Restaurant Review: Tewinbury Farm Hotel, Welwyn
Lunch with Mennel Welch at Tewin Bury Farm Hotel
Tewinbury Farm HotelHertford RoadTewin, Welwyn, AL6 0JB01438 841 490
THE Williams family has farmed the 490-acre Tewin Bury estate since 1932, although buying a neighbouring farm in 1980 offered the opportunity to diversify into hospitality and create today's successful family business.
I'm meeting with head chef, Mennel Welch, for the first time as we chat over a drink on the restaurant terrace under the shade of the giant umbrellas. We are surrounded by traditional barns set around the estate, which have been tastefully converted to host the busy conference and events schedule. Stevenage born and bred Mennel has full-on energy and enthusiasm. Having only taken up his position in December he has already had a lot of input in laying the groundwork for the refurbishment and expansion plans.
As he shows me through into the restaurant, his potted work history goes some way to explain his comprehensive skills. 'I'd always taken an interest in catering, helping out at a local hotel washing pots and pans,' says Mennel. 'My mum and whole family are all keen on cooking - family meals were a big part of growing up.'
His first proper job was as a comis chef at Hitchin Priory, where he stayed for three years, combining it with a day release course at North Herts College. He found it a very exciting time as it was so busy, but classical techniques became the bedrock of his training. My tasty salad of spring asparagus with poached quail eggs, truffle hollandaise and mesculin leaf amply demonstrates his technique as he explains: 'I wanted to gain experience, so I took a job at the Oxford Hotel in Oxford, where a refurbishment was underway, costing more than �7 million. It was the ideal experience and I learnt a lot.'
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He returned to Hertfordshire for three years, working his way up through the ranks at St Michael's Manor in St Albans before the bright lights of the capital tempted him to take up a sous chef position at Harrods, where, before long, he was promoted to cook in the store's premier restaurant, The Georgian. A short move across London to Goldman Sachs in the City then followed, giving him an insight to up-market canteen catering.
As he rattles through his experiences it is clear he relishes a challenge. 'From all this experience I have narrowed down what I really like,' Mennel explains. 'I do enjoy restaurant work, with all the pressures. I even like the variable hours.' It seems Tewin Bury Farm Hotel offers the ideal scope, running the restaurant, as well as providing input on the conferencing and events side too.
Four main course I've chosen steamed fillet of lemon sole resting on a nest of baby fennel and white asparagus in a light saffron nage. It is a beautifully cooked piece of fish, with the light flavours of the accompaniments completing the dish. Mennel's varied experience has also offered him an encyclopaedic knowledge of ingredients and styles.
Cherry-picking some of the best ideas he has created the simplicity of a modern European menu featuring seasonal, local ingredients. As he explains: 'Two of the most popular dishes on the menu at the moment are the rump of new-season lamb and the line-caught trout, from Tewin Bury Farm's very own fish farm. Fish doesn't come any fresher.'
As we finish our lunch we both enjoy Mennel's summer berry pudding with a tuille biscuit, finished with a rich clotted cream. It is very indulgent and couldn't be more English. The refurbishment of the restaurant is nearing completion with the solid oak tables and chairs having been specially made in Belgium. An enormous amount of thought has gone into the design and choice of tableware and crockery, ably assisted by the owner's wife, Debbie Williams.
Following the changes Mennel is far from complacent with an update of the kitchen and an extension to the restaurant in the pipeline. As he says: 'It has been a very big project to organise, but I have really enjoyed giving my own input. We are aiming for awards in our longer-term plans. I am confident we can achieve one AA Rosette but it would be great to get two.'