Peter Ormerod reviews The Dining Room at Mallory Court Hotel and Spa in Harbury Lane, Leamington
Nothing instils confidence in a place quite like a sense of calm assurance. Mallory Court's Dining Room is not especially showy; its food is in no way outlandish or pretentious. The menu does not seek to shock; there is little faddish going on here. Rather, it is a restaurant where simple things are done exceptionally well, where an exquisite lightness of touch is evident throughout, and where attention is grabbed not by bewildering combinations of ingredients but by the evident love and care with which its dishes are created. You can taste it in every mouthful.
The tone is set by staff who are unfailingly courteous but never obsequious, who are ever attentive but never overbearing. The room itself somehow complements this: it is perfectly smart and quietly atmospheric, without feeling any need for opulence. All this is in keeping with the wider setting of the hotel, which feels like a haven or a retreat while being only ten minutes' drive from the centre of Leamington, and in whose grounds fine produce grows.
This delightful fare made its way into the Mallory Garden Salad ordered by my companion. Salads in restaurants are too often rather worthy affairs, with good intentions resulting in tiresome leafy chompfests. By contrast, this was a gloriously colourful treat, with young garden vegetables sharing the plate with truffled cream cheese and a Fosse Way honey reduction. The crunch of the vegetables and the smoothness of their accompaniments worked a textural magic, while the flavours, from roasted tones to sweetness, blended beautifully.
I started with cured Loch Duart salmon, served with avocado, garden radish and fennel. The fish was quite radiant in colour and taste, with its accompaniments lending a perfectly measured depth and richness. The freshness and sharpness were a delight to the palate, the flavours punchy and crisp with a mellow undertone.
My main course was Herdwick lamb, with Jerusalem artichoke, fermented garlic, watercress and lamb jus. It was a most elegant affair, presented daintily, but packing explosions of intense and glorious flavour into every sweet, earthy, zesty, rich, melting mouthful. My companion's pan-roasted turbot came with young broad beans, heirloom courgette and champagne sauce, all the elements balancing with each other and bouncing off each other. Neither plate was overloaded, but both were immensely satisfying; the lack of gimmickry showed trust in the ingredients, which was rewarded richly.
The desserts continued proceedings in similar vein. The Hertfordshire raspberries, lime curd and caramelised white chocolate, chosen by my companion, was again a masterclass in culinary equilibrium: the white chocolate, so cloying and sickly when handled inexpertly, was a revelation here in its aerated form, lending subtlety and warmth to the tang and zing abounding elsewhere on the plate. My home-grown blackcurrant bavarois was joined by lemon verbena caramel and blackcurrent sorbet: all was vivid, bright and bold, but never overpowering.
The accoutrements deserve much praise, too, bringing moments of gastronomic bliss: the bite into the crust of the homemade granary bread; the gentle bounce of the Featherdrop new Zealand pinot noir, which proved a splendid recommendation; the blend of the immaculate petits fours with coffee. It was all easy on the eye, the tastebuds and the stomach, making for a graceful, grown-up dining experience. Other restaurants may be more flash and brash, other chefs more egotistical and showy. But Mallory Court's Dining Room knows how good it is and feels no need to shout about it. Here, the food does the talking, and most eloquently.
* Peter Ormerod reviewed the restaurant by invitation and dined on a complimentary basis. The review was written independently of the hotel's staff or management. Visit mallory.co.uk to book.