Cheoff

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Gravetye Manor Hotel and Restaurant

Lunch for three on 2 March 2017

I have already paid tribute to my Mum on these pages. Here is an update on the little girl in the picture used for that post. This is Mum on her 89th birthday, ready to lunch at Gravetye Manor Restaurant.  

A treat for a special, deeply loved person. And a poignant odd number at our table for this meal. Just a month before this her husband, my step-father, had passed away. 


Here are the words which will greet you as you consider the menu.

The success of that mission statement was abundantly obvious throughout our entire meal. We suppressed our appreciation to below Meg Ryan’s levels at Katz's Delicatessen. None of the other diners would have paid us much heed anyway... every one of them was already enjoying what we were having.

My previously expressed fear that Gravetye might suffer by comparison with a favourite Cheltenham restaurant evaporated and disappeared with the arrival of so many ingredients given masterly treatment, releasing flavours which still linger in the memory.

That's a wrap for all you faint-hearted readers. This restaurant is special. All you must do now is to reserve a table to enjoy the glorious quality of eating which Gravetye offers. 

For the rest of you (my faithful masochists!) here is my expanded, more detailed version of events.

Sparkling Wine - Bloomsbury, Ridgeview Estate, Sussex, England 2014  

A birthday demands a little fizz and we were very close to one of the English vineyards which confounds devotees of champagne by being every bit as good as the French product. We really didn't need Downing Street's backing to tell us we'd made the right choice. This was celebration in a glass. Assorted nuts had been given lovely roasting and seasoning by the kitchen. Olives, too often a casual, almost ignored, extra were so fruity and mellow that they managed to distract me from my menu choices for a while.

Amuse-bouche

A carrot velouté was delicate, refined and rich all at the same time. It was sent from the kitchen to cleverly prepare us for much further delight.

To Start

Gravetye Garden Salad - confit hen’s yolk, young vegetables, crisp brassicas and spring flowers

Here was one decision which I had made before coming. After our meal we saw head gardener Tom Coward walk through the lounge as we drank coffee. I really should have leapt up and given thanks to him and his team for producing so many of the elements of our meal. This salad can be seen in preparation here. It exudes the loving care which has been given to each part from plant seed to plate, by gardener and chef. Dressing was restrained but the confit yolk was firmer than I had expected. This turned out to be perfect. A rich emulsion was preferable to a wetter liquid coating. A tiny orange flower (I'm guessing Marigold) joined with the fresh, crisp greenery and said, "I am Spring... eat me!" Much to my delight, Mrs Cheoff chose and enjoyed the same.

Seared Orkney Scallops - miso glaze, baby radish, sesame and seaweed cracker

The birthday girl's starter choice was expected. Mum likes her scallops. She liked these better than any scallops she has ever had.

To Follow

Roasted Breast and Confit Thigh of Guinea Fowl - variations of leek, pak choi, potato pressing and mead sauce

Mum described her guinea fowl as the best she has ever been served. The gentle attack from allium and lightly treated greens was perfectly balanced by the soft sweetness of meat and mead.

Saddle and Shoulder of Southdown Hogget - potato wrapped haggis, purple sprouting broccoli, mint jellies and lamb sauce

To no-one’s surprise, Mrs. Cheoff chose the lamb. One sticking point... “I can always leave the haggis,” she said. After a lifetime’s avoidance of the noble Burn’s Night staple, my wife’s conversion to and delectation of that element was quite a coup for the kitchen. I was lucky to be offered a tiny taste of it. I politely trusted Mrs C’s dreamy statement that hogget had been made a star turn without asking for a sneaky sample of that as well.

Newhaven Landed Turbot - chicken wings, Jerusalem artichoke, braised lettuce and lovage

My turbot was finished so perfectly but it still struggled for top billing. Crunchy, smoky artichoke skins and softer vibrant greens, including lovage with its celery hints, were great. The 'gravy' was an insistent, rich concentration of all the goodness that is found on the base of roasting dishes. But on either side of the fish were two nuggets (discard any thought whatsoever of meals which can be 'super-sized' elsewhere) of wing meat. Bearing the stigmata of recently removed skewers, they just about stole the show. It was like eating the tastiest Sunday roast dinner in the knowledge that a work-free Bank Holiday would follow. The flavours hit and matched the length of finish found in the finest wines.

Wine - Ventoux, Domaine de Fondrèche 2014  

I had already made a good choice with the 'fizz'. We have been lucky enough to enjoy the Domaine de Fondreche rouge where it is produced, in the shadow of Mont Ventoux. Seeing their white on the lists at Gravetye was an interesting proposition. Head Sommelier, Alexis Jamin, simply confirmed my choice. He thought it would complement the hogget particularly well.  Alexis proved to be the perfect advisor. At half my age and already possessing more knowledge than I will ever have, he managed to massage my ego and cleverly made me feel as if I knew what I was talking about. After more or less insisting that Mum should try the Banyuls with her chocolate, I was all tuckered out on the vine suggestions. Alexis, of course, stepped in to save my fluster with two more lovely dessert wines.

To Finish

Caramelised White Chocolate Mousse - variations of apple, cinnamon and treacle gel

with Sauternes, Château Villefranche, France 2013 

Guanaja Bitter Sweet Chocolate Bar - marmalade on toast ice cream and cocoa nibs

with Banyuls ‘Cirera, Domaine Madeloc, Côte Du Roussillon, France 2010  

Mum and Mrs Cheoff’s desserts belied the restaurant's assertion that presentation is unimportant. They were beautifully prepared but still heavily underlined that dominant focus on flavour. Gels, sorbets and tuiles all added lovely flavour, temperature and texture notes.

How great that hopes for Mum's birthday meal had been met and totally exceeded... she deserves nothing less.

Roasted Acorn Crème Brûlée - thyme, hazelnut and parsnip cake

with Coteaux du Layon ‘Passerillé’, Philippe Delesveaux France 2014

My dessert should have been a revelation. But, hey, I have roasted acorns for panna cotta and used parsnips in pre-desserts. The crème brûlée was lightly nutty and might have been given the appellation ‘Burnt English Cream’. That would have fitted better with its thin crust of Bonfire Toffee. Once again, perfectly judged bitterness to undercut sweetness from other elements. The cake can be described when I’ve come up with an alternative for ‘perfect’ in my thesaurus. Light and airy and refined as the dining space surrounding us. Dabs of sweetness from purées and parsnip tuiles completed the plate and made it crystal clear that vegetables, used sympathetically, deserve a place right at the end of a triumphant meal. OK, let's rewrite that opening sentence for this paragraph…
My dessert was a revelation.

Chef Blogg was visible too. I smiled but did not interrupt as I passed him in conversation at the stair well. Leading his team into such elevated territory after less than three years is a wonderful achievement. I submitted a short tweet after we returned home referring to 'indelible memories' of such a fine lunch. There was a polite response from their social media arm, showing how much of the traditional and formal surface appearance at Gravetye is already updating and developing itself.  

But in all the joy of such a successful visit there was one more 'wonderful achievement' which puts all into perspective. Three days after the meal our chef made this announcement on Twitter. Let's face it, the importance of his few words are worth a thousand of mine for this review. I still repeat my congratulations to all at Gravetye for a wonderful meal but I'll finish by congratulating George on what could be his greatest creation outside the kitchen.

@Twitter, March 7 2017

 

 

Gardener's Delight*

*If only I'd used the internet, I'd be able to say, "That's Lycopersicon esculentum to you!"

Middle of April 2010

Seven years ago we built a couple of raised beds in our garden. It was the start of a very amateur but very keen attempt to be as close to fresh produce as possible. We have made mistakes which we still don't always understand but every year we have also been given so much simple, abundant pleasure that we can't now imagine cooking regularly without ingredients which are picked just minutes before preparation.  

As a tribute to all those small, wonderful successes, I've put together an album of HOME GROWN pictures which shows the variety of vegetables (and a few of the fruits) which have delighted us.  

The main growing area is still only four and a half by five metres. This is always supplemented by many tubs and troughs but gives terrific rewards from very little space. No plans for an allotment yet... cooking produce half an hour old would be an awful compromise!

I'm not sure our sons have forgiven us for removing the pond and two conifers which they planted as toddlers. But I do know that they enjoy as much of the new garden as they can when they return... they sometimes even grab and cook parts of it.

Beginning of July 2010

Oh, we've never had a greenhouse. Just two plastic 'sentry box' affairs to give seedlings a bit of protection. 2017 will be much the same. I've had a spring tidy up already and will add to the album when new crops appear.

It's all here waiting for your gentle click

It's all here waiting for your gentle click

Blogging For The First Time

Blogg... George Blogg.

Chef... Michelin starred chef.

Never eaten his food before but we are booked at Gravetye Manor Restaurant for lunch with Cheoff's Mummy for her eighty-ninth birthday next month... we will be Blogging for the first time.

Normally I'd give you a post-prandial low-down but this particular visit raises a few points which I'll share now before the event.

How do we prepare ourselves for such an occasion? A birthday treat for someone who is unreservedly loved and admired by her family, friends and neighbours. The poignancy that her husband, my very recently deceased step-father, is definitely not able to join us. What to wear? Who will drink and not drive? We'll bring those and many other thoughts and considerations to the table. Some will have been resolved before arrival. Some, like our menu and wine choices, we will work through while there.

The most intriguing (I must stress, not the most worrying) question for me is how I'll react to eating food from a chef whose training includes a stint with David Everitt-Matthias in Cheltenham. Regular readers will know the love/hero worship/recourse to stunning recipes which are generated by my favourite chef. The fact that the immensely talented Phil Howard has also been a formative influence might easily fan the fire of fearing how well chef Blogg will pass muster. But no. As I stressed, I will have few worries. I have reached the point where I very reluctantly make comparisons in the face of alternative approaches to ingredients and their potential. We will simply be in different, but safe, hands. 

I like the fact that Chef Blogg all but dismisses presentation from his approach. That is surely a mildly disingenuous suggestion of his. Every dish will most likely look as pretty as a picture while delivering the more important elements of flavour and texture which come from a full understanding of cooking. Let's face it... with a bountiful garden of produce on his doorstep, our chef stands a chance.

I will enjoy everything put before me... even if it is the enjoyment of being challenged by something new or unexpected. 

But, above all, I am looking forward to sharing that enjoyment with the person who will celebrate another year of being on this earth. Mum has in fact already been to a different Gravetye Manor... one from over thirty years ago. Being in the days of 'Nouvelle Cuisine', certain of her fellow diners still remember leaving and having a midnight fry-up back at home! No such prospect for us. Chef knows what he is about and I think we are all wise enough to let him hold sway.

Ah, George should perhaps be told... my Mum is also a terrific cook. So, I admit that a few cheeky comparisons might be made after all!

Let's finish with a delicious and enticing video of what we are expecting... outstanding ingredients treated with respect and, dare I say it, perfectly presented. I might even ask Mum to help me with a review here in due course.

All images and content are the property of Geoff Griffiths. Copyright Geoff Griffiths 2014 ©