Cheshire Life Ladies Lunch - Nunsmere Hall, Oakmere
Our latest Ladies Lunch was a meat-free affair at Nunsmere Hall in Oakmere, as Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Nunsmere Hall Hotel, Tarporley Road, Oakmere, Northwich, CW8 2ES. 01606 889100, www.primahotels.co.uk/nunsmere
It was a tough brief. Craig Malone not only had a room full of ladies to please but several of the iron-willed among them were clinging resolutely to diets started at New Year.
But Craig, who has been head chef at the hotel’s award-winning Crystal Restaurant for three years, came well armed with a delicious vegetarian menu.
He said: ‘I thought it would be nice to do a completely vegetarian lunch. We’d tried it before and it had worked really well. It’s also a bit lighter and more delicate for a ladies lunch where the diners don’t tend to want a lot of meat.
‘It makes you become more inventive. Normally a chef will steer away from things that don’t involve a big chunk of meat, but it’s been fun creating the menu.’
Birmingham-born Craig has spent much of his life fascinated with creating fine food. As a child he spent hours watching the head chef at the restaurant where his mum Doreen worked as a waitress.
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It has been Craig’s dream to take the helm in the kitchens at Nunsmere, a former Cheshire Life Food and Wine Awards winner, and inspired by his childhood experiences, he now nurtures young talent in his own kitchen, where young chefs Lee Joynson and Jacob Foster are learning the trade.
No doubt Nunsmere Hall’s original owners, the shipping magnate Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, who designed Cunard’s Atlantic liner the Queen Mary, and wife, Lady Grace, would have been impressed with the culinary prowess shown by Craig and his team.
Once the venue for glittering parties attended by the great and the good of Edwardian England, it provided the perfect setting for the Cheshire Life Ladies Luncheon.
Fantinel Prosecco, supplied by Matthew Clark, was served with vegetarian canap�s and set the pace well, giving guests a teaser of the vegetarian delights to come.
In the Crystal Restaurant the all vegetarian menu continued to impress. We began with a tender wild mushroom macaroni gratin paired with Jerusalem artichoke, Cheshire cheese and a delicious truffle salad which got nods of approval from around the table.
The main course followed with sweet chunks of beetroot which perfectly complemented tasty parsnip wedges and a flavour-packed fondant of winter vegetables. This was accompanied by a warm, light-textured slice of savoury carrot cake served on a bed of lentils which was received well.
After a brief pause, to enjoy tasting of lavender and Cheshire honey sorbet, Craig unveiled his final flourish to his all female band of critics. Dessert - although it may have tested the diners’ New Year’s resolutions - was a celebration of chocolate. A rich, smooth dark chocolate mousse, a long slab of light chocolate sponge, two ways of cherry which oozed out of a sweet, brittle brandy snap and a tower of chilled sour cream was greeted with contented murmurs.
Craig’s imaginative menu was well-partnered with a choice of a powerful fruity Merlot Valle Central with hints of green peppercorn from Alto Bajo or a delicate 2009 South African white from Maas Vallei. Sweet petit fours provided the perfect finale to a pleasant lunch. And for Craig it was challenge taken on and overcome with style.
To startWild mushroom macaroni gratin with Jerusalem artichoke, Cheshire cheese and truffle salad
To continueFondant of winter vegetables, warm carrot cake and spiced butternut squash Lavender and Cheshire honey sorbet
To finishDark chocolate mousse, chocolate sponge, two ways of cherry and sour cream