The Tudor Room at Great Fosters, Egham TW20 9UR - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 15:10 23 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:10 23 December 2016
SUR DEC16 RESTAURANT REVIEWr
After well-documented events this autumn, The Tudor Room at Egham's historic Great Fosters stands as Surrey's lone Michelin star restaurant. Matthew Williams visits to find a magnificent hotel and a distinctive head chef that were perhaps destined for each other
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2016
Need to know
The Tudor Room
at Great Fosters,Stroude Road, Egham TW20 9UR
Tel: 01784 433822. Web: greatfosters.co.uk
Note: Open Wednesdays to Saturdays
What we ate
Menu : £58 per person
One flight of wine: £65
Jerusalem artichoke, tendon, onion, truffle
Anjou pigeon, walnut, pomegranate, celeriac
Scallop, broccoli, hazelnut, apple
Himalayan salt-aged venison, turnip, chanterelles, blackberry
Turbot, cauliflower, gnocchi, caper
Coconut, pineapple and lime
Valrhona chocolate, caramel, tonka beans, feuilletine
Five British cheeses, truffled honey, fig chutney, apple, pecan
REVIEW: As we step off the pebbled driveway and through the stoop-or-you’d-lose-your-head front door, you can almost hear the Champagne corks popping around the halls of Great Fosters. These are heady days at the Egham retreat, for just a few weeks earlier, their restaurant The Tudor Room received three AA rosettes and its first Michelin star under the helm of head chef Douglas Balish. What is more, the stars aligned to make it Surrey’s only such restaurant at this moment in time.
These are long-term planned and hard-fought-for honours, which always see highs and lows along the way. Now, though, when we are greeted at the door by managing director Richard Young, there’s a definite glint in his eye and a sense of even greater ambitions to come.
Great Fosters, for those who haven’t been, is spectacular. It’s the kind of place you always wish you were staying at for longer. They’ve hosted the rich, famous and, fortunately for us, hungry, ever since it was originally built in the 1550s as a royal hunting lodge.
The beauty of a place like this is that it helps to spread the evening’s adventure out a little. So we find ourselves in the bar to start; the kind of place you could easily imagine yourself sharing a late-night tipple and poker game with a James Bond-alike or Hollywood siren after a country house soirée.
The gin list is extensive, the cocktails impressive and it’s here where we settle to peruse the evening’s menu over a sample of the latter. There’s a compelling layout to the menu, featuring just three options for the starters, main courses and desserts but with intrigue piled on by the chef’s offerings interspersed throughout. I’m never one to run from a blindfolded adventure, but I’ll admit it’s a pleasure to see things laid out so transparently from the off.
Canapés are delivered to our lounge table, along with napkins classily concealed in a box just as fitting for diamonds and pearls. A beetroot macaron particularly stands out in my mind, with the addition of an intense flavour hit from the sauce that is spread thinly on the bottom of the amuse-bouche spoon. Hidden, until it hits your tongue.
These small teases help to heighten the tension.
The big reveal
We now make the move to The Tudor Room itself, which is hidden away off the main corridor and feels a little like you’re attending an intimate dinner at Hampton Court Palace.
A giant tapestry is matched only by a nearly wall-length mirror (maybe it’s been there since they first put the roof on the place?) and a monolithic fireplace that somehow keeps to the proportions. The tables look tiny in comparison.
All of this could add up to a very intimidating experience, especially when you can almost count the number of covers on your fingers and toes (24, to be precise) – but it doesn’t.
Part of this is the light touch of the service, the humour of Steve “the wine guy” Farrell (more officially, Great Fosters’ director of wine and a wealth of knowledge and smiles all evening) and, well, the magic of that private-dinner-in-a-palace feel. You don’t do it every day, right? Well, I don’t…
Our friend Steve, or at least it feels that way, pops open a bottle of Ayala Brut Nature (we’re part of the celebration here) to accompany the pre-starter: Jerusalem artichoke, tendon, onion and truffle. It’s a subtle dance of texture. Clever, confident cooking, which sets the tone.
Before our starters arrive, a little about the quietly-confident man behind the curtain doing the cooking. Born in Scotland, Dougie, as he’s affectionately known, worked in a couple of Michelin-starred establishments in the UK and a world’s top 50 restaurant in Sydney before taking the reins as head chef at The Tudor Room. Having been here for two years, he’s justifiably proud of what’s been achieved to date – and, at only 30, he’s clearly ridiculously talented. And that’s before you realise The Tudor Room kitchen ‘brigade’ is just Dougie, assisted by Jim Freeman, with help from the hotel’s pastry team for desserts. That’s it. This makes the seemingly effortless proceedings all the more remarkable.
A strong start
My starter of Anjou pigeon (squab from France, rather than winged heritage attraction from Trafalgar Square) features beautifully-glazed, exquisitely tender breast and a leg concealing black pudding and prune. The walnut, pomegranate and celeriac also helps to nudge and coerce your taste buds around neat little corners. It’s a fabulous piece of cooking, served with a glass of Spätburgunder by Friedrich Becker from Schweigen, Pfalz (side note: having rolled the word around with as much Matt Berry pizzazz as I can muster for a couple of days, I’m slightly disappointed to learn that Spätburgunder just means Late Burgundian.)
This review may well go on to set a new record for the most uses of the word ‘precision’ in Surrey Life history, but it’s a theme that’s worth repeating and Sylviane’s delightful scallop dish is pristine.
Another moment of peace before the main courses, as Dougie’s langoustine tea is presented. Visually, it stops you straight away. Lone langoustine, veg with bite and a beautiful ‘tea’ concoction poured from a transparent pot. The dish is an Asian-inspired beauty, served with Scheurebe QbA by Weingut Wittmann from Rheinhessen.
It doesn’t take very long to understand why Douglas’ work here is so highly rated. There’s no smoke, no mirrors, just understated but highly accomplished cooking – there’s a craftsman’s attention to detail about proceedings.
The Michelin Guide also makes a note of the restaurant’s use of its kitchen garden. Further investigation reveals that they’ve a huge glasshouse and garden with produce picked every morning: everything from tomatoes to kohlrabi, with raspberries, mulberries, tayberries and probably Mary Berry thrown in…
The main event
Our main courses of Himalayan salt-aged venison for me and turbot for Sylviane continue this high road. The former is a walk in the park, a hunter-gatherer’s delight with its chanterelles and blackberries, which I imagine are picked from adjoining lanes and woodlands. It’s a lovely image. Matched with a Côtes du Roussillon Villages’ Occultum Lapidem, it’s dangerously good.
Sylviane’s turbot is a dish Dougie later describes to me as being as close to a signature dish as there is on the current menu: “The turbot we purchase is incredible and of such good quality that we simply pan-fry it and finish it with butter, before adding the rest of the dish’s ingredients,” he says.
Right, I better start drawing this to a close before the minstrels end their merry dance and the king tosses us all out of court and back onto the M25, which seems such a distant memory.
Coconut, pineapple and lime (go on, name the cocktail...) spruces up the taste buds as the end of the feast approaches, before I enjoy a final decadent chocolate treat with Maury Rouge, Vin du Naturel from Domaine Pouderoux, France (Steve: “You’ll be saying to yourself you’d love to take the bottle away just for another sample, but you’d regret it in the morning. Everyone does.”). Sylviane opts for the impressive cheeseboard (a selection of five from a British cheese list almost as long as the cocktail and gin ones earlier).
Sated, we move to the lounge with coffees, petit fours, a fire and contemplation.
For those of a Michelin dining persuasion, The Tudor Room’s success has come at a welcome time. Surrey’s top-end restaurants have been in a state of change this year, and fortunately Douglas Balish and Great Fosters have quietly strolled into the room, surveyed the scene and confidently picked up the reins.
They never beg you to love them, they don’t perform handstands and fire off pyrotechnics to impress, but from the welcome at the door to the crunch of pebbles under your tyres as you depart, there’s a subtle magic that weaves its way through the air and leaves you infatuated.