The wisteria waved us up the impressive drive to lovely Lainston House one sunny/showery day last week, lulling us into an immediate state of bucolic bliss, even though we’d been playing the “sunglasses on, sun glasses off” game all the way down from Surrey. Ms S and I arrived for lunch to experience the new tasting menu at The Avenue Restaurant from Head Chef, Phil Yeomans.
Phil’s journey at Lainston began way back in 1999 when he actually came for part of his college course, under the mentorship of Hampshire legend Andy MacKenzie. Phil went on to cut his teeth in top restaurants in London including; The Dorchester, Harvey Nichols and Soho House before moving on to 5 star properties in both the USA and Bermuda where he become a Head Chef at the early age of 23. On his return to the UK, Lainston chose to capitalise on their early investment and Phil has been Head Chef at The Avenue restaurant for the past 7 years where his menu has gone from strength to strength, evolving to what it is today.
As we passed the wisteria we noticed, attached to the side of the building, was a Kiwi tree. No-one seems to know its provenance but it continues to fruit in December as it would do in New Zealand – how amazing is that?
We were joined for lunch by Lainston’s knowledgeable and charming sales manager, Jodi and (recently appointed) General Manager, the charismatic Antonio Lopez-Bustos. Ms S and I felt, at last, we were being taken seriously when we opened the menu and found not one but two tasting menus, standard and vegetarian! This meant we could go truly ‘head to head’ on veggie versus carnivore and battle it out on an equal playing field.
We commenced our first troop movement both with an amuse-bouche of Beetroot jelly, goat and lemon curd and caramelised hazelnut which provided a salty, fruity and zingy burst to get our palates limbered up. My first joust was with Rabbit, blackberry, turnip and pear terrine. Very tasty but in this instance slightly advanced by Ms S vegetarian course of Tofu, gem,corn and heart of palm which was ‘crunchy and amazingly flavoursome’. I then engaged with Scallop, bisque, cauliflower and razor clams which I could have continued to eat on and on. – The intense bisque and cauliflower sauce had a warming richness to it and the scallop was perfectly cooked. Ms S returned with Quinoa, carrot, ginger and oat which had a texture treat and depth to the red wine reduction sauce that had us calling that round a truce.
We declared a time-out for the next course as we had true vegetarian heaven in a dish we both had of Artichoke, parmesan and black garlic which was utterly divine. The parmesan crisps were incredibly moreish and the cheese with the artichoke was a triumph of flavour matching, combined with the aroma of roasted black garlic we both agreed this dish could well be the jewel in both menus.
From there it was into full fork to mouth combat – myself with the Beef blade, red onion marmalade, wasbi and cep which at Mr Lopez-Bustos recommendation I pared with a delicious Rioja Reserva, one of only 528 bottled. A point to note is Lainston’s impressive wine list of over 300 labels are all available by the glass. The beef had been slow cooked in a water bath and was beautifully presented with a dotting of tiny horseradish meringues which looked like iced gems and popped heat exquisitely in the mouth. Ms S squared up with Mushroom Ravioli, celeriac and yuzu pearls. I have to say I actually didn’t even catch sight of her dish, it was gone that quick. All I have in comment is the look on her face, rather like a cat finishing the last of the stolen cream…
Our palates were then re-blasted with a compote of apple crumble, vanilla and kalamansi (a Japanese fruit with looks like a lemon but tastes like a lime) which was served in dinky jam pot and had us all sighing. Then the ultimate duel, Dark Chocolate, liquorice, lemon and almond versus the fragrant and frankly beautiful Strawberries with mint ice-cream – the last dish created solely from the kitchen gardens. This final battle was indeed a flavour explosion and though the tiny almond jelly oozed dreamily against the dark chocolate – the unbelievable freshness of the mint ice-cream against the sweetness of the Lainston home grown strawberries was a conflict I could wrestle with all afternoon. It seemed only fair to take the high-ground and declare our taste battle a win for both sides!
Before I move on to our tour of the kitchen gardens I must also pay a quick homage to one more dish. Our host, Antonio, (of spanish descent) not only has a keen nose for Rioja but has the hispanic penchant for fantastic pork belly and allowed me to try his which was served with swede, shitake, chorizo and cider. On my return I will definitely be ordering that (or at least Mr R will and I may do him a deal on the Miso cod which I also really fancy trying out…).
Now the gardens! It has been some five years since I was last at Lainston when the kitchen gardens were just being mapped out but I could see then that Andy Mackenzie’s vision was a challenging one.
Five years on and the result is simply glorious. Row after row of tomatoes, salad, cucumber, courgette, lavender, carrots, beetroot, onions, runner beans, plus strawberries and raspberries nestling in finely tilled earth contained within thoroughly English walled gardens. The gigantic fruit cage is a thing of carpentry wonder and in the centre of all this is a large oak table – perfect for contemplation and celebration of this beautiful store cupboard. Indeed 90% of all herbs used at Lainston are grown on site.
The only slight upset to mar this perfection was our timing, turning up just in time to see Lainston’s house owls being fed. Fine for me but tiny yellow chicks being held between hooked claws was not a sight the very Buddhist Ms S was quite prepared for! Promise of petit fours and coffee soon sorted her shattered nerves however.
Phil Yeomans has the most incredible’ trug’ to draw inspiration from and that he certainly does with food that is both creative yet comforting, challenging yet classical. A tricky balancing act as Lainston House has a loyal following and new flavour combinations can sometimes be difficult to sell.
Phil is quoted as saying: “We strive for our offering to be playful and innovative with a clean delicate presentation, but flavour is key”
Phil is deftly encouraging Avenue regulars along the fine dining journey with him as well as continuing to add to his already impressive new following. All I can do is repeat what Phil told me as we met in the lobby, “Stick with it”. I highly recommend that you do. Phil Yeomans is most definitely a chef to watch.
Scroll down for our amazing competition!
Design Restaurant members dine complimentary at The Avenue, Lainston House when joined by one full paying guest at the following times:
Lunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner Monday to Friday, Lunch on Saturday, Dinner on Sunday
FANTASTIC COMPETITION! WIN LUNCH FOR TWO WITH A GLASS OF NYETIMBER SPARKLING WINE AT PHIL YEOMANS AT THE AVENUE AT LAINSTON HOUSE HOTEL
Just follow us on twitter @DRClub and tweet us the answer to the following question with the hashtag #avenuelunch
How long has Phil Yeomans been Head Chef at The Avenue? Is it 3 years, 5 years or 7 years?
Terms and Conditions of entry:
The prize is a 3 Course Lunch for Two at The Avenue Restaurant from the Lunch menu with two glasses of Nyetimber Sparkling Wine to be taken by end of July 2013. Additional drinks are not included in the prize, and any extras (outside of the above) must be paid for by the winner on the day.
The prize is subject to availability.
To enter, the participant must follow @DRClub and tweet @DRClub including #avenuelunch in the tweet along with the answer to the question ‘How long has Phil Yeomans been head chef of The Avenue” to be entered into competition.
No cash equivalent will be offered and the prize is not transferable.
The winner will be chosen at random from correct entries by designrestaurants.com. The judge’s decision is final and no negotiation will be entered into.
Entrants must be over 18 years old.
The competition is open to UK and ROI residents only.
Offer is not to be used in conjunction with any other offer.
The competition closes on the 5th June 2013 at 5pm. No entries submitted after this time will be accepted.
Internet access required. Entrants must have a registered Twitter account to enter.
No applications from agents, third parties, organised groups or applications automatically generated by computer will be accepted.
No incomplete, or corrupted entries will be accepted. Entries will only be accepted if they comply with all entry instructions.
The winners will be contacted on Twitter via Direct Message within one day of the closing date.
The winners must claim their prize within 14 days of the notification. If the prize is unclaimed after this time, it will lapse and the promoter reserves the right to offer the unclaimed prize to a substitute winner selected in accordance with the promotion rules.
Promoter and data controller, Design Restaurants, Spinnaker House, 48 High Street, Bagshot, Surrey GU19 5AW (please do not send entries to this address).