The first thing I’m going to do here is apologies. My photos didn’t quite come out as expected. The dining room may have been gorgeous, dimly lit for romanticism and be serving the ultimate in comfort and style – but of course my camera wasn’t too happy about that. So with that in mind, take my photos, increase the saturation by ten fold, sharpen a little and turn up the brightness – because we recently found ourselves eating in The Dining Room at Whatley Manor and it was utter heaven.
The restaurant is overseen by executive chef Niall Keating who is currently working incredibly hard to keep Whatley Manor established as a true destination restaurant and from what we ate – he’s doing a magnificent job. We started our journey here with a pre-drink in the bar and a look over the menus. A classic old-fashioned tickled the taste-buds and a sloe negroni went down rather too well. The latter wasn’t quite as bitter as I usually enjoy them, but I loved its unique and slightly softer take.
Our twelve course tasting menu started in the bar with the first of our dishes. My absolute favourite was the spiced cracker with sesame, crispy shrimp, grated cheese and spoonfuls of caviar. Such an indulgent snack which had the perfect balance of spice and saltiness. Oysters came served with a refreshing seaweed mignonette, but the eel tempura with citrus aigre-doux was the real star of the two. Beautiful smokey eel, wrapped in a crunchy golden batter and that touch of citrus running through it like silk.
By far the most unusual dish we ate was this salmon roe. The roe had been marinated in sake and was served on top of a set egg white custard, then seasoned with tamari. I image this dish will either be loved or hated, depending on your love of fish – but we absolutely fell in love with it. Very unusual, a unique flavour combination and I doubt you’ll ever eat anything quite like this anywhere else.
I’ve never seen bread served as an actual course before, especially between a tasting menu – but I hope it won’t be the last. A beautiful baked sourdough loaf, served with buttermilk brown butter. It was even paired with a local beer on the side which comes as part of the course.
One dish that didn’t quite blow me away was the mackerel with preserved raspberry and greens. Texture wise it was fantastic, especially those greens – but flavour wise it needed more of something and I just couldn’t quite work out what. I also felt that everything needed to be much colder in temperature. Perhaps if some of the greens were transformed into a sorbet or even the raspberry?
I couldn’t pick just one and so my two star dishes were the ones pictured above. The first really felt like a signature of executive chef, Niall Keating and it really showed off his talents. Named simply as ‘black tortellini’ – it was anything but simple. Filled with pork, coloured with squid ink and a flavoured with rich black garlic. Another flavour sensation came from the small bowl of a chorizo and raw scallop risotto. Very well cooked and that saffron and chorizo flavour really coated the mouth.
Wonderful salmon, fresh almonds and if I recall correctly a chive beurre blanc poured over the top table-side. This for me was the best in terms of showcasing quality. It all felt to fresh and the flavours were spot on – with a topping of intense Exmoor caviar.
The menu here at Whatley Manor was on this occasion nodding towards the sea, rather than the land – which made for a nice change because I’m usually such a carnivore. That said I was happy to see my favourite meat of all time arrive in front of me. Spring lamb with dill-pickle and a good hit of horseradish. A lovely way to end part of our tasting menu and a transition course of aloe vera, grape and olive oil refreshed and prepared our pallet for a little sugar.
If you know me well you understand just to what lengths I’ll travel for a good dessert and I love following pastry chefs across London. Our main dessert on this tasting menu was made up of sweet strawberries, flavours of strawberry, elderflower and some zesty confit lime. Every element of this dish was so satisfying but for some reason it was just a little too salty, or at least there was something salty somewhere in it and I felt that needed to be removed. Apart from that, it was stunning.
When then finished with a small espresso and the most incredible matcha chox buns which burst open in the mouth. The sort of stuff you wish you could take back home to finish every meal with, as well as a box full of petit fours.
We had such an incredible meal at Whatley Manor and while I envy Niall and his teams immense talents, I don’t envy the pressure of the Michelin man who is no doubt looking over everyone’s shoulder with the up-coming awards later in the year. The Dining Room currently has two Michelin stars and I personally can’t remark on how the cooking was under the previous chefs guidance who left last year – but judging solely on this meal I have no doubt those two stars are still very much deserved. This wasn’t just a good meal, but a spectacular one that we wont be forgetting anytime soon.