Hotel restaurants are the focus this week. Noella Pio Kivlehan reports on the recently opened Pimpernel's in Bath and travels south to Eastbourne to sample the delights of the De Vere Grand Hotel
THE guiding maxim for Pimpernel's, the newly launched restaurant at the Royal Crescent hotel in Bath, is "small is beautiful". With a seating capacity of 25 - half the size of the hotel's brasserie-style operation - executive chef Steven Blake says the idea was to keep the number of customers to a minimum, while allowing plenty of time to prepare the meals.
Embarking on the new venture, Blake opted for a completely different type of food, keeping at bay the culinary influences from his previous job as head chef at Le Talbooth in Dedham, Essex.
He chose an Asian influence mingled with English and French flavours to deliver a modernstyle of food.
With the help of sous chef Stephen Midgley, formerly of Harveys restaurant, Bristol, and the other two kitchen staff, Blake says he has perfected the technique of never masking the food with "strange" flavours. "We want to enhance the food, to let it speak for itself," he says. Blake offers a set-price menu, at £42 per head, with a choice of five starters, five main courses and five desserts. Starters include tiger prawns with Thai curry cream and - the most popular item so far - baked foie gras with mango chutney.
The main courses feature lobster with shellfish, flavoured with vanilla, and squab pigeon, lime sauce and ginger dressing. For dessert, fresh mango, papaya and mint sorbet features alongside assiette of pineapple and a "cheese extravaganza", including Stilton and grapes wrapped in filo, goats' cheese soufflé, smoked applewood quiche, marinated goats' cheese and Welsh rarebit, deep-fried and served on a rhubarb chutney. Guests are also presented with a complimentary weekly-changing pre-dessert, such as passion fruit soufflé with chocolate cream.
The combination of dishes on the menu was the result of months of research by Blake and his team. While some recipes took a short time to perfect, others took up to three weeks. The starter of salad of rabbit with Asian flavours is one of Blake's personal favourites.
A change in menu is normally prompted only by ingredients going out of season.
Pimpernel's does not offer lunch and Blake says he has no plans to begin a service. He believes the "quick fix and away" is not suitable for the "to-be-savoured" atmosphere of the restaurant.
Pimpernel's, Royal Crescent Hotel, 16 Royal Crescent, Bath. Tel: 01225 823333.
l See page 68 for more on the Royal Crescent.