Restaurant Review: Restaurant Coworth Park, near Ascot in Berkshire
Food and drink writer Nicholas Gibbons travels to the Royal Borough of Berkshire to dine at Restaurant Coworth Park.
Coworth Park Hotel holds the ultimate pedigree as part of the world’s foremost five star hotel group – the Dorchester Collection. A grand but contemporary Georgian manor house hotel set in 240 rolling acres of parkland; Coworth Park is situated just outside of upmarket Ascot and is only a 20 minutes drive from Heathrow. Apparently, it’s the only hotel in the UK to have polo fields, an equestrian centre and stabling.
First impressions count and Coworth Park exudes class and luxury from the get go – it’s what I would describe as the Rolls Royce of hotels. As you make your way down the gorgeous driveway you know immediately you are about to be looked after and made to feel like royalty. We pass not one, but two Ferraris as we are greeted at the hotel’s main entrance.
A glamorous and ultra luxurious setting like Coworth Park deserves a Michelin star restaurant and I was interested to see why the food has not hit the culinary heights that might be expected of a Dorchester Collection establishment. Let’s not forget Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair currently holds three Michelin stars, while Le Meurice in Paris, another property in the group, has two coveted stars to its name.
I had carried out some research prior to my visit and read across numerous publications that the hotel has experienced a rather high chef turnover over the last few years. This typically results in a restaurant lacking a clear identity and culinary path, and the quality of the dishes will always suffer.
The latest recruit is Adam Smith. Predicted as ‘one to watch’ by Michel Roux Snr, Smith has worked with Yannick Alléno at Le Meurice and was premier sous chef of The Ritz. He was also named Observer Food Monthly Young Chef of the Year in 2012. Smith prides himself on bringing a modern take on classic British dishes and a commitment to using quality ingredients that ensure a depth of flavour.
Located within the Mansion House, Restaurant Coworth Park is an intimate, grown-up affair with a giant leafy copper chandelier as its centrepiece. It offers stunning views across the rose terrace and croquet lawn, to the wildflower meadows meadow and rolling estate grounds beyond.
The dining room is large with a high ceiling, curved walls and well-spaced tables, and blissfully quiet if you are used to the sardine tin table packing of dining rooms in central London. I really liked the warm and mellow autumnal colour scheme; it was relaxing, elegant and quintessentially British. Beautiful French doors, brown chairs, white table cloths and the use of low lighting ensure an intimate and romantic atmosphere. Sofa seats at either end of the main room are set below walls of mirrored copper. The addition of some calming background music was a really nice touch and helped to create a peaceful environment to enjoy a culinary feast.
The menus were packed with wholesome British ingredients, from Cornish crab to venison and pork belly. There was a tasting menu at £95 (add an extra £65 for some bespoke wine pairing) which is what we went for on the night, but there was a full a la carte selection as well, priced at £70 for three courses.
The meal began with some home-baked rosemary sourdough. This was made from scratch in the pastry section of the kitchen, and was excellent, with good crust and light texture. It was served with some delicious smoked seaweed butter.
Next up was trio of nibbles. The chervil root mousse with apple and seeds was enjoyable, with the textural contrast working very well. The goats’ cheese biscuit was also scrumptious. But my favourite of the trio was the chicken parfait. This was served in a light and mouth-watering pastry wrap and the different aspects complemented each other wonderfully well.
Course one of Exmoor caviar tart, Cornish crab, yuzu and cucumber was an explosion of flavours! The pastry was soft, buttery and melted on the tongue, while the salty caviar added a real element of luxury and glamour. The crab was handled with care and attention but there was not enough yuzu for my liking. The cucumber gave a fresh and delicate twist to the dish and the refreshing and light glass of Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2013 matched the dish perfectly. A very simple but a wonderfully elegant dish and a great away to start to the menu.
Course two consisted of duck liver, Yorkshire rhubarb, salt roasted almond and parkin. Great textures, and a super rich foie gras made this a feast for the taste buds but I did feel it was slightly too big to sit on a tasting menu. The rhubarb gel worked well with the ginger bread and gave a light layer to what was a very heavy dish. I would certainly advise Adam to reduce the size of this one slightly but I could not fault the quality of the ingredients or the execution.
Course three was culinary perfection. Superbly cooked and seasoned cauliflower dumplings were served in a lovage sauce. This was sprinkled with truffle and was accompanied by Hen of the Woods mushrooms to create a warming, flavoursome, delicate, rather autumnal and pretty dish that had a beautifully richness to it. It was Michelin star cooking and something that even the legendary Alain Ducasse would have been proud to have engineered. The use of different textures was clever and the dish delivered on both crunch and flavour. As well as tasting sensational, this dish also smelt incredible and I could not find fault.
Next up was the fish course and I was excited to see sea bass on the menu. I was not so jubilant when I read it was being served with a risotto mind. I tend to find this Italian favourite a little bland and it leaves me feeling rather uninspired. The dish was served with clams, sea ear chins and sea lettuce. I found the sea bass enjoyable; it was cooked perfectly and was not too dry. As you would expect it was delicate and light. However, the risotto failed to excite the taste buds and this had to be my least favourite dish on the night.
The show-stopper was the Earl Stonham Wagyu beef (braised tail and tongue cooked medium rare), with a creamy horseradish mash topped with crispy onions, all in a rich beef jus. This was served with a compressed avocado and a mixed salad. The beef was mouth-watering, and certainly one of the finest cuts I’ve tasted this year. It was succulent, tender and quite frankly, blew me away. The crispy onions complemented the Wagyu beautifully but I thought the mash potato was a far too big for the dish and I would look to scale back this element, even though the flavour and texture was perfect. The mixed salad did not really work and personally I would ditch from the dish. Overall the dish was rich and full of flavour.
Next up was the pre-dessert of poached pears with a brown sugar creme anglaise. This was enjoyable but perhaps a little too heavy for a tasting menu and I would have preferred something a little lighter.
The seventh and final course of the evening was the hazelnut with milk chocolate and malt ice cream (served with an exquisite gold leaf). This was simply stunning and one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. It reminded me of a super posh Ferrero Roche (but without the paper wrapping). This dish offered some truly fantastic textures, from the rich, crunchy chocolate biscuit base to the super soft malt ice cream. It was the perfect ending to a highly polished meal.
In a nutshell
Head chef Adam Smith and his team deliver some fantastic flavours and the quality of the cooking is up there with the very best. I feel with some small tweaking on the portion sizes this tasting menu was of Michelin star quality. Certainly worth a visit when you are next in beautiful Berkshire.
Address: Coworth Park Blacknest Rd, Ascot SL5 7SE / 01344 876600