it’s the sort of location that should be awash with top-notch places to eat. Yet, strangely, while there’s no doubting that there are some absolute gems in the mid-price range, there are surprisingly few flying the flag at the fine dining end of things. So, step forward The Restaurant at The Mandolay – recently awarded the coveted accolade of two AA rosettes and now with its sights firmly set on filling that gap.

For those who haven’t visited before, this boutique-style, independent hotel already had four stars for its accommodation but, up until lately, the restaurant hadn’t really had much attention in its own right. During recent times, however, it’s fair to say that they have certainly taken it up a level, undertaking a major refurb in 2012/13 and bringing in head chef Mark Lawton who comes with an impressive culinary pedigree. Having been classically trained during his time with the Royal Marines, representing his regiment at the International Salon Culinaire, Mark went on to work at both The Ritz and Le Gavroche before moving on to the Gordon Ramsay Group and latterly Brooks’s in St James.

“As a relative newcomer to the area, Mark is keen to show Surrey as a destination for food-lovers,” says hotel manager, Matthew Milliken, “and he is determined to work with local food and drink producers to promote the amazing quality and diversity on offer.”

Mid-week treat

So far so good, and our taste buds suitably whetted, we arrive for an early-ish, midweek dinner, having enjoyed an exhibition at the nearby Guildford House Gallery. Surprisingly, we actually have the place to ourselves to begin with, but no matter – it means we can take in our surroundings without the fear of disturbing other diners.

Settling in at our booth-style seating, we are greeted by a strikingly modern design, dominated largely by the dark wooden furniture but offset by the impressive clusters of exposed light-bulbs spanning the centre of the room. Emitting a soft glow, as they pulse on and off, the light catches the little glass bowls distributed about the place, each containing a beautiful fresh, pink orchid. While I can’t help thinking that tablecloths would add a certain something, and perhaps soften the starkness of the wood, there’s no denying that the overall effect is very striking.

Warmly welcomed by our waitress for the evening, Savina, she is friendly, attentive and patient throughout – even when our amuse bouche, kindly provided with the compliments of the chef, has to be returned due to neither of us eating meat. A veggie version is quickly and gracefully dispatched and the succulent cubes of creamy mozzarella, sweet cherry tomatoes and mini meringues infused with beetroot bode well for what’s to come as we study the select but appetising menu.

Best summed up as modern British in their style of cuisine, they describe themselves as offering “a sensible choice of dishes, cooked to order, using the finest locally-sourced seasonal produce.” Certainly, the flavours and colours in our starters veritably sing, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine the vegetables having been picked that morning.

I’m totally sold on my Braised Globe Artichokes dish, which is a real medley of texture, the firm bite of the artichokes proving the perfect foil to the accompanying garlic and tomato salsa and wild forest salad. Across the table, my other half, Marc, declares his Creamed Asparagus Soup to be the best he has ever tasted. High praise indeed from a Frenchman!

Hidden gem

By this point, a handful of people have filtered through from the neighbouring hotel bar, but it’s still surprisingly quiet for a Thursday night, leading us to wonder whether the people of Guildford even realise this place is here. It does mean the restaurant feels a little lacking in atmosphere, but to be honest we are too busy enjoying the creative cooking to mind too much.

On that subject, for my main course, I can’t resist the sound of the stuffed cucumber with lentil, chickpea and coconut curry. Small but perfectly formed, it’s sensational, the flavours complementing each other perfectly. Marc is equally impressed with his gnocchi – again, it’s fairly petite in portion-size, but brimming with colour and texture. We both agree that it would be hard to imagine a better version of either dish.

Having vowed to call it a day after the main courses, we can’t resist taking a look at the dessert menu and end up sharing the Selection of Fine Cheeses, accompanied by assorted crackers, black and white grapes, slices of apple and some delectable quince paste. With Camembert from Hampshire, Barkham Blue from Berkshire and goat’s cheese from Gloucestershire, to name but a few, it’s a cheese-lover’s dream. My only gripe is that it would be nice to see Surrey’s own Norbury Blue in the line-up.

To finish, I feel morally obliged to try the Yorkshire Rhubarb (being a Yorkshire girl by birth; just don’t tell the readers!), and I am immediately transported back to childhood, that distinct sourness set off perfectly by the accompanying sorbet and fresh mint leaves.

Throughout the meal, the standard of the food is consistently excellent, the dishes are immaculately presented and our waitress goes beyond the call of duty to ensure everything is just right for us. Oh, and there’s a pretty impressive wine list too.

Culinary excellence

So, to bring things full circle, could The Restaurant at The Mandolay be the new fine dining option for Guildford?

Well, they need to pull in a few more people, certainly, to create a bit more atmosphere – and, call me old-fashioned, but I think a few extra touches such as tablecloths and table mats would add a certain ceremony to the whole experience. I also feel that the bathrooms could do with an update, if they are really aiming for that top end, high-class feel.

But I’m not in the least bit surprised they are celebrating their second rosette for culinary excellence and, as they no doubt continue to hone the overall experience, there is every chance that the accolades will keep on coming.

***

3 other hotel restaurants

The Latymer

Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa, London Road, Bagshot GU19 5EU

Tel: 01276 471774 
Web: pennyhillpark.co.uk

The times they are a changing at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park with new chef Matt Worswick having just taken to the helm. A semi-finalist in the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals 2010, Matt will be hoping to emulate the success of his popular predecessor, Michael Wignall, who helped the restaurant garner two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes. Regular Surrey Life restaurant review, Matthew Williams, will be reviewing The Latymer for July’s magazine.

The Manor Restaurant

Foxhills, Stonehill Road, Ottershaw KT16 0EL

Tel: 01932 872050 
Web: foxhills.co.uk

As the venue for the annual Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards since they first began, there is a great focus on food here at the historic Foxhills estate. Set in beautiful surroundings, they promise “the ultimate countryside dining destination” at The Manor Restaurant, which is another place that’s a holder of the coveted two AA rosettes.

Emlyn Restaurant

Burford Bridge, At the Foot of Box Hill, Dorking RH5 6BX

Tel: 01306 887821 
Web: emlynrestaurant.co.uk

Overlooking three acres of landscaped gardens, at the foot of Box Hill, the recently- revamped Emlyn Restaurant serves contemporary British cuisine in a relaxed, historic setting. This new incarnation has already picked up one AA rosette, and when Surrey Life visited recently, our reviewer gave the food a rare 10/10 and said the menu was good enough to rival any restaurant in the county.

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