15 Oct 2012

Spitfires Under Branches

REVEALED at the end of a mile-long, beech-lined avenue said to have shielded spitfires wartime, is seventeenth-century Palladian mansion, Lucknam Park. Although equipped with equestrian facilities, sumptuous spa and fascinating woods, the main attraction for the culinary-curious is the Michelin-starred ‘Park’ restaurant. Here since 2004, Head Chef, Hywel Jones previously worked with Marco Pierre White and headed Notting Hill’s ‘Pharmacy’ (backed by Damien Hirst), while Loire-born sommelier, Damien Trinckquel rose through leading establishments in Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Taken in the panelled library in the gaze of an oil painting with bedroom eyes, an aperitif of citrusy Hampshire sparkler, Coates & Seely (£12/flute) brings texture to a bright snack of compressed watermelon. In the Park, where the floor is still sprung from ballroom days, Jones’ tasting menu delivers five courses for £90 with wine pairings at £55 from bottles conserved under Verre de Vin.
“We've eaten at two Michelin-starred restaurants in London which couldn't lace the boots of that meal," exclaims a neighbouring diner as I sit. The first morsel, onion and focaccia, quirkily potted in terracotta, then fresh cucumber and gherkin velouté, proves him right. 
First course proper is honeyed foie gras parfait with wet almonds partnered with angular Château St. Michelle/Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling ‘10 Columbia Valley (£11/125ml). It represents Trinckquel’s mission to offer "a classic grape grown in an international setting". Planeta’s La Cometa Fiano ’10, Sicily (£11/125ml) follows, a bold choice with a complex dish of John Dory, pak choi, summer truffle and crayfish pincer meat, bound by a salty-sweet reduction. Initially over-ripe, and “not the usual seafood wine” according to Trinckquel, its’ aftertaste is nonetheless finally favourable. 
Quinta do Crasto’s Reserva ‘09, Douro (£11/125ml) is an easier match, precise and harmonious with Brecon venison loin to the extent that it even echoes the meat’s colour. Perhaps it is a lost opportunity that the meat does not come from the deer jostling the hotel’s grounds? Trinckquel likes the coconut flavours imparted from Crasto’s American oak. Glass of red in hand, I reflect how infrequently sommeliers offer much red wine alongside tasting menus.
With four well-raised cheeses, including particularly delicious, creamy unpasteurised Tunworth and Colston Bassett dairy Stilton, Trinckquel offers agile middle-ground - Duque de Bragança Quinta do Ferreira, 20 years-old Tawny, Douro (£12/50ml), albeit un-chilled, meaning its alcohol is a little too tangible. Finally, lemongrass and calamansi iced slice with Finca Antigua’s Moscatel ‘10 from La Mancha (£12/125ml) succeeds in providing a light end to a meal fit for the fine surroundings...
For Harper's Wine & Spirit Magazine