“The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.”
– George Bernard Shaw
I recently had the pleasure of retreating to the countryside for the afternoon. My destination, Coworth Park.
Located just a short train ride away from London (and 20 minutes from Heathrow), there are no dearth of draws to visiting this country-house hotel from The Dorchester Collection – whether for a day-cation, overnight stay-cation or a longer (and really well-deserved) vacation.
Set sprawling across 240 acres in Berkshire, Coworth Park is the only hotel in the U.K. to encompass an equestrian centre and polo fields. There’s a separate spa and fitness enclosure; a kids’ club; and a mix of restaurants to hop between – from the drawing room (a stately setting for afternoon tea), to The Barn – a cosily-rustic setting for gourmet burgers, chips and the like.
On this visit, I’m here with my foodie compatriots – Milly (from Thoroughly Modern Milly), Pete (from Great British Chefs) & Renate (a prolific travel editor and writer) – to experience the new festive lunch-menu at the eponymous Restaurant Coworth Park.
Helmed by the hotel’s executive Chef Adam Smith, the restaurant recently received its first Michelin star…
“The assured, technically skilled cooking is modern yet respectful of classic combinations and displays real depth and finesse… Using top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard.”
… And rather thrillingly we’re invited to have a glimpse behind-the-scenes, in Chef’s expansive yet immaculate kitchen.
Chatting informally over a glass (or two) of champagne, we learn more about Smith’s meteoric career rise from his first part-time job as a kitchen porter, to working at The Ritz London for nine years (where he progressed from second commis to executive sous chef). Although he’s too humble to mention it, he can add a number of heavy-hitting accolades to his profile too, including the prestigious Roux scholarship which led to his working with chef Yanick Alleno at Le Meurice, Dorchester Collection’s hotel in Paris.
Drawing on his extensive experiences – his style of cooking relies on classic techniques to manifest seasonal British dishes, prepared with an unequivocal emphasis on high-quality ingredients – each zealously sourced, with the intention of maximising the overall composition of flavours.
By way of a (captivating) demonstration, our canapés come together with an artful precision, featuring the likes of baked potatoes braced with fresh caviar (or for this vegetarian, black truffles) and salt-baked turnip, served in a melted pool of tunworth and seasoned with lovage.
We move on to the Conservatory of Restaurant Coworth Park for a four course festive lunch, basking in the winter sun streaming in through the French windows. The airily-bright setting is entirely suited to luxuriating in a languid afternoon and this is exactly how we proceed, propelled by an astute wine pairing with each of the courses.
The varied profile of guests at Coworth Park means that Smith is now adept at seamlessly catering across the board – from halal to gluten-free, vegan and of course, vegetarian requirements.
The proof is in the tasting, with my veggie dishes a truly revelatory experience for the imaginative range of textures they showcase, crossed with a memorable depth of flavours.
To start, there’s baked celeriac tart – sheathed in an impossibly-light yet crusty pastry with pickled mushrooms and hazelnuts imparting delicately-rich flavours. This is inconspicuously followed by the meatiest rendition of barbecue cabbage that I’ve ever encountered yet.
Cooked for an hour and a half, the astonishingly-tender wedges of cabbage are piled high with chestnuts and sprouts; and presented in an unrestrainedly-creamy pool of Baron Bigod – U.K.’s only raw milk farmhouse Brie.
The lingering earthy notes of this soft-ripened, bloomy-rind cheese are a robust tonic for all the black truffles which are oh-so-generously shaved across as the final flourish. The ensuing result is effusively-bold and bucks the clichés typical of vegetarian British cuisine.
There are more truffles to follow, albeit arriving in waves to subtly enhance a Little Wallop (a type of goats cheese), served with a slice of fruit cake and quince. And to round off the festivities, a rather grand chestnut parfait combining cream and crunch to an un-improvably delicious effect.
That we have room to nibble on chocolate bars after (filled with banana ganache for a playful twist on petit fours), is a testament to Chef Smith’s flair for executing these seemingly-heavy dishes with an astonishing degree of lightness.
A quick tour of the manicured grounds, festive corners and inviting rooms (complete with their copper bathtubs!) is in order before we reluctantly pile into the hotel’s Mini to be driven back to the nearby station.
All told, the day has been the most joyous retreat from the routine of everyday life.
I can’t recommend Coworth Park enough if you’re looking for an escape to the country-side this Christmas. Under Chef Smith’s direction, the Michelin-starred dining is as much a gustatory thrill as it is an intensely-comforting affair; and there’s an abundance of other attractions to keep you merrily occupied too – from chocolate and wine masterclasses to Santa Segway racing, falconry displays and horse-back riding!
Just promise to take me with you?
Blacknest Road Ascot Berkshire, SL5 7SE UK
Our lunch was a special experience kindly hosted by The Dorchester Collection; as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.