Washingborough Hall Hotel, Washingborough
Mark Cheseldine is our ‘Taste of Excellence’ Chef of the Year. Caroline Bingham visited Washingborough Hall to sample his award-winning cuisine.
The last time I tasted Mark’s food, I wasn’t aware it was his cooking. I was one of five judges blind tasting three dishes which each of our five finalist chefs had produced that morning in the kitchens at RAF College Cranwell.
We enjoyed some wonderful and creative food that day and Mark’s pipped others at the post for its complex flavours, elegance of presentation and respect for local produce.
Mark is joint head chef with Anthony Smith at the Hall and along with their kitchen brigade caters for hotel guests, wedding parties and other special occasions. The restaurant and bar is also open to non-residents for lunch, Sunday lunch, afternoon tea and evening service. This year they have also maintained two AA Rosettes for the restaurant for the fifth consecutive year.
My visit with my daughter was mid-week so the mix of guests in the bar comprised those on business, mid-week leisure visitors and locals like ourselves. Most of them were dining too. There is background music playing but it is not intrusive and there was plenty of chatter, so we felt no hesitation carrying on with our catch-up as well.
We sat with our drinks in the cosy library adjoining the bar and were given à la carte, bistro and daily special menus from which to make our choices. Throughout the evening we received excellent service from the friendly staff at the Hall, who are taking great pride in the accomplishments of their team. We passed trophies and award certificates displayed on the mantelpiece in the reception area as we were taken to the Dining Room.
So what had been our choices? We did, in the end, mix and match across the menus. To start though, the menu of the day had caught my eye so I began with seared spiced salmon served with warm marinated potato and chorizo salad served with dressed rocket. From the same menu my main course was pan roasted duck breast, chilli and orange fondant potato, star anise jus and sesame savoury cabbage. My daughter chose from the bistro menu beginning with a twice baked camembert soufflé with a leek and mustard grain veloute. Her main course was poached Alfred Enderby smoked haddock on a rosti potato with wilted spinach and a soft poached egg.
The autumn à la carte menu had four seasonal starters to tempt such as pressed game terrine with sesame and orange bread and juniper pickled apple and pear or roasted pumpkin soup served with sage and parmesan wonton. Five main dishes included pan fried loin of venison, wild mushroom and tarragon pithivier with parsnip puree or pan seared halibut, roast garlic creamed potatoes, mussel and fennel veloute.
The choice of menus had given us the opportunity to sample bistro style as well as fine dining dishes. The soufflé was light, with a delicious sauce and subtle bite of the leeks. Alfred Enderby smoked fish is an award winner in its own right; soft and moist haddock which marries perfectly with the egg and round of crispy rosti. I have to admit I couldn’t resist sampling a couple of forkfuls from my daughter’s plate.
My meal showed a delicate hand with spices and seasoning. The seared salmon was perfectly cooked with crispy skin and a satisfying warmth of flavour with sharpness to the salad, balancing the dish. A similar style offset the rich flavour of the duck with the chilli and orange heat of the fondant potato and the cabbage to contrast textures.
We did have to take five here to contemplate a dessert and this is where we did deviate across the menus. The daily menu offered a delicious sounding warm ginger, plum and pistachio Bakewell tart, with pistachio crème Anglaise and raspberry sorbet. In good restaurants I always think I might be missing something, so I am guilty of table watching other dishes being served; plenty of takers with larger appetites than mine for this option which they all thoroughly enjoyed. We both had desserts from the à la carte menu. I went for iced plum parfait, plum jelly, ginger tuile and lemon curd which was a perfect finale to my meal. My daughter chose a trio of apple with apple, blackberry and almond crumble tart, apple shot and Calvados and Apple crème brûlée. Divine!
The décor at Washingborough Hall is contemporary country house with elegance and comfort. The Hall was also winner of the Wedding Venue of the Year category in our awards. Set within its own grounds and gardens, within the red brick Victorian boundary walls, there is plenty of warmth and hospitality to make you forget about the seasonal chill outside.
Mark has been a professional chef for more than twenty-five years and we applaud him and all the other ambitious and talented chefs in the county who put their skills to the test for the competition. Well done Mark. A richly deserved win.