Charlie Bond visits Alexander House’s AG restaurant for an evening of AA class dining…
When your Friday night involves dinner plans at Alexander House’s AG restaurant, you know it’s going to be a pretty special evening. Situated in the heart of the luxury in Turner’s Hill hotel, the sophisticated three AA rosette restaurant has had something of an image update, and, coupled with the launch of their winter menus, I’m here to sample their latest delights – and what an abundance of delights there are.
Upon arrival, my guest and I are led through to the 1608 Champagne bar, and taking up residence in front of the fire, we’re presented with two glasses of Jacquart Mosaique rosé, (£14.50) and greeted by restaurant manager Michael, who hands us menus to peruse, and the wine list on an iPad (how very 2016). He explains that tonight, we’ll be dining from the AG winter tasting menu – which consists of seven courses paired with seven wines, and I’m both pleased and concerned that I have been ‘saving myself’ for the meal tonight – while I’m certainly hungry enough to eat seven courses, I’m not sure how my head will feel after seven wines…but I’m certainly willing to give it a go.
While we marvel at our options for the evening, we’re brought a selection of canapés, which include anchovy straws, nuts, vegetable crisps and olives. The bar, which is in the oldest part of the building exudes style and is filled with guests toasting the weekend while enjoying the warmth of the open fire.
Shortly, we’re taken through to the newly refurbished AG restaurant to begin our culinary journey. The chic grey colour palette studded with teal, impressive glass feature panel and soft furnishings make this intimate space both homely and sophisticated, and diners of all ages occupy the tables, enjoying the restaurant’s ambience.
To begin, our waiter pours a glass of Jacquart a Reims Blanc de Blanc, which is delicious – dry and zesty, and to accompany, the chef’s amuse bouche – a rhubarb puree with fennel foam and toasted pearl barley. This is a wonderful blend of textures and flavours – the rhubarb is sharp next to the powerful aniseed flavour of the foam, and the pearl barley gives a delicious crunch to the otherwise smooth and light texture.
We’ve also been presented with a basket of soda bread with butters – a sea salt and seaweed butter and a truffle and mushroom butter. Both are equally flavoursome although I find the former appeals to my palette more – it almost tastes like sea air.
The light amuse bouche is followed by something altogether more indulgent – a starter of Foie Gras topped with chocolate zest, with blood orange and toasted brioche, paired with a Sauternes – a sweet wine with honeyed aromas. The sweetness of the brioche and chocolate is offset by the sharpness of the orange, and the flavours and textures complement each other perfectly. A sweet starter is a new, and unexpected treat and one that I’d certainly choose again.
The room begins to fill with a wonderfully smoky scent, and I realise it’s because, on the table next to us a cloche has been lifted. Within minutes, to my delight we’re experiencing the same joy, and beneath the cloche is a smoked scallop, set atop pickled kohlrabi with pastrami. Our waiter then brings individual jugs of beef tea to pour over, and to accompany a Comte Provence rosé which is lusciously fruity and light. Once again, the flavours complement each other impeccably – the smoky scallop and pastrami paired with the saltiness of the beef tea make for a taste sensation – I’m disappointed when my plate is empty.
A palette cleanser follows – a foam of green tea, lime and cucumber which leaves us suitably refreshed and ready for the next course – line caught cod with leek, leek ash and truffle. The cod is light and moist, but the addition of the leek ash brings a dry, charcoal flavour, and to accompany is an Australian chardonnay which has citrus notes and a crisp acidity and is the ideal pairing for the fish.
The following dish is presented so beautifully that I’m almost reluctant to eat it – an explosion of colour appears before us – venison loin with red cabbage, salsify and a Moroccan spiced pastilla parcel, adorned with blackberries and vibrant red and purple embellishments.
The Dolcetto Lagrein Australian red with notes of blackberry pairs perfectly with this dish and enhances the wonderful richness of the meat, although I almost forget to drink it as I’m so enamoured with my food.
At this stage, we’re nearing fullness, but there’s still the small matter of dessert.
“Would you like a small break?” our waiter asks, eyeing our empty plates. While this is probably a sensible suggestion, we have now been eating for almost two hours, and the fear is that once we stop, we won’t be able to start again. So, we politely decline and await the first of our dessert options – a dark chocolate mousse, served with chilli and mango, and a cooling lime sorbet. Although the chocolate is rich, it benefits from a bitterness which ensures it isn’t too overpowering, and the tropical flavours from the mango and lime are refreshing.
The wine, which is a Chateau Laulerie, Cotes De Montreval Semillon, is light in colour and is more characteristically similar to a sauvignon than that of a typical dessert wine – although it is sweet, it’s clean-tasting and refreshing, and complements the cocoa and fruit flavours without overpowering.
Not quite ready to admit defeat, we move on to our final dish of the evening – autumn squash cheesecake with mandarin, accompanied by a thyme ice cream. The Austrian Eiswein Hopler dessert wine, is decadent, sweet and is the ideal accompaniment for the creaminess of the dessert.
Plates cleared, Michael comes to the table to offer us more drinks, but, now eight glasses down and unsteady in heels at the best of times, I opt for coffee and we retire to the lounge to enjoy from the comfort of a sofa as we let the evening digest. Well, after we’ve indulged in the petit fours, because surely a few more bites can’t do any harm?
With such a variety of dishes and so many delightful flavours, it’s hard to choose a favourite, but after much deliberation, my guest and I conclude that the venison ever so slightly eclipses the others – if only for the infusion of wonderful colours. Although, I would happily feast on any of the other six courses again, and again, and again…
From start to finish, the evening has been resplendent, partly due to the dishes and partly due to the friendly and attentive staff who never allowed us more than two sips of water before replenishing our glasses. As we bid our farewells and head in to the night, I already know that tomorrow’s dinner with its single course won’t be nearly as astounding…
Charlie Bond had AG’s winter tasting menu with wines, which costs £125 per person.
Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa Turners Hill , East Grinstead
West Sussex, RH10 4QD
01342 714 914