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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Two-Michelin Starred Chef Michael Wignall Ends the #MeetTheMichelins Series at Selfridges

Words & Photography by Florentyna Leow and Luiz Hara

Chef Michael Wignall from the 2-Michelin starred restaurant The Latymer at the Penny Hill Park Hotel, took center stage in the final installment of the #MeetTheMichelins dinner series at Selfridges’ The Corner Restaurant. The #MeetTheMichelin series was designed to promote some of the UK’s finest British chefs operating outside of London. Chef Wignall describes his cooking as “complex and carefully crafted,” and this meal was no exception -  his multi-course extravaganza (priced at £95, with an additional £45 for the wine flight) certainly ended the #MeetTheMichelin series on a high note.

The hors d'oeuvres were delicious and displayed a strong sense of creativity and technical skill. These left us wondering and wanting more: a small tube of seaweed-like paste on a toothpick, innocuous but full of umami; and a crisp cigar-like wafer tube filled with a buttery cream that tasted of the ocean, with bitter, chocolaty cocoa nibs to bring it into focus.

Our meal opened with Cornish mackerel, the humble fish tricked out with all manner of fanciful accents - an oily, salty burst of Belgian Oscietra caviar, cool and crunchy compressed cucumber, sweet shredded crab meat, subtle edamame and wasabi cream, mysterious light green smoky bouncy spheres, little dots of intensely lemony confit. The flavours generally worked well together, particularly with the crisp, lemony K5 Argiñano Txakolina from the Basque region, and the presentation was stunning.

Tender salt-baked celeriac followed the fish. Garnishes of compressed and nitro’d apple strips had the texture of black fungus (often used in Chinese cooking), and the combination of chilled pea juice, peas and homemade ricotta and feta brought summer to life on a plate. This was good, accompanied by a crisp, fresh New Hall Bacchus Reserve.

Wignall’s poached loin of Loire valley rabbit is much feted at his restaurant, but I found it a little too soft for my liking, and the whole concoction of milky polenta, braised Scotch oats and soft meat cried out in my opinion for a crisp or crunchy contrasting texture. The mushrooms however were quite divine - fragrant and earthy, utterly delicious with a glass of berry-laden 2011 Barda Patagonian Pinot Noir (Bodegas Chacra).

Olive oil-poached hake - one of my favourites of the night - felt like a more substantial course, with an accompanying cassoulet of summer beans, charcoal and scallop emulsion. Atop the grilled scallop were strips of Iberico lard, which melted underneath the heat of the grill, infusing the scallop with an extra salty-creamy dimension. Davies served up a Cellers Anima Negra from Majorca, which complemented the smokiness of the charcoal emulsion beautifully.

The ‘piglet’ course was another favourite, with some great flavour combinations - for instance luscious sweet and sour sweetbreads, or a ‘hen of the woods’ in a spicy BBQ sauce evoking summer time outdoor grilling. The only fly in the amber in my opinion was the cep-scented pork fillet - which I found underwhelming and under seasoned. The Portuguese Pan Vinha however was delicious.

A ‘savoury’ is not a course you see often these days, but Wignall reinterpreted the traditional British cheese course with modern flourishes such as pickle spheres - think liquidised Branston pickle bubbles - and atomised vinegar, which accounted for the bracingly sour scent wafting around our plates. The cheeses were uniformly well chosen, and Davies threw us yet another curve ball by pairing them with the Atlantic Pale Ale from Brixton Brewery. This IPA-style drink worked well with cheese.

Drinks before dessert came in the form of Pimms, ‘Our Way’ - a layered concoction involving foamed cubes of fruit, shaved iced cucumber, strawberries and sweet cream. This was a clever take on the quintessential British summer cocktail, and one all of us thoroughly enjoyed.

Our desserts featured ‘Cherry’ and ‘Raspberry’ respectively. 'Cherry' saw vanilla dough (essentially a large holed doughnut) and a gorgeously dense and smooth rectangular tile of Tahitian vanilla custard, with a few syrup-poached cherries, as well as almonds and crumble-crunch for texture. That alone sent me into a mild swooning fit, but the divinely golden sweet and floral Helmut Lang Gelber Muskateller Eiswein elevated this course to heavenly heights. The choice of dessert wine here was faultless.

Unfortunately, ‘Raspberry’ felt a little lacking in comparison - I have lukewarm feelings at best about berries and chocolate in the same dish, and this did little to change my mind. The individual components of raspberry namelaka/jelly, micro cocoa sponge and aero chocolate were delicious, but I felt that together they were less than the sum of their parts. Luckily, the accompanying wine - Alta Alella Mataro Dolce, a sweet and rich but not too heavy Spanish vin doux naturelle - helped end the meal on a good note.

As with the previous dinners, we were well taken care of by the superb waiting staff at The Corner Restaurant, particularly the knowledgeable and lovely Mino, who attended us week after week. Service was, as usual, impeccable and unobtrusive. Selfridges’ sommelier Dawn Davies also worked her magic again, mixing and matching wines to each course with an inventive flair.

I was impressed that Chef Michael Wignall does not seem to belong to the breed of chefs who are more interested in PR than cooking; it certainly felt like he was giving his food the attention it deserved. This was a multi-course, carefully crafted extravaganza, and I really hope to have the opportunity to visit The Latymer before too long.

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