"I call my cooking modern European," says Mark Wilkinson, chef-proprietor of the cosy, 20-seat Marc3 restaurant in the tiny market town of Coggeshall, Essex.
Marc3 (so named because its the third restaurant Wilkinson has set up) serves 15-20 covers a day during the week and around 45 at the weekend. For its first Christmas, the five-month-old restaurant has geared up with four different menus, running on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
"I have tried to give people a change from turkey over Christmas," says Wilkinson, who is steering clear of mince pies and Christmas pudding during the December run-up to Christmas. However, he concedes that these items do creep on to his four festive holiday menus.
Both Christmas Day and Boxing Day lunches are fully booked at Marc3, which front of house manager Christine Cunningham, formerly of the Chester Grosvenor, has decked out entirely in white and silver.
Roast goose in rich pan juices, and free-range turkey with classic accompaniments such as bread and Cumberland sauces, stuffing, roasted chestnuts and home-made boudins, are two of the more traditional main-course choices on the five-course Christmas Day luncheon menu, priced at £60 per head.
Relief from traditional fare comes in the shape of an alternative main dish of turbot with a cèpe butter sauce, with a starter of foie gras and second course of grilled fillet of salmon in mussel ragoût.
This is followed by a dessert course of either Christmas pudding with traditional accompaniments or an iced terrine nougatine and passion fruit coulis. Guests can also expect a variety of hand-made petits fours with their coffee.
The other three festive season menus follow similar lines. For instance, the four-course Boxing Day menu, at £25 a head, includes a main choice alternative of market fish with saffron bouillon - the fish may include red mullet, turbot, scallops or sea bass, depending on market availability.
During normal trading weeks, Wilkinson operates a seasonally changing set-price evening menu with discernible French and European roots - a result of a one-month stage in Toulouse, France, working at Le Jardin de l'Opéra; and a three-month gastronomic tour which included a visit to Joâl Robuchon's restaurant, Jamin, in Paris.
Marc3's menu, which changes every six to eight weeks, offers two- and three-course meals, for £20 and £25 respectively, and has six starters, five main courses, six desserts, coffee and sweetmeats, and a selection of 17 cheeses. In addition, a six-course "delicately portioned" £30 Menu Surprise changes daily. Diners might expect to see such offerings as Wilkinson's signature dessert, mascarpone parfait, made from white and dark chocolate with praline mousse and coffee parfait. n
Marc3, 3A Church Street, Coggeshall, Essex CO6 1TU. Tel: 01376 563330