March 24 2016

Review: the Sorrel Restaurant at ston easton park

And so it came to pass that last night, The Pig took to the picturesque highways and byways that eventually lead to the super-elegant Ston Easton Park Hotel: a historic Palladian mansion house hotel set in acres of rolling countryside around 11 miles/17km south of Bath. Understatedly glamorous to the max, steeped in history and tradition and stuffed to the gills with all manner of unique, quintessentially British treasures (antiques; fine art; authentic vintage crockery; etc), SEP offers a red carpet experience to those in search of a super-stylish escape to the country. But tempting though it may be to book yourself into a room here and stay holed up until you’ve pushed check out time back as long as you possibly can, our satnav was strictly set for the hotel’s Sorrel Restaurant, which boasts a kitchen overseen by head chef Martin Baker (see pic of Martin looking all intense and brooding at the pass…).

Martin is deservedly earning himself a glowing reputation for his unique way of bringing traditional, contemporary and classic foundations together in dishes wrought from locally-sourced, seasonal produce, much of which is grown in the hotel’s own Victorian Kitchen Garden. I’ve been following him with keen interest (stalking would be too strong a word for it) on Twitter* for many months now, leaping about with excitement every time he flaunted a new dish, or offered a tempting snippet of news from his kitchen. What an utter delight it was, then, that – following a glass of fizz in one of the hotel’s drawing rooms (it would have been rude to say no) – I got to taste Martin’s images made flesh… and the real life results exceeded my grand expectations.

At a very well-dressed table in one of the hotel’s intimate, low-lit dining rooms, we started our foray around Martin’s Tasting Menu with lamb croquette: a dinky, crumb-encrusted parcel of rich, moist shredded lamb which packed a flavour punch that belied its delicate appearance. After that, a rillette of salmon so fresh we were suddenly on holiday at the seaside, topped with a generous pile of caviar and teamed with slivers of pickled (I think? Correct me if I’m wrong, Martin!) vegetables that brought a distinctly upbeat, refreshing sweet-sour waltz beat to the plate. After a palate-cleansing bauble of apple sorbet, we moved on to an intelligent, carefully-considered combination of cubes of velvety Creedy Carver duck arranged around a neat slab of fondant potato that wins the award for the most meltingly soporific incarnation of the genre I’ve ever encountered, dotted hither and thither with a sweetly melodic black cherry jus and teamed with vibrant spring vegetables, including squeaky leeks and carrots so bright they could have leapt straight from an illustration in one of Beatrix Potter’s gorgeous Peter Rabbit series of books. Okay, I’ve just written a sentence that could probably find a comfortable home in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner, but I feel no shame for saying it like it is… and there are more superlatives to come.

Before a properly juicy, classy but comforting apricot clafoutis served with almond ice cream and glossy quenelle of mint cream (a combination that, on paper, doesn’t necessarily look like a match but in fact resulted in a very happy marriage indeed), we indulged in a stylish melange involving deep, dark, really good chocolate and an utterly moreish honeycomb crisp. Each and every dish along the way was expertly matched to a top tipple including Pinots Grigio and Noir and a super Sauternes at the finish, and special mention must be given to the SEP staff at this point, who dance friendly, informative attendance to your every need.

It’s very clear, from our experience, that Martin is proud to illustrate an innate respect for the integrity of his main ingredients but isn’t afraid to allow them the freedom of an inspired, imaginative playpen, creating dishes that hold broad appeal for both the experimental, contemporary foodie and traditionalists alike. The same could be said of Ston Easton Park itself: it’s a gloriously mellow experience, flamboyant without being ostentatious, stylish without trying too hard to be chic, and glamorous in a distinctively subtle, British way.

I think I’m going to have to up sticks and move in to Ston Easton Park…

*you too can stalk – sorry, I mean follow – Martin on Twitter @MBChef1

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