Top Surrey chefs share their Christmas tips and favourite dishes
PUBLISHED: 14:43 09 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:07 09 December 2016
Even for the busiest of families, Christmas has a habit of bringing everyone together and slowing the pace of life - and, usually, it's the dinner table that provides the main focus. Here, Matthew Williams talks to some of Surrey's top chefs to discover their Christmas cookery tips and find out about their own festive traditions
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2016
@ Stovell’s, Chobham
One of Surrey’s top fine-dining restaurants, the international flavour of the Stovell’s kitchen means you never know quite what to expect from their festive menu.
“I enjoy putting the menu together with dishes influenced by my kitchen ‘family’,” says chef patron Fernando Stovell. “A couple of years ago, for example, I had some German colleagues and so we introduced dishes from their homeland. This year, our sous chef is Polish, so he’s helping me create something special from his childhood. Obviously, I love including some of my own festive Mexican influences like romeritos (monk’s beard with mole poblano and prawn cakes).”
That said, all the recipes do tend to have one thing in common: comfort-food dishes are the order of the day here for the festive menu.
“We’re looking to create the taste of Christmas nostalgia,” adds Fernando. “So there’s always game, chestnuts etc worked into the menu.
“We also do a really nice acorn praline with pork. You can infuse acorns with vinegars or roast them – there’s so many ways to use them.”
When asked whether there are any seasonal ingredients that are a little overlooked, underused or completely misused, Fernando’s answer is perhaps a touch surprising. “Turkey is definitely misused,” he answers, before going on to explain further. “At our restaurant, we always prepare the legs separately from crown to avoid dryness. Cooked properly, it’s delicious.”
With the restaurant open on Christmas Day, discussion is always lively between Fernando and his mum about who will take control of the family dinner – “to be fair, she’s an excellent cook!” The day itself, he says, is a simple one spent enjoying quality time with the family – and, of course, enjoying great food and drink.
• Stovell’s, 125 Windsor Road, Chobham GU24 8QS. Tel: 01276 858000. Web: stovells.com
MAGIC IN THE WATER
@ Waters Edge, Horsell
For anyone who has visited Waters Edge in its first year, you’ll already know that there’s a certain magic in the air. Spend five minutes talking to chef patron Aneke Spacie, however, and you know it’s only just the beginning and there’s plenty of stardust still to be sprinkled.
“These past few weeks have been so exciting picking the autumnal and now winter produce straight from our farm,” says Aneke. “It’s also helped us to experiment with Christmas-twist flavours that maybe I wouldn’t have tried before.”
From ox cheeks and Barolo risottos to hot mug crumbles (literally, crumble in a coffee mug) with chestnuts and stewed winter fruits, for Aneke it’s a time for heart-warming foods to be eaten by the fire. There are some staples that can’t be left off the menu though.
“Terrines and pâtés are always a Christmas favourite at the events we do,” she says. “But I like to make them more creative by adding hazelnut praline crunch or serving them with a winter berry compote and a hint of mulled-wine syrup. It’s the little tweaks sometimes.”
If you’ve read any of our reviews of Aneke’s more creative cooking before, you’ll know to expect the unexpected. For instance, Jerusalem artichokes might not be the first thing that comes to mind with Christmas cooking, but for this kitchen wizard they should be.
“We still have loads of them on the farm in December and yet you hardly ever see them used,” says Aneke. “So this year we will use them in a soup with chestnut beignets. At the other end of the spectrum, why do people only ever use bread sauce at Christmas? A couple of good ingredients make this delicious – it could be used all year-round. I think it needs a makeover.”
Asked about Christmas Day itself, Aneke says she is quick to stamp her authority on proceedings: “I think most chefs are control freaks in the kitchen – I’m speaking of myself here, of course,” she admits, with a wry chuckle. “I simply love to cook, especially at Christmas as it’s one of the most important family meals of the year and I want it to be perfect.”
Goose from the local butcher is always the centrepiece of the Spacie dinner table, with a side of bubble and squeak as well as the usual trimmings. “I use the peelings of the carrots, Brussels sprouts and potatoes, and serve them fried until slightly crispy and coloured in a Yorkshire pudding with the goose gravy.”
Away from the dinner table, she says her assembled guests always love nothing more than a brisk walk into the Surrey countryside with drinking flasks in tow – hot chocolate or mulled wine, if you’re wondering…
• Waters Edge, Heather Farm, Horsell Common, near Woking GU21 4XY. Tel: 01483 726556. Web: surreywatersedge.com
TASTE OF THE CONTINENT
@ The French Table, Surbiton
Having celebrated the restaurant’s 15th anniversary as well as winning Chef of the Year at the latest Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards, Eric Guignard and The French Table have certainly had plenty to toast in 2016. No wonder then that he’s entering the festive season in good spirits.
“December is always a fun time at the restaurant, as we host a lot of family and office Christmas parties,” says Eric. “You won’t find English classics here though, such as roast turkey or pigs in blankets, as being French this is not traditional for us – although I have served mince-pie ice cream on previous Christmas menus as a nod to my second home.”
One look at the starters on their winter menu reveals the suggestion of a rather topical, unexpected and very English condiment, which has been at the heart of much controversy in recent months – but all is not quite as it seems…
“I love cooking my starter of Marmite (the name of the earthenware pot, rather than an ingredient, as it turns out!) of smoked haddock and Exmouth mussels, lime leaf and saffron sauce,” he says. “The roast leg of guinea fowl stuffed with chestnuts is also another favourite of mine.”
Once the restaurant doors are shut and the family are home, Eric likes to take control of the Christmas dinner because “I love it and I always like to impress my mother-in-law!” Inspired by his French heritage, he always serves oysters and foie gras before a more traditional main course. Then, once the dining is done, Eric has a tendency to reveal his cut-throat property-tycoon ambitions…
“There’s no better way to spend a Christmas Day afternoon than a competitive game of Monopoly with my boys ,” he says. “I buy as many houses and hotels as I can squeeze on each of the properties!”
• The French Table, 85 Maple Road, Surbiton KT6 4AW. Tel: 0208 399 2365. Web: thefrenchtable.co.uk
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
@ The Stephan Langton Inn, Friday Street
Among our county’s most secluded pubs, The Stephan Langton Inn is found among the winding, wooded lanes of Friday Street, off the beaten track near Dorking. As such, this double Surrey Life award-winner, including Pub of the Year, is an enticing destination for those looking to escape it all for time with family and friends.
“Christmas gives us the opportunity to offer some lovely warming wintery dishes and we like to include some game, because our location lends itself perfectly to featuring venison, pheasant and pigeon,” says owner Anneliese Cameron.
The man running the kitchen at this most festive of destinations is chef Simon Adams, who says he loves experimenting with different flavours and seasonal ingredients.
“We’ve just started working with Tillingbourne Trout Farm and will have locally-smoked salmon on the menu very soon,” says Simon. “There are little Christmas touches on all our dishes, plus we are lucky to have a qualified pastry chef working with us. She’s making delicious truffles and chocolates for petits fours after dinner.”
It’s just the pub’s second Christmas under Anneliese and Lee’s ownership, but they already know their beef stew will be back on the menu – with succulent beef, truffle mash and dumplings – as it was a real hit last year. There might be a few unexpected touches from Simon though…
“I think kale is underused and sprouts are always over-cooked, but salsify could be used more too.”
With the pub open for drinks between 12noon and 2pm on Christmas Day, the owners and staff still get to enjoy their evening together before the madness of Boxing Day begins.
“Once the pub shuts, it’s all about games with the family, wine and some probably rather predictable TV,” says Anneliese. “I love the whole Christmas dinner performance; carving the turkey at the table, all the family round, flaming the Christmas pudding etc.”
As for any unusual family traditions? Well, they’re rather lucky because Lee happens to co-own Tillingbourne Brewery near Shere, so they get to enjoy some of his Black Troll beer with their cheese after the main meal. How’s that for keeping things local?
• The Stephan Langton Inn, Friday Street, near Dorking RH5 6JR. Tel: 01306 730775. Web: stephanlangton.pub
ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY
@ The White Horse, Hascombe
Having made his escape to the country earlier this year, chef Daniel Britten is looking forward to his first Christmas in a quintessentially English pub surrounded by pristine countryside.
“It’s a great time of year for a chef in this area, particularly as I’m a big fan of wild food – it’s sustainable and plentiful, especially around a village like Hascombe,” he says. “I look forward to putting some wild birds on the menu: I like to bash out a pheasant breast, lay it on some Parma ham and then breadcrumb it. We then fry the breast in oil and serve with a fried egg and cranberry sauce. It’s absolutely delicious.”
Running a Christmas menu alongside their normal pub menu, Daniel will be ‘rescuing’ the Brussels sprouts with the addition of bacon and balsamic vinegar to add a slightly salty and tangy edge to lift the much-maligned veg.
“People often overlook Brussels tops, too, and they’re a must for me,” he says. “Not enough people use them, but I have seen a few super- markets selling them. They taste amazing and are very nutritious. I cook mine in water, then add
them to a pan with some butter and chicken stock – I am a chef after all – and it really helps to bring the flavour out.”
Away from the pub, Daniel is usually told to take a break from the cooking on Christmas Day and let others run around – though this year could prove to be a little different with Daniel’s two young sons ready to keep him and wife, Kimberley, on their toes. One thing’s for sure; if he is doing Christmas dinner, it won’t be the bog-standard turkey.
“When I do it, I like to do things differently,” he says. “I have done a whole goose, which fed a good number, and a roast haunch of venison – great with some soy-glazed beetroot. My granddad, who is Danish, used to cook a whole ham in a large pot, which contained one bottle of coke and one bottle of bourbon whiskey. It gives it a strong tasting caramel glaze. I’ve yet to try it though myself.”
• The White Horse, The Street, Hascombe GU8 4JA. Tel: 01483 208258. Web: whitehorsepub.net
DON’T MENTION THE TURKEY
@ The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot
Having made his name in some of the nation’s top restaurants as well as on Great British Menu, chef Matt Worswick made the move to Pennyhill Park’s The Latymer earlier this year and is looking forward to his first Christmas there.
“We open for lunch on the big day but then have the evening off, which is nice as the chefs still get to spend time with their families,” says Matt. “We always try to keep the food as seasonal as possible, but I avoid turkey as there are simply better meats to use at this time of the year.”
In the midst of game season, for example, you’ll find the likes of mallard with red cabbage, which shouts winter flavours and perfectly complements Matt’s style of cooking.
“There’s some dishes we do that I just love,” he says. “We have a celeriac and truffle recipe that I particularly like. It’s so simple and continues to evolve all the time. Cooking is always a natural progression for me.”
While turkey may not be his meat of choice, that doesn’t mean he’s written it off completely.
“The problem with turkey is that people so often cook it so that it’s boringly overcooked and dry,” he continues. “When I was at Le Champignon Sauvage over in Cheltenham, we used to use if for making turkey bresaola, which was actually a great way to showcase the bird.”
Married to a Czech lady, things aren’t always straightforward in the Worswick household at Christmas. Their tradition is for carp and potato salad, usually on Christmas Eve, while efforts to escape turkey can often mean steak and chips on Christmas Day itself. Who are we to argue?!
“It’s a nice time of year,” he says. “I like spending time with my family and there’s always decent movies to watch. We’ve just had our first son, so he should keep us busy this year!
“As for working on the day, well, you get used to it in our industry, and I enjoy seeing the customers happy and festive.”
• Matt Worswick at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park Hotel & The Spa, London Road, Bagshot GU19 5EU. Tel: 01276 486156. Web: pennyhillpark.co.uk
GET IN TOUCH!
We’d love to hear about your family Christmas traditions. Share your favourite walks, food and drink and funny tales by tweeting us @SurreyLife with the hashtag #SurreyChristmas