Restaurant review - Coworth Park

PUBLISHED: 01:16 25 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:54 20 February 2013

Restaurant review - Coworth Park

Restaurant review - Coworth Park

Tom Fahey tests the treats at Coworth Park and advises readers to book now before the trendy London rush begins

There are two reasons to be thankful that John Campbell at Coworth Park is in Berkshire. First, its easy to get to. Second, if it was in London, youd never get a table. The critics and journalists who drive UK restaurant business perpetually refuse to enthuse about anything outside the green belt and yet there are few restaurants in their smoky, self-imposed sphere that approach the significance of this one.

John Campbell held two Michelin stars at The Vineyard. The kitchen he oversees at Coworth, along with Head Chef Olly Rouse, was custom built to match their cooking style, is technically ahead of perhaps any other in the country, and most importantly played host to the penultimate challenge on this years Masterchef.

Then theres the setting. When The Dorchester hits the British countryside you better believe its a big deal. This is polo country and theyre not going to let you forget it but, while equine art is dotted throughout the restored Georgian manor house at the centre of Coworths 280 acres, its the blend of quirky rusticity and traditional grandeur that make it so unique. Plus Cheryl Cole and Will-i-am judged X Factor here, and if you cant write about that, what can you write about?

The food medias favourite buzz word right now is local and Restaurant John Campbell more than has it covered along with another hot-topic value for money. Ingredients for the lunchtime-only Shire menu are sourced farm-direct from bordering counties and, until the end of October, will set you back 25 for three courses, a cocktail, coffee and chocolates. For (very little of) my money thats Berkshires best value lunch.

Of course splashing out is perhaps the whole point of restaurants that capture media attention, and here, with an eight course tasting menu at 80 and the a la carte at 60, theres ample opportunity.

Both begin with crispbread wafers alongside bowls of frothing humous and taramasalata, puffy parmesan crisps and four exceptional breads, all made on the premises. The sourdough, and onion and pumpkin seed in particular are masterful.

Now a little cup of watercress velout on truffle egg mayonnaise. Johns cooking is known for retention of flavour and, watercressier than watercress, this soup exemplifies the fact.

Something else associated with John Campbell kitchens is the elevation of familiar combinations. Hence egg and cress become a gooey yolk sat on braised leeks and brioche with watercress pure, mushrooms and dots of piccalilli; while crab, cured salmon and avocado are lightened by cucumber both pressed and as an ice cream, then livened up with ginger jelly, mango puree, and pink grapefruit.

No, its not exactly traditional, but nothing is done for the sake of it; every component acts to elevate the whole. You may think putting mango, mint and honeycomb pieces with foie gras is bonkers, but in John and Ollys hands the result is a revelation. And its these balancing acts that make the kitchen so significant to high-end British cooking.

It happens again with the fat and crisp crackling of suckling pig offset by smoky carrot pure, apple, pickled carrot and swede; then again come dessert with olive caramel as seamless alongside coconut rice pudding as mango parfait, passion fruit jelly and peanut crackers are.

Did I mention the dining room? The ceiling is a-whirl with sculpted golden leaves, ceiling height windows look out over wild-flowered fields, and tables like the service are surprisingly free from fuss and clutter, which is another thing the food media cant stop talking about when it happens in London.

Of course come October, if John Campbell at Coworth Park becomes the first UK restaurant to jump from zero to two Michelin stars, it will instantly be as in demand and talked about as Londons top tables. For now, though, get in quick while its still a relative secret.

Coworth Park

Blacknest Road

Ascot SL5 7SE

01344 630 541

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