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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Zesty food, locally sourced

It has always been a principle of Local and Great that I concentrate on local producers, wherever I happen to be, and avoid writing about large companies and chain outlets.

However, I was intrigued to hear that a major chain Marriott Hotels were proposing to establish new menus based on local, seasonal and organic food. More intriguingly they were doing so in conjunction with River Cottage. Though Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is well on the way to becoming a brand in his own right, there is no doubt that he is a champion of good and seasonal food.

So could this work?

The project is undergoing a six month evaluation before being rolled out across the UK Marriott chain, Cardiff and Hollins Hall in Yorkshire are  the first hotels to go online with the menu in their  Zest Restaurants.

Offered the chance to try the menu I went along with a fair degree of scepticism, how local, how seasonal and how organic, genuine commitment or corporate hype?

As a launch event, the chef and Marriott management would be available for discussion and I aimed to get to the heart of the concept.

First impressions were positive the restaurant has a mission statement to source over 80% of ingredients within 60 miles. A large board displayed the suppliers, many of them well known to me, but how many were actually known to the chef?

The chefs, led by Anthony Barnes, who has spent much of his career in South Wales, starting in Chepstow, had been trained at River Cottage Headquarters to deliver local and seasonal dishes.

(L-R) Executive Chef Cardiff Marriott Anthony Barnes, Chef Tutor Gary Richmond River Cottage, Executive Chef Hollins Hall Gary Armitage
On speaking to Anthony it was immediately obvious that he had met with the suppliers, and on their own ground not in a boardroom somewhere. Talking about Ty Mawr he spoke of bouncing over the fields in Phillip's ancient Range Rover to sample vegetables fresh from the ground, an experience I have had in the past, and of meeting Odin the immense but soft Rottweiler.
Clearly here was a team who would be seeking to achieve the aim of producing food from local suppliers and who knew them.
So to the food, the menu is relatively short and that is a good thing, a few dishes 5 starters, 6 mains and 5 desserts with 5 sides. Better to concentrate of a few dishes and do them well than have lots to choose from and anticipate several to be pre-chilled and warmed through in the kitchen. Ingredients of the quality used deserve to be treated well and not unnecessarily over worked.
We chose a Parsley Salad with Crab and a soft boiled egg that was long on flavour and set the tone for a good meal and a Smoked Venison, which came as a carpaccio with Crispy Garlic, Pickled Mushrooms and Winter Leaves. The Venison was from the Welsh Venison Centre just outside Brecon.

Mains were Pulled Slade Farm Pork with a Semolina Pave, think Polenta, Salsa Verde and Carrots - of the rainbow variety, and Slade Farm Lamb with Smashed Celeriac Chilli and Thyme. Sadly the photo of the Lamb was not fit for inclusion but Janet loved the Lamb.

Sides of Honey Glazed Carrots and some more Smashed Celeriac made for a strong meal. Janet was pleased that the chilli was a background taste and did not overpower the dish.

Desserts of Panna Cotta with a spiced Apricot and crisp Biscotti and  an Orange and Almond Pudding with Red Wine Pear and Vanilla Ice Cream finished a very good meal. The milk for the Panna Cotta and the Ice Cream was fro Welsh Organic Milk suppliers Calon Wen and both were made in house.

So what did we make of Zest? On our visit it was clear that the mission statement was met in full and that there was  a strong commitment to developing local menus for all the UK hotels in the Marriott chain.

Hopefully the trial will prove a success and the River Cottage menus will roll out in the months to come.

Zest is in the Marriott Cardiff.


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Morphy Richards


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