Country house style and fine food
Tasting menus are tricky beasts: if they aren’t absolutely spot on they become more of an endurance test than the luxurious, slightly decadent treat they should be.
For starters (so to speak) there’s the question of whether there is enough variety on the menu to make eating so many different dishes worthwhile. If it’s boring, you’re in for a long evening.
Then there is the vexed question of portion sizes. A taster is just that – nothing should resemble a main course. My personal rule of thumb is that by the time the pudding and cheese comes around you should still actually be hungry… if you feel as if you have become embroiled in a grim man-versus-food fight to the finish line, something has gone awry.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the chef’s special eight course tasting menu at East Lodge.
I needn’t have worried. With executive chef Christian Kent and head chef Brandon Shepherd in the kitchen, we were offered a menu that read brilliantly and translated off the page into a succession of dazzling dishes that looked beautiful and were full of gorgeous flavours and contrasting textures.
This is cuisine designed to stimulate tired tastebuds and with dishes sprinkled with fresh herbs and flowers and artfully drizzled with sauces and dressings, every plate is a feast for the eyes.
It’s hard to single out individual dishes when every course was a highlight, but one stellar moment involved a pan-seared scallop with fresh cep mushrooms, Champagne and white chocolate risotto. The white chocolate brought an extra richness to a velvety risotto.
Grilled mullet with squid ink and a pea and mint purée was another mini miracle. It looked spectacular, with the red crispy fish skin, green purée and jet black ink, and tasted so spectacular I risked taking the enamel off the bowl by trying to scrape up as much of the sticky squid sauce as possible with my fork. Next time I’ll make sure I have a couple of East Lodge’s excellent fresh-baked bread rolls to hand and do some serious mopping up after each savoury course – decorum be damned.
There were surprising touches everywhere that were not just gimmicks but truly enhanced the flavour. The crunch of candied walnut alongside poached and roast partridge; sharp goats cheese with slightly sweet granola – all clever, cheffy, tasty stuff.
As for my own little rule, come the time for dessert – a refreshing deconstructed lemon and blackberry cheesecake – eating was still most definitely a pleasure, not a chore.
The tasting menu is rather special and, to make it even more memorable, Christian has designed a wine flight, making full use of East Lodge’s extensive list, to match each course.
Service and setting can’t help but enhance the dining experience. White linen, silver service and friendly staff were all immaculate and East Lodge remains the epitome of unstuffy good taste with its charming décor and beautifully manicured gardens.
Some of the dishes we tasted are available on the a la carte menu, which is full of tempting classical dishes making full use of locally-sourced ingredients. East Lodge’s own gardens also provide a constant source of fresh herbs and vegetables.
In short, the setting is as spectacular as ever and I doubt the food has ever been better. Now is the perfect time for a taster of East Lodge.
East Lodge Hotel and Restaurant, Rowsley, Derbyshire, DE4 2EF. Tel: 01629 734474