The restaurant design has in fact given several professional critics considerable angst. First off, it's a very modern restaurant, so that while you enter the main building through a venerable reception area, the restaurant itself is more Pollen Street Social than Downton Abbey. Second, the restaurant is very much in the kitchen. The Pass is not so much a name, more a description, as all (but one) tables line a wall affording views into not one, but two kitchens, that of The Pass and that of The Camellia, the hotel's principal guest restaurant. So there it is, 22 seats of in kitchen dining, the Marmite of the modern restaurant.
The contemporary approach to the restaurant design however is reasonably fitting because The Pass takes a contemporary approach to food also. First off, there's no a la carte for any service, but at lunch time, a choice of three tasting menus: The Experience (3 courses, £25), The Gourmet Experience (5 courses, £35) or The Pass Experience (7 courses, £55). We opted for the middle option with a surprise dessert.
Following a cauliflower amuse, the savouries follow a traditional trajectory, a liver parfait, a fish course and a beef main, but it is a clever and modern take on each. A silver flicked tube of chicken liver parfait comes with a fabulous confit chicken leg and a spoonful of quince gel. Micro-greens and the red circumference of sliced radish lift the dish visually from the shared humdrum brown of the chicken and the quince, while in addition, the radish also offers some textural snap. It's a lovely dish executed well.
Hazelnut crusted pollock is an equally strong fish dish, again showing consideration for both textures and colour, but most importantly, serving up a really lovely piece of fish. With the five course menu at just £35, this is probably never going to be a menu for turbot, scallop or Cornish lobster, but the ability to bring out great flavours and textures in more humble ingredients like pollock is a great showcase for both Matt's vision and skill.
The main course, fillet of beef, is no doubt something of a crowd pleaser, but is stepped up a little from the ordinary here with ox tongue and mushroom purée. It's a well judged main.
On dessert, we're treated by the kitchen. Viewers of Great British Menu will have seen Matt on the series for the first time this year and his entire GBM menu is currently available at The Pass (£65). The plate for which he received the highest score was his superhero dessert and this comic book Comic Relief special is kindly sent out in place of the pear parfait on the gourmet menu. It certainly raises a smile and the food here bursts with colour, textures and fun.
In 2011, The Pass won a Michelin star, and in 2012, four AA rosettes; with Matt Gillan just 32 years old, he has a huge future in front of him without doubt. We don't know if he's faster than a speeding bullet, we don't know if he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but we do know he's a super cook, leaving us to concur with everything we've heard: The Pass is certainly worth the journey.
Disclosure: we were guests of the restaurant