Emlyn Restaurant, Burford Bridge Hotel, At the Foot of Box Hill, Dorking RH5 6BX - restaurant review

Peas and cheese or a Tim Burton set design? (Photo: Matthew Williams)

Peas and cheese or a Tim Burton set design? (Photo: Matthew Williams) - Credit: Archant

Having suffered at the hands of the winter floods of 2014, Dorking’s Emlyn Restaurant is back, with expectation and ambition soaring. Matthew Williams runs the rule over the jewel in the crown of the historic Burford Bridge hotel

Oceans of room between the tables makes you feel you've got the place to yourself

Oceans of room between the tables makes you feel you've got the place to yourself - Credit: Archant

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2015


Emlyn Restaurant,

Mercure Box Hill Burford Bridge Hotel, At the Foot of Box Hill, Dorking RH5 6BX

Tel: 01306 884561


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The low-down


Food: 10

Venue: 9

Service: 10

What we ate:

Six-course tasting menu with wine flight: £90 per person


REVIEW: Let’s not mince our words here: in-the-know foodies will soon be flocking to ‘the foot of Box Hill’ where they will find head chef Nick Sinclair and his team creating menus fit to rival any restaurant in Surrey.

Having returned in November to the hotel where he made his name, after four years of magic at Brooklands Hotel near Weybridge, Nick couldn’t be setting his sights higher: “I was very happy there, so this was a huge decision,” he says, when we speak at the end of the evening you’re about to read about. “We’ve put everything into this – Drake’s, Stovell’s etc are the level we’re targeting – and we definitely have the team to achieve it.”

But does the reality at the Emlyn Restaurant match this passionate chef’s grand ambitions and confidence? Well, here we hope to paint you a picture…

A new chapter

It should be said first of all that it has been a tumultuous time of late at this Dorking hotel. Pictures of guests being evacuated during the winter floods of 2014, with water lapping at the door, made headlines worldwide and, naturally, it took a little time for things to recover. Suffice to say though, all is firmly back on track at this historic and much-loved hostelry – which not only has roots going back to 1254 but can also lay claim to a number of famous literary connections – perhaps, most notably, John Keats wrote Endymion there in 1817.

On entering the hotel building, you discover an expansive lounge, perfect for pre-dinner drinks and catching up with friends, before being whisked through to the restaurant itself.

Here, you find oceans of space between the table settings and large windows offering views to the sun terrace and a tease of Box Hill beyond. A Jane Austen quote proclaiming the joys of the local beauty spot are stencilled proudly on the facing wall.

We’re led to one of the comfortable window alcoves and offered menus. Canapés are delivered with a flourish – the coconut velouté, ham hock croquette and chicken liver parfait cause anticipation to hit early heights as we wrestle with menu options. Not only are they beautifully presented but each tantalising mouthful makes you yearn for more.

We give in: the six-course tasting menu it is. Well, this is a place to treat yourselves, after all: Admiral Lord Nelson set the precedent in 1792 when he stayed here with his great love, Lady Emma Hamilton.

It was a less anticipated love affair that was to spike our interest next, however; Marmite butter, anyone? I always feel you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the effort they put into their bread and butter – and with three different home-made breads and three different butters, all equally delicious, the standards were again being laid out clearly.

Continuing our indulgence, we opted for the wine flight with our tasting menu (at a total of £90 per person this is obviously not cheap but it does put it on a level playing field with its competitors and you can always opt for the reasonably priced à la carte instead).

Flavour sensation

The unassumingly named ‘peas and cheese’ arrived in a whirlpool of a plate, looking like something from a Tim Burton film. Vibrant colours enticed and the taste of spring sang, backed by cavernous cheesy depths and delicate pasta.

We’d barely finished our starters and yet it was already very clear that this is a chef with the skill and determination to make his mark at the very top of the Surrey dining scene.

Next came the meaty stone bass, perfectly cooked and accompanied with a zing of Ponzu dressing, rich coconut and a tempura oyster that proved a lavish additional treat.

An explosion of mustard seeds with the quail that followed levered an almost popping-candy-like magic onto an already superb dish. Hearty stuff with the acid cut of pickled baby turnip and the unusual but welcome popcorn textures. Probably my favourite dish on the day.

A beautiful cut of sirloin was pushed to the flavour rafters by hay-smoking and laid gently on a broad stroke of horseradish; a dish of pure indulgence with a little slab of Jacob’s ladder proving another magic touch. A perfect combination matched with a suitably huge (flavour-wise, rather than measure) Rioja wine.

With so much to already commend, the sweeter dishes kicked off with a light-as-air chai tea panna cotta; a delectable cleanser.

Finally, things came to a head with probably the prettiest dish I’ve ever seen: a forest of fruit, basil sponge and mini- macarons balanced like a gold medal RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show entrant over clotted cream. A refreshing consommé swished into the bowl and elevated this ‘strawberries and cream’ to a whole unexpected level.

Star quality

Throughout the evening, service was efficient but friendly, each wine complemented rather than fought, the atmosphere and lighting were just right to make the large dining room feel intimate, and on top of it all, dish-to-dish, the food soared to the stars.

If the above doesn’t make things very obvious, the storm being cooked up at the Emlyn Restaurant is incredibly exciting. I took over Surrey Life’s restaurant reviewing nearly five years ago this month, and I can count on one hand the experiences I’ve had to rival what Nick and his team are doing. To conclude: it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest Box Hill is about to erupt…