There's an exciting new culinary partnership in town, or I should say in the UK, as Marriott Hotels and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage come together on a mission to revolutionise the food we eat in UK hotels.
Beginning with Hollins Hall and Cardiff Marriott, seasonal, sustainable menus are being launched, featuring organic meat and vegetables supplied from local farmers, created in collaboration with River Cottage. The plan is to roll this out wider, covering more of Marriott Hotels and becoming sustainability leaders within the hotel industry.
The chefs at both hotels have undergone training at the River Cottage Chefs' School and the new menus embrace the 'SLOW' philosophy – Seasonal, Local, Organic and Wild. At Hollins Hall, the menu changes frequently, sometimes daily depending upon what produce has been sourced, with at least 80% coming from within a 60 mile radius. All meat used in the restaurant is organic, the chicken is free range and Marriott have a Future Fish programme that aims to select and serve fish and shellfish from sustainable sources. Waste management policies in effect mean reducing food wasted to no more than 5%.
I had the opportunity to try out the new menu at Heathcliff's Restaurant, which is in the Hollins Hall Marriott (a country club hotel in West Yorkshire), and I was very impressed. The restaurant was comfortable and homely, not at all pretentious, and there was a large chalkboard displaying the special dishes of the day. The menu was not huge which I was pleased to see - I prefer fewer dishes nicely prepared - but there was plenty of choice with 6 starters, 6 mains, 5 side dishes and 5 desserts (+ the specials). There was also an amazing cheeseboard which I will come to later. I thought the prices were very reasonable, with starters from £4.95, mains from £12.00 and desserts from £5.95. The side dishes were all priced at £3.00 each and best shared as the portions were fairly large.
The waiting staff were superb, and so proud of what they are trying to achieve at the restaurant. I think our waiter was a little disappointed that more customers didn't ask questions about the food, such as where it came from, how it had been reared/caught and the cooking methods. I guess some people aren't bothered which is a shame.
Anyway, onto our food! One of the more appealing aspects of the menu was the vegetarian choices: out of the six main dishes two were vegetarian and three of the starters were too. We decided to choose dishes that we hadn't had before, and I can honestly say that most of the dishes were different to your usual (hotel) restaurant fare. So with that in mind, we started with the Beetroot Hummus and Butternut Squash, Goats' Cheese & Mint Arancini. Luckily my husband is a sharer and I always get to try his food (but what a shame he's a non-meat eater though, I got to have my main all for myself!).
I tried making arancini once and they went down like a lead bowling ball. These ones were smaller and crispier, with stronger cheese and more of it, the butternut squash adding a little sweetness to them.
My husband really enjoyed this as he is a major beetroot fan and doesn't get it often enough at home. With a slightly smokey flavour, the beetroot hummus was smooth and was accompanied with plenty of grilled flat breads.
Our main dishes were Steamed Fillet of Whiting and Slow Cooked Swillington Lamb with Celeriac & Chilli Mash, both recommended by our waiter. The fish supplier for Heathcliff's is M&J Seafood, Warrington and the lamb came from Swillington Organic Farm.
A beautiful piece of fish, served on top of a leek, mussel and thyme chowder. I liked that you could see the vegetables and mussels in the chowder, it was a marvellous winter warmer of a dish.
The lamb had been slow cooked for 8 hours, pulled apart and then made into a sort of cylindrical shape. I thought it was a different way to present pulled lamb - it was a mega amount of meat though! It was extremely tender and sat on top of the celeriac and chilli mash, accompanied with a fabulous gravy. I wouldn't have known the chilli was there, but you know me, I do LOVE my chillies!
and Steamed Kale side dishes
On to the dessert. The portions of the starters and mains were LARGE! I wasn't sure I could fit any dessert in, but in the spirit of menu reviews, I decided to force down a Rich Chocolate Cake. My husband chose the Yorkshire Cheeseboard.
Oh my, what a sweet treat! Served with a cider brandy cream to cut through the sweetness of the chocolate and a ginger snap for crunch.
The cheese was supplied by Michael Lee Cheese Ltd, West Yorkshire and it was flipping fabulous! The cheeses on the board were Barncliffe Brie, Smoked English Richmond, Yorkshire Tasty, Shepherd's Purse and Swaledale. Not really a complaint because we couldn't fit them in, but more crackers would be needed for the amount of cheese that was on that board if you were sharing, although I'm sure they would have topped up the crackers if asked.
cut from the hedgerow that morning
Other dishes on the menu that night included Confit of Duck Leg, Organic Pantry Marinated Vegetables served with Grilled Flat Bread & Merguez Spiced Yogurt, Chilli & Chive Gnocchi, Slow Cooked Swillington Farm Beef with Anchovy & Rosemary Potatoes & Red Wine Sauce. The desserts included Almond & Orange Pudding with Red Wine Pear & Vanilla Ice Cream, and a Chocolate & Hazelnut Fritters with Raspberry Sorbet & Soured Cream.
If you live in the area, or are passing though, definitely give Heathcliff's a visit, I'd go back for the interesting flavours and different dishes which change daily to adapt for what is available locally. I really enjoyed the experience and hope to see it rolled out across more Marriott Hotels in the UK soon!
Disclosure: I dined as a guest of Marriott Hotels and was asked to write a review of my experiences at Heathcliff's Restaurant. All views written here are my own, honest opinions.
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