Restaurant Review: Paul Foster at The Dining Room, Mallory Court in Leamington Spa
Hidden in the midst of rolling fields and stunning scenery just outside of Leamington Spa, the Mallory Court hotel is a beautiful country manor house that makes for the perfect haven for a weekend away.
As well as offering luxurious accommodation and outstanding afternoon teas, the Mallory Court is also home to The Dining Room – an elegant, oak-panelled restaurant that boasts an array of accolades and awards for the fine cuisine it dishes up on a daily basis. Formerly a Michelin-starred establishment, it currently holds 3 AA Rosettes – and with head chef Paul Foster at the helm at the time of our visit, it was heading firmly back in the right direction.
Often billed as the region’s very finest restaurant, the kitchen is partly sustained by Mallory Court Hotel’s gardens, allowing for an ever-changing seasonal menu that is centered around the very freshest of produce. Foster (who has sadly now left the establishment on a journey towards own eatery)has also worked closely with respected local suppliers to source the very finest of ingredients, creating menus inspired by the bounty of the Warwickshire countryside with a clear focus on texture.
It’s a cold winter’s evening when we pay The Dining Room a visit, and the experience begins in the lobby area where we are gladly seated in front of a roaring open fire to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. The seating area is comfortable, with an authentic country house feel – think floral fabrics and an opulent array of settees and arm chairs, creating an altogether luxurious feel without betraying tradition.
Our margaritas are just as they should be – with a real kick and the perfect amount of salt – but be warned, for as with any secluded hotel, drinks prices are steep.
A selection of canapes are set out before us, and everything is explained down to the finest detail. There are crunchy toasted almonds with succulent, juicy green olives, crisp garlic crackers and crunchy popcorn. But the real taste sensations of the line-up are the kale crisps with smoked egg yolk and powdered vinegar – an innovative flavour combination that is satisfyingly acidic and delightfully moreish. The crisp pork scratchings come with the traditional apple-based accompaniment – this time it’s a puree, making for a delectable juxtaposition of salty against sweet. The selection is rounded off with creamy cod croquettes – bite-sized pieces of salty goodness that are reminiscent of Portuguese cuisine. All in all, a promising introduction to the evening to come.
Once we have finished, we are shown to our table within the elegant Dining Room – the very same place that the hotel breakfast is served every morning, but transformed into a chic and relaxed setting in which to enjoy a leisurely meal. The atmosphere is just right, with everything from the delicate classical music to the carefully monitored lighting turned down just low enough to provide an ambient backdrop for the evening’s proceedings.
A selection of various breads are promptly bestowed upon us by our waitress – malt, foccacia and classic, crusty white, all as fresh as you’d expect.
Valentina, our waitress, is of the utmost assistance from the very start, and it is clear that she knew her menus inside out. With her help choosing from the extensive wine list, we eventually opt for a good bottle of red – Eradus, Awatere – a full-bodied and fruity Marlborough that is both complex and elegant enough to suit all manner of cuisine. It’s a must when enjoying a varied seven-course tasting menu, and it’s a rather sophisticated affair that is brimming with elegant flavours, from juicy plums and cherries to dry herbs and cracked pepper.
Service is prompt and efficient, and Valentina is ready to provide us with a detailed rundown of each and every course. First up, it’s two fat scallops served atop dense pieces of roasted celeriac, with thin, rice-paper-like sheets of the very same ingredient. Finished off with a bright green dill emulsion and dill powder and served with crispy rye bread and a light cod cracker, it’s a myriad of vastly contrasting textures and flavours that complement one another in spite of their obvious diversity. The scallops were tender and juicy, but lacked that certain sweetness that I have come to adore and expect – but as with each of Foster’s beautifully-presented dishes, it’s an elegant and flavoursome affair.
Next it’s stonebass, which is served atop a creamy parsnip puree with clementine and a curled parsnip crisp. The fish is succulent and perfectly cooked, and flakes appealingly at the touch of a knife, with a delicate and subtly sweet flavour that works wonderfully with its well-thought-out accompaniments, The clementine is tart and juicy, while the puree is smooth and classically sweet. The crisp, of course, is onomatopoeiac, adding a delightful crunch that is seconded by the skin of the stonebass. Undoubtedly a hit, this is a course that leaves us hungry for more.
The third course is comprised of glazed pork belly with glazed artichoke crisps and artichoke puree – two texture choices that we are quickly coming to expect. Finished with thin disks of turnip and a scattering of onion, presentation is outstanding and the dish beautifully garnished. The pork is juicy and salty, while the accompanying flavours remain delicately muted in comparison. Certainly not a bad thing with a strong-flavoured meat such as this.
The evening moves at a leisurely pace with continuous momentum, so we are never left waiting for long. Course number four is a sirloin of beef, served with braised oxtail and on a bed of black garlic with onions and ‘crispy’ kale. Sadly, the kale is not at all crisp, but thankfully this does little to detract from one of our favourite dishes so far. The beef is juicy and cooked to perfection – wonderfully pink and outrageously tender upon cutting. The oxtail is rich and gravy-like, soft in texture and deliciously moreish, and the sweet, caramelised onions draw the dish together well.
Onto dessert, and we are faced with not one, but two desserts with which to tempt our tastebuds – and that’s not counting the petits fours to finish. First, it’s a smooth yoghurt parfait served with a homemade white chocolate ‘Aero’ and a rhubarb compote. It’s an overridingly sweet dish that is brought nicely back down to earth with the tartness of the rhubarb – the ‘Aero’, which is not unlike the real thing, is if anything a little too sweet, though the parfait is creamy and complements the other elements well.
Next, we are presented with a sea buckthorn mousse, served with brown bread ice cream and caramelised brown bread. Incidentally, we had first encountered sea buckthorn earlier the same day, as we enjoyed afternoon tea in the Mallory’s opulent lounge room, and had remarked at the time that it was certainly an acquired taste. Part fruity, part cheesey in flavour, it proves somewhat unexpected upon first bite, so we are pleased that this time around we know what to expect, and enjoy it all the more for it. The mousse is light and fluffy, and the brown bread ice cream makes for a delicious accompaniment. A successful combination of flavours, and our favourite of the desserts.
We are sad to see our final course approaching, but for all the right reasons. The tasting menu has made for an exciting evening, peppered with anticipation and intrigue with moments of sheer delight. The petits fours are a selection of decadent chocolate truffles, and their bite-sized nature means that we can just about squeeze them in. We leave the restaurant full and satisfied, and keen to return next season to see what is on the menu.
Address: Mallory Court Hotel, Harbury Ln, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV33 9QB / 01926 330214