Review: Lakes restaurant
- Credit: Archant
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis dines in the fine surroundings at Stoke By Nayland hotel’s eatery.
This was our first impression of Stoke by Nayland Hotel as we rolled up last week to eat at the Lakes restaurant.
I hadn’t been to the venue for over a year - when I popped over to see the swanky new lodges – so was suitably impressed by the glamorous reception area when we arrived.
With its high backed sofas and sleek upholstered armchairs, the area really befits the transformation that’s been happening at the hotel in recent years.
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Through the comfy lounge the Lakes can be found. Decked out by Rendall & Wright in a contemporary blend of dark wood and acid green, the restaurant quite simply has one of the best views in the county.
An entirely glass frontage offers a lookout to the undulating golf course and leafy lakes area. And there’s even a terrace with heating if you fancy dining under the stars.
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Our regular chef columnist Alan Paton has worked tirelessly to ensure the restaurant offering continues to excite diners, pushing the boundaries of his team’s cooking skills. This, in turn, has led to the Lakes being awarded a second AA rosette.
The Lakes has quite a buzz about it, and a diverse set of clientele too. On my visit there were lovers sharing pudding and bubbly under canopy on the terrace, a family with young (very well behaved) children enjoying a quick bite, golfers indulging after a day on the course, and what appeared to be a large group of old friends soaking up the atmosphere – and several bottles of plonk.
So, for people-watching purposes, the eatery is perfect.
At our table we devoured the menu while munching through the generous wooden slab of bread set before us. Not plain old white or granary loaf, or stale baguette. The selection included quite spicy salami and chipotle, sundried tomato, and plump raisin breads – all served with a large pot of creamy butter.
It took us a good while to settle on what to eat. Every single dish from both the a la carte and set menu (£21 for two courses or £26 for three) sounded incredible.
A la carte starters included a maple bacon cone with fried black pudding oatcake, green tomato, pulled hock wafer and smoked bacon jam, and asparagus with whipped herb goat’s cheese, granola, apple and sherry vinegar caramel.
The week had been so hot that we really wanted something light to begin with (saving room for pudding too of course).
I started with gazpacho consommé with dried tomatoes, bell pepper puree, saffron onions, basil oil and garlic chips.
From presentation, to eating, this was a gorgeous bit of cooking. I loved the theatre of the chamomile tea coloured consommé being served in a little teapot, hydrating the teeny dried tomatoes and swirling together the pepper puree and basil oil.
This was summer in a bowl, distilling the very essence of sweet tomatoes and herbal notes of basil down to a tee (or should that be tea?).
The doll-sized tomatoes burst in the mouth like sweeties and the other elements gave a savoury depth to this very accomplished dish.
Alongside the consommé I enjoyed a glass of 2012 Chablis Oliveri Tricon. With elderflower and a touch of celery on the nose, and a lightly acidic, almost passion fruit like flavour, it worked very will with my starter.
My mum, who was dining with me, was intrigued by her salmon pastrami. While the salmon was extremely peppery and hot, this was tempered by an interesting gel-like bed of cucumber, beetroot, pickle, vodka and orange puree and fennel.
A really refreshing start.
For mains there was steak, and sea trout fillet with saffron potatoes, braised lettuce, brown shrimps, broad beans, caper butter and salt and vinegar crackling.
My head was turned, however, by the lamb rib and breast.
I adore lamb and rarely have it at home thanks to my sheep loathing family, so it is always high on my list when dining out.
What an exquisite plate of food it was too. While writing this article and having described the dish to my colleagues this morning, I still find myself salivating.
It was the most delicious main course I have eaten for months.
The lamb breast was sticky and soft with a crisp crust. The rib tender and juicy. Beneath, a smear of carrot and cumin puree and smattering of ras el hanout beluga lentils gave earthy sweetness. Then there was the slender courgette with its crunchy flower concealing a sweet medley of lamb and pomegranate. And, oh the breaded ‘kebab’ filled with sharp homemade Jersey milk curd cheese flavoured with punchy notes of garlic and onion seed.
If you like lamb, you just have to book a table as soon as possible to try this plate of food before Alan whisks it off the menu.
And accompany it, as I did, with a glass of Grenache Montagne Noire from the Languedoc region –its soft tannins and essence of vanilla plums and sweet red berries being the ideal partner.
Mum’s grilled red mullet fillet was an equal match for my lamb. There were so many elements to the plate that it was impossible for us to anticipate how it would taste as a whole, but it really really worked. Alan is obviously channelling the flavours of the Mediterranean at the moment, with the fish accompanied by almond tarator, chick peas, heaps of garlicky soft aubergine, za’tar cucumber, beetroot sugar and apricots. The sweeter components of apricots and beetroot sugar worked especially well.
I always have room for pudding, even if I have to undo my belt to accommodate it, and it took a good while to deliberate over the sweet section of the menu.
The Boxford Farm strawberry bon bons with cocoa pine nuts, mango puree, raspberries, fresh strawberries and mint crystals was talking to me initially but, intrigued, I just had to go for the doughnut – for research purposes of course.
It wasn’t any old run-of-the-mill doughnut though, it was Alan’s take on breakfast and included elements of coffee, milk and….wait for it…bacon!
The coffee sugar dusted beignet of dough was stuffed with a gooey sweetly salty toffee sauce with just a hint of bacon to compliment the sweetness.
Beneath was the ‘milk’, a frothy jellied foam not dissimilar-tasting to the head of a cappuccino. And then there was a scrummy rasher of candied pancetta, whose smoky sweetness was a joy, and a ball of maple and chunky walnut ice cream for added texture. Wonderful.
Mum was rather taken by her colourful plate of blackcurrant curd with blueberry compote, pomegranate cream and divine nuggets of homemade aerated chocolate (much more superior than the well-known branded bar).
Although there wasn’t lots of chocolate on the plate, there was just enough for each mouthful – like eating a box of fruit creams.
Everything about the experience was just that – an experience. I can’t recommend dining at the Lakes more highly.
For service with a smile, views, atmosphere, wine and fabulous food, it ticks all the required boxes and I cannot wait to go back.
Contact: Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Keeper’s Lane, Stoke by Nayland, CO6 4PX. www.stokebynayland.com Call 01206 262836.