Food 2018 – Murrays, Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury

Saturday, 14th July 2018 – Murrays, Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury

We hadn’t been to Murrays for a while, but figured it was due the repeat visit we’d been promising ourselves, and so we booked a table, hoping for more atmosphere than last time (we went on the Saturday of the Moto GP meeting and were completely alone in the place!) We also wanted to try the tasting menu and this looked like a good opportunity to do just that.

The restaurant is tucked away inside Whittlebury Hall, and is not easy to find. We weren’t helped by the fact that they have moved it since last we were there, but the old signage still exists and it points in the wrong direction! We eventually figure out where we needed to be, and were shown into a pleasant sitting area off the main hallway. Tables were set up with the names of those who had made the bookings, and very nice it was too.

We ordered a glass of Champagne each, and were brought some small nibbles, a portion of brandade de morue, a quinoa and cheese crisp, and a small crispy cheese croquette. They were elegant, and very nicely done.

We had a serious consider of the menu, and decided that we would have the tasting menu, and would also tackle the matched wines. It saved picking our way through the wine list and trying to make a decision. The waitress checked that we didn’t have any food allergies (we don’t), and bustled off to place the order. They returned to take us through to the dining room, and while it’s a very nice space I was somewhat disappointed that it is no longer decorated with the quotes from Murray Walker, and the photos of him down the years that used to adorn the walls.

Bread was brought along with some home made butter and sea salt, and I went for an onion bread that was really good. It came apart rather like a Danish pastry “snail” and was rich and dense and thoroughly enjoyable.

And then we were into the amuses bouche stage, with a tomato salad in tomato essence. This seems to be cropping up a lot of late. It’s simple enough to achieve (though it takes time) but the end result is simply fabulous, with the flavour of the tomatoes distilled into a clear liquid and drizzled all over the tomatoes. All you need are some very good tomatoes, a muslin bag and somewhere to hang it, and a three or four day run at it before you need to use it.

For starters, we were presented with Loch Duart salmon, smoked and served with creme fraiche and cucumber. It was served under a cloche which was filled with a swirling cloud of white smoke, and whisked off at the table in a piece of good, old-fashioned theatre, and was none the worse for it. It tasted as good as it looked, and was also accompanied by some crisp salmon skin, and a scattering of petals. The fish was tender and moist, and the cucumber came in a number of forms, including a long thin ribbon, a gel and a mousse.

Next up was locally shot wood pigeon, with baby artichokes, and shallots. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the artichoke was very good too. I like artichokes, but really can’t be bothered with the faff of preparing them fresh. When someone else prepares them I am more than happy to take them on. These were soft and nicely done, and went well with the depth of flavour of the meat, and the iron-hit of the rare-coooked flesh. The jus was excellent, and brought the dish together perfectly.

For the next course there was a portion of wild halibut, with a soft purple gnocchi, green beans and some finely diced razor clams. This was well done, though not as exciting as it perhaps could have been. After the fireworks of the pigeon, and before that the salmon, it seemed a shade pedestrian, and just a tad over-cooked. I was happy to eat it, it just didn’t seem to be on quite the same level.

We were squarely back on track with the next course though, local (well Bedfordshire anyway) beef fillet, with horseradish, young carrots and an oxtail croquette (which was frankly fabulous, stuffed full of slow-cooked and pulled oxtail that really hit the spot). The meat was just as we like it, and the carrots were sweet and fresh, both in their original form and as a puree. A small bed of spinach was soaked in the jus and tasted just fine as well.

We were slowing right down now, but still had two desserts and petit fours to go! We had got the kitchen to slow right down, but it was still going to be touch and go as to whether we could manage it all. We’d give it a go. We’d also got into lively conversation with the people on the next table to us, so we were thoroughly enjoying our evening.

The first dessert duly arrived, and was the chef’s take on rhubarb and custard, made with Yorkshire forced rhubarb (the finest rhubarb you can get if you ask me, but then as a Yorkshire woman I supposed I would think that), and Madagascan vanilla, which is always a good thing. There was a honeycomb shard as well as some tiny rhubarb meringues, and all in all it delivered what it promised, with the acidic sweetness of the fruit more than offset by the “custard”.

They’d save the most spectacular looking till last though. This was a gleaming chocolate quenelle, golden and shining with orange and served with an orange ice cream, and tiny segments of Sicilian orange. It looked a picture, and tasted even better. It was the perfect end to an excellent meal.

And finally, even though we turned down the included tea or coffee, came a cluster of petit fours, with more tiny meringues, a chocolate each, and a tiny biscuit.

By the time we’d finished, we’d been there the best part of four hours, and were pretty much the last people to leave after a chat with the chef, Harvey Lockwood. He’s been in charge since November last year, and certainly seems to be making his mark. Apparently he had previously worked at Whittlebury Hall, but went away to develop as a chef, working at Cowarth Park, The Vineyard, and the Landau at The Langham, so it’s a good pedigree. It’s scary how young some chefs seem to be though!

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