You know that moment when you walk into a fine dining restaurant and it’s ever so hushed, and perhaps a little nervy? It’s similar to how I felt when walking into Colette’s restaurant – the fine dining restaurant at The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire. After sipping on a pre-dinner aperitif in the lively Glasshouse bar and people-watching on three-inch heeled ladies up for a good time, it felt ever so subdued in this corner of the great mansion.
But as the night unfolded, what I feared might be a stuffy, uptight three hours, became one of those experiences where you feel you’ve experienced something really quite special.
After all, Colette’s restaurant has earned 3AA Rosettes and was heralded in the Good Food Guide last year. Oh yes, and Russell Bateman, the head chef, was rewarded the 2014 National Chef of the Year Award, an accolade which has also been in the hands of Mark Sargeant, Simon Hulstone, and Gordon Ramsay. And he worked alongside Marcus Wareing. AND I was meeting him for an interview. Was this perhaps the cause of my nervousness as we entered the dark and sleek reception and bar at Colette’s? Yes, perhaps so.
But delicious wine, jolly waiters and a beguiling run of five courses in the way of a ‘Sonnet’ Menu will help calm any jitters. Little did I know – until I eventually met Russell – that he was equally nervous about what I thought about his food. I know, I know, I’m no AA Gill. I don’t have the power to influence a whole city’s opinion on a restaurant. But this highly-acclaimed chef is surprisingly humble about what his diners think of his food – prestigious restaurant critic or not. Interview with Russell coming soon…
So, back to that Sonnet Menu. It started with canapés – including some pork skin with apple chutney and squid ink crackers with cauliflower which were light and melt-on-the-tongue delicious.
The first official course was the Poached Wiltshire pheasant egg which, all being very runny, I approached tentatively at first, unsure whether this would be to my taste. But once in the mouth, this butter-coloured liquid created a rich and garlicky flavour. I don’t do mushrooms but I’ll make an exception for morels when their earthy, nutty flavours taste this good. The whole dish worked perfectly.
A piece of long line crab followed, served with potato terrine and broccoli. It was fresh and soft, and the crab scraps added a much-needed crunchy bite.
Then there was this. My favourite course of the night, the Des Dombes duck.
I love it when you eat something in a restaurant that’s so simple, yet so refreshingly unique. And this was one of those moments.
You know that gorgeous smell you get from the bakery when they bring out fresh gingerbread men? Think about that, combined with an ever-so-tender piece of mallard and sweet chicory with dots of deliciously tart Yorkshire rhubarb. Oh wow, that’s what you get from this genius dish. I savoured every single bite, not wanting it to ever finish. This is a course that will most definitely stay in my culinary memory and my mouth waters just thinking about it.
Palettes cleansed with a citrusy granita-topped rice pudding and we were onto more incredible new-found flavours…
If this meal hadn’t already reached scrumptious levels, it was about to take another exciting turn, in the way of Tunworth blue cheese flavoured with winter truffle and a serving of truffle honey. I have to admit, I adore eating cheese with something sweet. Like the flavour you get when you eat Wensleydale with Christmas cake (It’s a Yorkshire thing) or the combination of dried fruit with a slice of Brie. Or EVEN, filling a chocolate pud with a really strong blue (yes I’m talking to you Champagne & Fromage).
Well, this was on that satisfaction level and was absolute heaven on earth. Even if you’re not a big fan of the smellier kinds of cheese, trust me, when it’s combined in this luxurious way, you will never go back. Add in a lovely little oat cake and I could eat this course again and again.
Then it was pudding time.
This had been a meal of incredible taste creations. And the flavours of our final course was possibly the most adventurous and juxtaposed, but brilliant yet.
After lifting the lid of our little iron pots…
…we had moro blood orange pieces resting on what I can only describe as a white chocolate ‘mousse’ (but the word mousse doesn’t do it justice), favoured subtly with cardamom. So it was sour and tangy, rich and creamy and aromatic all in one go, with delicious biscuit pieces for texture.
Wow, wow, wow.
When we were just about ready to pop, the waiter brought us some of Russell’s petit fours. When I thought this guy couldn’t get any more inventive, we were unwrapping fennel fudge (yes, it does work), biting into chamomile crisps and dipping that and the vanilla biscuits into a refreshing ginger cream.
By the end of the evening, I’d certainly relaxed into the quiet, yet luxurious experience of Colette’s. I wasn’t initially won over by the incredibly hushed feel, and with just three tables within our side of the restaurant, it did feel very quiet. But food of this quality and such incredible, thought-out menus, are synonymous with fewer diners. It also allowed for a focused, flawless and attentive service.
Russell still hadn’t made an appearance by the time we were ready to go. It turns out, he’s not fond of being front of house where his diners can see him. And personally, I don’t really blame him.
I felt like this was a window though into how the mind of an award-winning chef works. The food spoke volumes and we were blown away by the flavour.
I certainly count myself a fan of this talented and innovative chef. And as we looked up to see some familiar faces leave the restaurant, it turns out Marvin and Rochelle do too.
Until next time x
Thank you to Colette’s restaurant and The Grove for hosting Oh So London as part of this review, and coverage on travel review website OMOTG.com. All views are my own. For more information on Colette’s, visit the website here.
Colette’s Restaurant at The Grove Hotel, Chandler’s Cross, Watford, Hertfordshire WD3 4TG
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Find more information about The upcoming 2015 National Chef of The Year at craftguildofchefs.org