Restaurant review: The Vines, Carden Park

The perfectly delicious Carden Park baked Alaska

The perfectly delicious Carden Park baked Alaska - Credit:

Surprises by the plateful, from vegetable tarts to baked Alaskas.

Baked Alaska. A pudding forever present in the Joanne Goodwin book of culinary catastrophes. 

For, when I was a young married and dinner parties were the couples' way of showing off new homes, and new china and new recipes, I attempted it (on the very same evening as beef wellington was on the menu). 

Aah, the foolhardiness of youth and young love. Sponge, raspberries, ice cream, meringue were timed to perfection, and then disaster as the gloop of pink and white tumbled, in the blink of an eye, down in what seemed like slow motion to the kitchen's 1980s' carpet-tiled floor.

There was no alternative than to hope the calamity – and my early emulation of Gordon Ramsay's vocals – hadn't been heard over the drone of Fleetwood Mac on the dining room cassette deck, and then to scoop it all back into the dish, defuzz it, reshape it and present it, in a blaze of smugness to our innocent guests.

They graciously declared it delicious and I vowed to be a bit less Keith Floyd when it came to being the hostess with the mostest glasses of wine while cooking in the future. And so, in the intervening decades, I've never had the front, or enthusiasm, to eat Alasaka again and definitely not to bake it.

The post-pretentious- pudding-stress-disorder did not, however, (as they say so frequently on MasterChef), stop me from choosing it to round off a recent dinner at Carden Park's gourmet restaurant, The Vines, opened in May after a £250,000 refurbishment – a meal where the chefs and superb front-of-house crew really did deserve all the accolades I am about to pile on them as thickly as a swirl of Italian meringue.

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Let's start, then, at the end (although excellent coffee and petit fours came at the very end) and that surprisingly different baked Alaska, accompanied by lemon ice cream, sorrel sorbet, and flamed with limoncello. It was tangy, light, created with love and care, then dramatically set alight at the table (rather than dropped). A perfect finale to a meal, which, like Carden Park itself, was a thing of lovely surprises. 

Our main courses, from a menu brimming with temptations, were (my) soft and flaking poached fillet of turbot in a herb crust served with summer legumes and an elderflower fish sauce that complemented rather than overpowered. And, here came another surprise: (his) summer vegetable tart with Jersey potatoes courgette and basil.


Poached fillet of turbot with a soft herb crust served with style at Carden Park's The Vines - Credit:

When I tell you that roast dry-aged fillet of beef, breast of duck, chateaubriand and corn-fed chicken were among the contenders that lost out to that SVT, it seemed that Carden had completed the conversion of my carnivorous companion, who not so long ago wouldn't look at a legume, never mind consider anything that wasn't well-done and bovine. But who, at Carden Park, in the county of Cheshire, in the year 2021, declared the Vines' summer vegetable tart with Jersey potatoes courgette and basil one of the best things he had tasted. The morsel I was allowed did indeed confirm she was a very refined but scrumptious little madam all dressed up in her best summer gown. 

Earlier there were starters of goats cheese custard with beetroot flavours, raspberry nasturtium leaves and horseradish snow – an explosion of zing – and a luxuriously rich pan-roasted West Coast scallop in a lobster sauce balanced by little lobster tartlet served on the side. The Vines serves two courses for £55 and three for £65. The scallop and lobster carried a £4 supplement. 

And earlier still, there was a stroll around the recently installed sculpture as the sun went down, and cocktails on the verandah at the grand estate, country hotel, golf resort, spa, fine-dining establishment that is Carden Park, and which, like the baked Alaskas in my life, is forever changing, and always for the better.