The website shows a three course a la carte menu available for dinner at £78 per person and a ten course tasting menu at £92. This places it slightly below its London 2 star peer group where typically three courses might be £90 and the tasting £115. At lunch, there is a reduced tasting menu for which we were charged £60, though the kitchen kindly sent out additional courses so it more closely approximated the dinner experience. While there may be a price discount to London, The Latymer is very much a full on luxury experience with a plush dining surround befitting a country house hotel that means that you'll be perfectly comfortable at your table over the duration of your meal. Exquisite crockery meanwhile serves to further enhance the appeal of already beautifully presented food (the main course dinner plates, cropped in the photo below, are perhaps the largest we have even seen and are themselves objets d'art).
We asked some chef friends ahead of our visit about Michael Wignall's cooking and we were told that it involved a lot of hard work and was highly complex, which intrigued us more than a little. On Pennyhill Park's own website they note that while Michael first won a Michelin star 14 years ago, he was also given the accolade of Best Chef you have never heard of by Olive magazine. Michael Wignall himself describes his food 'complex and carefully crafted'. What does this mean in practice? Well, one dish is on the menu as 'poached cod and langoustine, scallop and charcoal emulsion, textures of cauliflower, Iberico lardo veil'. And breathe.
So Michael is very much his own man and while the young guns are serving burnt onions in the Nordic style, and rarely use more than three ingredients on any one plate, Michael clearly lets his vivid imagination flow and every plate is packed with multiple ingredients and multiple techniques. Critically though, it all works and across the ten courses we ate, we adored every dish.
Will it wont it? Tasting menus at any restaurant you don't know carry some risk and the first dish is invariably a good signpost to how the rest of the meal will go. Heaven or hell? Here, our first dish is Smoked eel cigar and salad, chicken poached in Asian stock, coriander and yoghurt, ponzu pearls, curry emulsion. As soon as it is set down in front of us, the intricacy of the plate leaves you in no doubt how much hard work has gone into this dish, something that would be true of everything we were served that day, and the journey begins.
Every single ingredient is cooked to perfection, the flavours shine individually but work brilliantly well as a whole; the food is incredibly sophisticated, yet it is neither unapproachable nor excessively out the box (like say 21212). We love the fact that it is neither classical nor avant garde, and it certainly doesn't play to any of the prevailing trends, rather, the food is Michael Wignall and that most definitely should be applauded. The result too is diversity but without it ever feeling disjointed: the main of 'Poached and roasted breast of croise duck' plays a more traditional card while the 'exotic egg' for dessert simulates an egg with a coconut 'white' and a mango 'yolk' that places a broad smile on your face when you split it open to see the 'yolk' run through the dish. It brings more joy when you spoon it up with the cinnamon "pain perdu" rounding out for a pleasing and reinvented egg and soldiers. Genius.
Earlier however in the menu you'll enjoy a 'cassoulet of razor, palourde calms and cockles, cuttlefish gnocchi and wafer, poached quail egg' which is something else again, a beautifully presented dish where the wafer looks like a barnacle covered rock, the egg hinting at a closed sea anemone and a foam that evokes the breaking surf. We loved, loved, loved this dish, delivering an original taste of the sea. Talking of foams, Michael seems happy to use the technique as necessary, and spherification too, but it works and is only ever a part of a greater scheme, it's never a point in itself.
There are so many reasons to love this meal. We have argued in the past that a number of 'top restaurant' tasting menus are too predictable, bordering on lazy, with their ballotine of foie gras, scallop and other luxury staples, all presented little more than cooked well; admittedly, not everyone has agreed with our view. But where we will always sing our highest praise is where a chef has a unique style that presents a personal vision of what dining means to them, chefs like Simon Rogan, David Everitt-Matthias and Brett Graham; we find Michael Wignall to be another such chef. We had high hopes prior to visiting Michael Wignall at The Latymer, all of which were exceeded. When you get tired of yet another London brasserie, or the new new Nordic scene, The Latymer offers something unique. Accordingly, until you have actually enjoyed Michael's cooking, you haven't enjoyed Michael's cooking.
Scroll down for a few words on the Pennyhill Park.
We were kindly given a tour of the hotel, a room or two, and their spa which is simply fantastic. Below are a few pictures we took at the time which show the beautifully kept grounds in which it is set, the outdoor pool, the indoor pool and a room within the hotel together with one of the more interesting bathrooms. Admittedly, we're not spa people so are not totally qualified to comment on what is or is not cutting edge in the field, but the spa here looked the business and inspired us sufficiently to want to return not only for the restaurant but to enjoy the broader amenities of the hotel.