Lunch with...

The County Hotel, Chelmsford

GENERAL manager Graham McGregor joined the County Hotel 14 months ago and has transformed the rather stuffy, dowdy duckling into an altogether more contemporary, sleek and stylish new bird. With a budget of �750,000 he's completely refurbished the public rooms including the restaurant, he's added a new patio area for al fresco dining and introduced some spectacular premier guest bedrooms including a brand new deluxe suite due to open this month. Everywhere you look it's attention to detail with a capital A. The County Hotel is now delighted to be affiliated with Classic British Hotels, as Graham explains. 'It guarantees a superb standard of service in all areas, we need to compete with the corporate hotels yet retain our appealing charm of an independently-owned hotel,' says Graham.The hotel's owner is Michael Austin, acclaimed film director and script writer, who leaves Graham to work on the innovations which have led to a massive increase in trade in the past 12 months. One of which is the environmentally friendliness of the hotel. A year ago, 15 wheeled bins of rubbish were collected each week, now this is down to just three, as 60% of their waste is recycled. It's the same story for the lighting; thanks to an eco friendly survey by the company which also surveyed Buckingham Palace, The County Hotel now uses 70% less energy in its conference rooms alone. All the conference rooms have video conferencing facilities, the only hotel in the area to offer this service. The restaurant is a pleasant mix of contemporary meets mellow with a light and airy conservatory which opens out onto the new patio. The menu, compiled by head chef Stephen Cansell, changes five times a year and uses 60% locally-sourced produce. The wine list has also got the carbon-footprint-friendly vibe - taking off many of the New World wines in favour of European and English varieties travelling less air miles. There's a strong emphasis on homemade from the fresh breads right through the menu including the dainty pastries and desserts. For our luncheon Stephen prepared, wild mushroom and baby leek terrine with a red and yellow pepper coulis. The pungent aromas soared from the plate and the colours and textures were so tempting and faultlessly complemented by the flavours as they combined. Pan-roasted mahi-mahi (fished from the Indian ocean) on top of a tomato risotto followed. The fish was packed full of flavour with a nice meaty bite to it. Risotto can often be overtly creamy, but this was cooked in the lightest of stocks with a fresh tomato piquancy - the two worked together in perfect accord. Dessert was a bombe parfait with an amaretto mousseline, but the ice cream-style desert didn't get much of a chance to melt before we devoured its terrific coffee-creaminess. An infectious enthusiasm is helping to give The County's customers a great experience. The County HotelRainsford RoadChelmsfordCM1 2PZ01245 455700

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