Complex cuisine is presented with elegant simplicity by ambitious chef Adam Smith. Janet Harmer pays a visit
Having previously honed his skills as a chef and manager in two different establishments, Adam Smith today feels very much at home and proud to be heading up a wide range of food and beverage operations at Coworth Park, the Dorchester Collection’s country house hotel near Ascot, Berkshire.
He spent the first 10 years of his career at the Ritz London, which he describes as “my university of life”, having joined from Birmingham College as a second commis and worked his way up to executive sous chef under John Williams (“a massive influence”). It was while he was at the Ritz that Smith won the Roux Scholarship in 2012 and spent a stage with three-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno at the Dorchester Collection’s Paris hotel, Le Meurice.
With a solid culinary grounding behind him, he then decided to seek his first executive chef role at the four-red-AA-star, 40-bedroom Devonshire Arms hotel in Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, where he got to grips with the challenges of running a brigade in his own kitchen.
It was the attraction of working within a five-AA-star environment within a resort setting that drove Smith to move back south to the 70-bedroom Coworth Park in 2016. “Coworth is bigger than where I had been before, but small enough to enable me to use my skills in the kitchen every day,” he says.
Smith heads up a brigade of 45 chefs working across Restaurant Coworth Park, the more casual Barn, all-day dining in the drawing room and on the terrace, functions, and room service. A recent busy Saturday in May saw around 500 covers being served through the hotel, including 120 breakfasts.
When it comes to actively, Smith focuses his attention on Restaurant Coworth Park, where his dishes have evolved considerably since his arrival two years ago. “I think I was trying too hard by putting too much on the plate. I’m now focusing on using the best ingredients and allowing them to shine,” he says.
Take for instance, a starter that has become something of a signature dish – caviar tart, Cornish crab, yuzu and cucumber. “The base started as a hot water crust pastry, which I overthought by replacing the water with dashi,” he says. “But the texture was not right and I realised it would be better to go back to basics and use a simple shortcrust – it has the best texture, flavour and consistency.”
The tart is filled with a light gel made from fresh yuzu juice, brown crab meat and caviar. Smith uses caviar from King’s Fine Foods, which he says is well-rounded and not overpowering. The tart appears on both the à la carte menu, priced at £75 for three courses with a choice of five dishes at each course, and the seven-course tasting menu, at £95 per head with matching wines for £65.
A big seller across all the menus is any beef dish. In the restaurant, Smith is currently serving 60-day, salt-aged beef from R&J, near Ripon in North Yorkshire, with bone marrow, spinach and onions. “Everything about this is what I want in a beef dish,” he says. There is roasted beef fillet alongside short-rib, which is braised for 24 hours at 68°C and then pressed and portioned. The accompaniments include an onion stuffed with a ragoût of mushrooms; spinach purée with garlic, shallots and cream; beef tendon puffed up to a crisp in a hot oven; and a jus enhanced with roasted beef dripping.
A dish that is a hit among meat and non-meat lovers alike is the Coworth BLT – not the usual bacon, lettuce and tomato, but instead broad beans, lettuce and truffle. Marans eggs are wrapped in fermented baby gem lettuce leaves, while the heart of the lettuce is used to make a purée, which is served with a truffle mayonnaise, pickled girolles and sourdough croutons cooked in foaming butter.
Desserts are “very traditional, but simple to the eye”. His favourite is a caramelised puff pastry with salted caramel ice-cream and Dulcey, a caramelised blond chocolate from Valrhona. He confesses: “I really love this – it’s why I’m the shape I am.”
Smith references Zoe Jenkins, the hotel’s general manager as a major influence. “She is a very supportive character – I have never met anyone so passionate and hard-working. We both share the same aim of wanting to put Coworth on the map and believe we are going from strength to strength.”
From the menu
• Hand-dived scallops, pea, carrot, lemon verbena
• Sautéed duck liver, Yorkshire rhubarb, almond, ginger
• Green asparagus, goats’ curd, quail egg, rye
• Braised turbot, cauliflower, leeks, morels
• John Dory, butternut squash, vanilla, black garlic
• Roast turnip, truffle, apple, lovage
• Herb-crusted lamb, Yorkshire fettle, peas, mint
• Passion fruit and yuzu tart, meringue, coconut sorbet
• Hazelnut milk chocolate, malt ice-cream
• Gariguette strawberry, vanilla, yogurt, wild strawberry sorbet
From the à la carte menu, £75 for three courses
Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7SE