Formerly head chef at Marcus Wareing's restaurant in the Berkeley, Alyn's pedigree also extends to time at Royal Hospital Road - so two of our favourites under his belt, but here with his own menu and flair.
The restaurant only has 11 tables, but they're well spaced and comfortable. The room feels like a hotel dining room, with deep wood veneers on the wall, and a glittery carpet that I am positive I've seen before. Not often one has deja vu over a carpet. Off to one side of the room, and between the kitchen and the diners, are a number of terrarium where the staff are growing herbs, wild grasses and even an ash and an oak in their own micro-climates - fascinating. They turn on a growing light each night to prevent the plants from turning towards the lights in the restaurant. In the corners of the room are a number of discreet banquettes for larger groups, and set off from the centre is a private dining room with a pretty impressive collection of wine. Indeed this is one of the few places in ages that I've been able to get a glass of Krug as my apéritif.
Menu in hand I tucked in to a very lovely gougere, which is made with Fourme d'Ambert, it was very light, rich cheesy tang, very good. There were also prawn crackers with a tiny dot of mayonnaise and a cube of prawn; really excellent truffled arincini; and a tiny pissaladière, here with a shard of barbecue flavoured salmon - delicious. Influences may have come from all around the globe, but they sat very happily together.
We decided to go for the tasting menu (good value at £55 a head), and were given some bread, and two kinds of butter. As well as the usual offering, the kitchen serves butter whipped with caraway. It turns the butter a rich golden colour and adds an incredibly moreish edge to whatever you've put it on - one idea I'm definitely going to steal!
Then we were brought an onion soup consommé - in the bottom of a cocktail glass light delicate crab, topped with a disk of aspic (nice that), and beef cheek. The consommé is then poured into the glass. This is served with a side order of cheese squares - crisp wafers sandwiched with cream cheese and chives.
Perigord truffle soldiers, with smoked egg and celeriac came as tiny disks of crisp refreshing apple, a poached hens egg (which apparently took the kitchen weeks to perfect), and truffles layered between rich buttery toast. The yolk forms the dressing for the dish, and worked very well with the celeriac cylinders and coated the disks of truffle in the dish - all very good.
Next we had the semi-fredo foie gras: cylinders of chilled foie gras served with frozen yoghurt (which had been salted - delicious!), a lime puree and scattered with a lime and liquorice powder (this is made with liquorice oil, tapioca, lime and ground liquorice root). At the bottom of the dish sat a layer of deep and earthy liquorice which was echoed in the coriander cress. The dish ate best when we combined the liquorice and lime together, especially with that salted frozen yoghurt. An amazing combination of flavours.
The fish course is cod served with sea beets, purslane, rock samphire, scurvy grass, and sea astor - topped with gutweed butter. It was creamy without overpowering the delicate and translucent fish. I love foraged greens and the dish was balanced, creamy without any apparent cream sauce, and yet delicate and scented.
Cotswold chicken is served with chargrilled leeks, a deep rich leek puree, girolle mushrooms, and another smoked egg. This was our choice I should point out, as I didn't have the scallop dish with the oysters, and actually I rather like smoked eggs. The skin on the chicken was crisp, rich with umami flavours and the mushrooms perfect with the smoked yolk. The tempura style root added another dimension to the dish and the chargrilled leeks were smoky and sweet.
Alyn was concerned that we'd had two egg yolks, and so sent us a dish of beef, braised beef, quenelles of turnip and tiny, tiny croutons. The beef was rich and deep and the jus smooth and glossy. The potatoes were almost miniature fondant potatoes, and I was grateful for their size. The beef was a Devon Ruby Red, not a breed I'm was familiar with, and supplied by Phillip Warren in Launceston who is a butcher for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The pre-dessert was a little bowl of crema catalana but topped with pear granita. The crema had non of the burnt edge of a typical Catalan cream, but the granita provided a very light and vibrant palate cleanser. The dish was topped with pine sugar, adding further texture to the granita.
Dessert was described to us a being like a Twix, but I thought it tasted much more like a Marathon. Not a Snickers mind you, an old fashioned and much saltier Marathon from the good old days. The chocolate finger did have a caramal layer on top of the biscuit, but one mouthful of the peanut butter icecream transports you straight back to your childhood. I had supposed the pâtissier was using peanut brittle rather than peanut butter, but I'm assured it's Skippy, favourite as most of us know of Nigella. Amazing depth and flavour!
One of the joys of such a small room is that over the course of the evening everyone begins to relax, chat a bit more, speak to the staff about where they like to eat, what they like to drink. We spent some time talking to the enthusiastic Danish sommelier, and to Gian Carlo the restaurant manager. The staff were all charming, and went out of their way to show people the wine room and introduce each table to the kitchen, if they wished.
Personally I love a good nose around a professional kitchen, and the Hubby dutifully tagged along - but Alyn is so charming and such good fun that we were soon laughing, and trying to pocket the gorgeous bianchetti Alyn had stashed in his drawer. I'd never come across bianchetti before, and had no idea that any white truffles were still available at this time of the year. Alyn was going to preserve them in Sauternes, and this thought alone guaranteed I'd already made my next reservation before I even wrote this piece!
Do get along to see Alyn before the best value tasting menu in town is booked solid. Try not to get too heavily stuck into the wine list though - some wines are still being sold at their original cost and represent great bargains - others were subject to usual hotel markup.
Alyn Williams at the Westbury