We find out why Alderley Edge Hotel just won 'Restaurant of the Year'
THE first thing that strikes you when you walk into the restaurant at The Alderley Edge Hotel is how everyone in here seems to feel perfectly at home. Partly it's down to the welcome from the staff, and partly it's in the ambiance of the dining room itself, which feels fresh and relaxed thanks to the daylight flooding through the ceiling and views of the surrounding garden.
Chicken kiev is not a dish that screams 'try me' when you see it on the menu. But when it arrives and it makes you completely reconsider how good a kiev can be, you'll be glad you did.
Considering this is a luxury hotel in a village known for its high ratio of millionaires, it could easily have gone the other way. While some upmarket establishments seem to go out of their way to intimidate, this one prefers to ditch the pretension and focus instead on making you feel happy to be there. It's an approach borne out in the food as well as the ambiance.
Chef Sean Sutton has created a new menu which shows how even the most familiar dishes can impress when they're done well. With two AA-rosettes and a recent award win (Restaurant of the Year 2018 at The Cheshire Life Awards), it was no surprise to find that this is a kitchen operating at the top of its game.
The tomato soup is a good example of how a very simple dish can have more impact than one that tries too hard to impress. The roasted vine tomatoes are in their end-of-summer prime: slightly sweet, very flavoursome. Even if you never order soup, order this one. It's divine.
Tomatoes take centre-stage in the mackerel and tomato salad too. Heritage tomatoes picked from the garden sit alongside smoked cherry tomatoes, with a pan-fried Scottish mackerel fillet on top. It's a wonderful combination of flavours, and a very pretty dish. Sutton recently demoed it at the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park.
For a punchier starter, opt for the black pudding with poached egg. The runny yolk mixes with a mustardy emulsion and soaks into the muffin, while the textured, slightly salty black pudding creates cravings of its own.
The most elegant (and possibly the favourite) of our starters was the hand-dived seared scallops with sweet and sour pork cheek and romanesco cauliflower. The delicate, tender scallop contrasted with the robustness of the pork, and both were cooked to perfection, keeping the flavours intact.
Like the tomato soup, chicken kiev is not a dish that screams 'try me' when you see it on the menu. But when it arrives and makes you completely reconsider how good a kiev can be, you'll be glad you did. Sprinkled with golden bread crumbs, filled with a gorgeous garlicky cream, and served on a bed of soft mash and buttery greens, it's a highlight.
The beef is a more invigorating dish: pink roast beef is served with full-strength gravy and sweet pickled onion to create a trio of bold tastes. It's another familiar dish elevated by Sutton's inspired approach. It's currently on the Lunch Menu which is a steal at just £24.95 for two courses or £29.95 for three courses.
The rump of Cumbrian lamb with Jersey Royals and smoked cherry tomatoes will delight traditionalists as well as those looking for a new take on a classic. The meat was succulent and not fatty, the gravy gave a satisfying umami hit, and the tender asparagus and baby carrots were well chosen accompaniments.
Our final main was the sea bream with pak choi and a lobster and cray fish sauce. It felt wonderfully fresh – from the crunchy mange-tout, to the flaking fish, to the tangy sauce.
If there's children with you, they have to try the Eton Mess with popping candy, which you can hear popping before you even dig in. The spoonfuls of clotted cream, crunchy meringue, and raspberry sorbet will delight big kids as well as little ones.
The mango sorbet is a more restrained affair with its simple but sublime combination of fresh mint, mango parfait and grilled mango. Chef Sutton said this dish used to be much more complex until they stripped it down to its basic elements, and created a much more approachable (and we'd say enjoyable) dessert from it.
The apple gallette with its homemade apple and vanilla pastry, blackcurrant sorbet, and preserved blackberries and cassis was the perfect seasonal dessert, and a lovely, lighter alternative to a classic apple and blackberry pie.
Finally, the cheese board, which is stocked by local cheesemongers Grantham's. Shropshire Blue, Rachel's Goats Cheese, Delice de Bourgogne, and Keens Cheddar made up the selection on our visit, with quince jelly and fruit chutney on the side.
When you're trying so many dishes at one place, you expect there to be one or two that fall slightly short, or just don't work as well as the rest. Not here. Even though this was a paid-for visit rather than a review, that fact doesn't magically give the chef the ability to cook much better than he does the rest of the time. We found that this food was fully-deserving of its award win. We predict there'll be more.