The Staycation Express made its way from Waterloo to Egham. A mere 5 minute taxi ride from the station and an aperitif was already well underway in the Great Fosters Hotel’s beautifully landscaped gardens, the only reminders of London being the Heathrow flightpath and the distant roar of the M25. Once safely ensconced in The Tudor Room, however, the motorway could not be heard – only the quiet contentment of customers within a lovely ambience of mullioned windows, soothing piano music, spacious tables and chairs with decent lumbar support. Already a small space with maximum capacity for just 20 covers, it has been reduced further to 10, respecting social distancing and perhaps even enhancing the restaurant’s attention to detail.
Certainly from the dishes presented that day it’s clear that chef patron Tony Parkin cares about the details, though the laconic wording of his menu leaves you guessing: each course is just a noun, with no adjectives, so you’re none the wiser as to what “lamb” will entail. But I say sit back and enjoy the thrill ride.
Formerly at the legendary Kommendaten in Copenhagen, Parkin has been installed at the Great Fosters’ fine dining restaurant since 2019 and maintained its coveted Michelin star. On this visit he tended to stay inside the kitchen whilst each course was presented by a younger member of the brigade. I’ve said before that I don’t usually approve of chefs multi-tasking as waiters when each role has a specific skill set, but the young chap here handled this very well.
First, obligatory canapés with Champagne, followed by brioche in the shape of a Gordian knot. Well why not? The brioche was still warm from the oven and came with a piece of slate to chop salt on (salt that later could have come in handy). Butter came in the shape of an upside down cone.
Having gulped down the Champagne, this was replaced by a perfectly chilled and serviceable Chablis as the same young chef presented hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with celeriac, dates and Iberico ham. This was a pleasant foamy number, scooped up within seconds. A touch of pepper and that chopped salt might have helped but otherwise it was an accomplished dish.
To follow, a generous hand-dived Orkney scallop with a delicious lobster bisque that had a little gingered leek for occasional piquancy.
Moving onto the red meat, a friendly sommelier suggested we try a particular Australian Merlot. I gave him a dubious look, maybe unintentionally channelling Miles in Sideways, but he reassured me that this wasn’t your typically jammy Australian Merlot but more akin to a right bank Bordeaux on account of the specific terroir. Well, I gave it a go, and gave the thumbs up as I tasted it with the Cumbrian lamb – again, beautifully cooked and presented, with broccoli in original and puree form, some pine nuts and what the menu described as “barbecue belly.” It was a knock out dish.
For dessert, the same young chef (poor guy) served the enigmatic “Cherry” with woodruff and estate honey. He explained that woodruff is a locally foraged plant. Anything involving local foraging, especially so close to the M25, would normally make me worry. You can dress it up as autoroute vingt-cinq all you like but you can’t ignore the image of shopping trolleys and other abandoned detritus amongst the hedgerows. But it was a true showstopper of a dessert: encased in a shell with ginger cake, local honey tuile and cherry sorbet with gold leaf for decoration, it was unusual, interesting and surprising – quite possibly one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Another customer was so impressed he felt compelled to tell the young chef. It’s always so great to see customers actually complimenting staff rather than being rude.
But there’s more! The same friendly sommelier presented an unexpected glass of dessert wine saying “I anticipated your concern so I got you this.” I admired the gumption and the assumption. I also admired the fact it was on the house. In these straitened times there’s no obligation to give out freebies to customers, nor is there any obligation to pass on the hospitality VAT relief, but they did that here.
Friendliness was definitely a theme throughout. So was a slight lack of seasoning in the savoury dishes. But if that’s my only criticism, then for cooking at this level with excellent service, the value is astounding. I’d say get yourself on the Staycation Express to Egham and book one of the five tables whilst you can.
The Great Fosters Hotel
by J A Smith