Michael Penaluna has launched his new tasting menu at Wynyard Hall, Tees Valley. Savour editor Georga Spottiswood puts it to the test.
Some places just nail it. Wynyard Hall is one of them.
I’ve been visiting this grand stately home for more than 10 years – and on this occasion it was unforgettable. We celebrated my sister-in-law’s hen party at Wynyard; hiring one of the hot tub cottages, six of us smothered in face creams as we left the spa.
The food in the Wellington Restaurant was good – but I couldn’t tell you what I ate that night five years ago. It didn’t stick.
During a food review for another publication, I recall a foie gras mousse dish that was top drawer, but nothing else.
Another memory is of a photoshoot and interview with Mehdi Amiri – Wynyard’s former head chef – who’d previously worked with Heston Blumenthal and had wild and wonderful dishes on his menu, one of which was an ice sculpture dessert named the Essence of Granny Smith.
When the magazine printed, I got a peculiar message to say he had left. The Wellington Restaurant stopped serving a tasting menu and the food became more on the casual side.
Now, it’s back with an absolute bang.
Michael Penaluna joined as executive chef in December, and he’s been behind the scenes perfecting his art. He’s been growing the likes of salad leaves, rhubarb and varieties of tomatoes in Wynyard’s remarkable gardens to use on his new five and seven-course tasting menus, which recently launched.
The starter is a salad with baby carrots, baby turnips, sorrel emulsion, charred baby courgette, carrot puree, baby beetroot, mangetout and baby leeks. All the ingredients are picked from gardens or the greenhouse, which is just 97 steps from the pass.
“It’s an old Michel Bras dish from France,” Michael tells us. “The French were doing this long before us. He created this salad dish which had about 35 different varieties of veg, herbs and salads. I created it to put on the menu here and it will only evolve and get better as the seasons continue.”
Smoked eel features fresh peas from the garden and mussels. It’s simple and fresh with a milk mousse and the smoky smell smacks us in the face when our waiter, Alasdair puts it down.
“I believe the less work you do to produce the better. I’m all about growing and foraging and if we do anything it will be curing or smoking to enhance the produce. I’d rather pull something from the ground and cook it well and pair it with ingredients that will make it something special,” adds Michael.
Cutlets of lamb are served with a pomme puree, red wine jus and sweetbreads and desserts include a strawberry tart with mascarpone ice cream.
Food here is brilliantly done, fresh and exciting – but it’s just one of the ingredients of what feels like Wynyard’s come back.
Of course, the venue adds to the whole experience. The hall, which dates back to 1230, features French and Italian marble, Spanish mahogany, stunning stained glass and is surrounded by 150 acres of parkland.
For those who’ve never been, it’s a jaw-dropping moment when you walk into the main entrance – and it’ll hit the floor again when you walk outside and see the views of the lake.
But the integral factor in this winning recipe is the team. 20-year-old Alasdair MacDonald is Wynyard’s supervisor – and out waiter for the night.
He joined the team in 2015, having just left school and after a dalliance at Rockliffe Hall, working under their head sommelier Daniel Jonberger, he headed back to Wynyard to climb the ranks. His dream is to become a sommelier, and he chooses our wine flight to pair with the tasting menu.
He’s super knowledgeable, super friendly and his passion is infectious.
“You can’t do it without staff. You have to get to get the right people and they have to be trained. Everything has to be working together,” says Michael.
And they’ve absolutely put it in the back of the net.
TASTING MENU PRICE AND OFFERS
Wynyard Hall’s five-course tasting menu is £55 per person.
A Taste of Wynyard Hall offer is £275 per couple, based on two people sharing a Country Classic Bedroom – valid until November 20th 2019.
Upgrades: £20 for a Superior Double / £40 for an Executive Double
Find out what our editor Georga Spottiswood wrote about Wynyard Hall in her editor’s letter here
We also review Seaham Hall. Find out what we thought here
The Newcastle restaurant that’s a hidden gem. Howay to Harissa.