OUR MEDITERRANEAN PRODIGAL
Five years ago Gianrico left the Manor to return to his homeland, Apulia in Italy. Now he has come back, wife, child, and ‘bump on the way’ in tow, and a whole bag of experience to pass onto the team. He’s brought us wines from his hometown; Nero di Troia, Minutolo and Faraone make a happy trio. Last week I caught him sneaking into the office with a large bowl of burrata. I followed him in (led by my tummy), and found him emphatically explaining that he bought it back from Italy. It’s as fresh as fresh can be. He’s crushed Madera salt and trickled authentic Italian olive oil over the top. ‘You don’t need bread with this,’ he explains, ‘pick up a spoon, taste it, what do you think?’
Today we’re chatting about the differences in English and Italian hospitality.
‘There’s a different culture around hospitality in Italy. It’s about the art of serving, making the guest, happy, even if you’re serving them a dish that they could easily be eating at home.’
‘Naturally, Italian and English cuisine differ. Mediterranean cuisine is 99% based on traditional food and recipes that have been around for a long time. Often you go out to eat the same thing that you cook at home, but what’s important is that the food is served in a friendly way that usually isn’t too formal (depending on the level of the place that you’re talking about. The key to good Italian hospitality, as far as food is concerned, is its freshness. Any Italian can recognise whether the food is fresh. Most Italians can recognise whether the food is good quality and even if the produce has been frozen or not. Fresh vegetables, meat, fruit, and fish are the key to success.’
‘Meanwhile, at Hampton Manor, the style of cuisine is key. It is ‘fine dining’ which naturally means a high standard and quality of food, but also a longer process in cooking and preparation. For that reason it’s very difficult to emulate ‘fine dining’ at home. For the chefs it’s also very difficult to improvise on the night, whilst it’s very easy for chefs to improvise in an Italian context as most of the dishes are quickly made with fresh produce and only a few, for example, the lasagna, which is very well known.’
‘However, the Hampton Manor guest is similar to the Italian diner in that they’re looking for a unique experience. When I brief my team, I always say that we need to give customers a level of service that makes the difference between us and a normal chain/ low level restaurant. When guests come to Hampton Manor they come to enjoy the experience, not simply for a good feeding. They come to enjoy the food, yes, but also to exploit the knowledge of the team. I always tell the guys that we need the guests to enjoy the feeding: it’s like going on holiday, you want to go back home with something other than just a full tummy!’
ROOTS TO RESTAURANT
Cauliflower cheese, rose veal, blood orange: such stuff as dreams are made on! Rob’s new seven course tasting menu offers a refined tasting experience. Here MD James talks us through what’s on the menu.
‘As our business is maturing there’s an increasing sense of rigour in everything we do here. This tasting menu has been through a level of testing, of sitting down and eating it, that we’ve never had the opportunity to give to it before. It’s not just about what each individual dish is communicating to the customer, but about the relationships between the dishes: the richness, acidity, sweetness.
‘How do we ensure that the menu flows appropriately? That’s where our focus has been this time. Now that we’ve finalised the menu there’s room for opinion, and it’s really interesting to hear from guests how they experience it. We’ve made decisions with real care, the menu is not just something that’s been thrown together. Instead, we’ve made an increasing effort to ensure that dishes have a sense of place; that they strongly evoke a Victorian English country house with a walled garden. Our aim is to showcase this kind of walled garden produce with real flare, whilst also allowing people to enjoy real indulgences. This is embodied in our ‘cauliflower cheese,’ where cauliflower sits beside really good black truffle. It’s been a case of tasting, tasting, tasting – not just the dishes – but the whole menu (which has a whole new consequence for our waistlines!)
‘Rob and I are proud of how the four and seven courses have come together as a concept. The four course is more familiar for our customers. It allows them to try slightly larger dishes that they’re able to savour. The seven course has a degree of experience that goes above and beyond. Guests are trying a different range of flavours and textures. That’s exciting!
‘Our tasting menus always start with a dish that’s seasonal; that represents the very typical produce that you see coming from a traditional British walled garden: beetroot, asparagus and tomato really mark the seasons. Frequently on the seven course we’ll also showcase game or a bird that’s a little more unusual and not as familiar for home cooking.
I ask James what his favourite dish on the new seven course tasting menu is. He cracks a wide smile and looks at me as though I’ve asked him to choose between his children…
‘That’s a really difficult question. I honestly hugely believe in this menu. Every dish shows a real love of skill and excitement. This menu does include my all-time favourite dessert, the likes of which I’ve never eaten anywhere else in the world: Rob’s blood orange and white chocolate.’