REVIEW: Zebra Riding Club restaurant, Cheshunt
- Credit: Steve Wood
Part of the new Birch hotel in Cheshunt, The Zebra Riding Club, run by one of the UK's hottest chefs, is a restaurant 'led by nature', much of which is from the former aristocratic estate. With chefs on show and a changing, inventive menu, this is experience dining writes Richard Cawthorne.
Valerie Meux was a Victorian society figure of a theatrical (some say dubious) background. She married the heir to a brewery and moved to the family seat, Theobalds Park, Cheshunt, in 1885. There she was recorded as ‘embracing frivolity’, using her wealth to create a trendy bolthole for the bright young things of the day.
Which brings us to The Zebra Riding Club. Among her eccentricities, Lady Meux (pronounced mews) was said to have had a fondness for zebras, using them to pull her carriage and at times rumoured to gallop round her Hertfordshire estate on them. In its latest manifestation, part of the Meux’ mansion has become a hotel and club called Birch, and the lady of the manor’s legacy has been preserved in the name of the restaurant.
With that background, you wouldn’t expect this to be an ordinary eating place and it isn’t, taking its cue from Birch, which offers guests various diversions such as classes in a Wellness Space, woodland feasts and barbecues, and what it calls Wild Yoga on the lawn. The website says The Zebra Riding Club, housed in a large converted former riding stables, is ‘a restaurant led by nature – using the growing farm, woods, and produce surrounding it throughout the year’. And it’s in experienced hands - heading the kitchen team is Robin Gill, well known for his London restaurant Darby’s and The Dairy in Clapham, where he worked with Ben Rand, now also at The Zebra.
Robin’s CV also includes training under Marco Pierre White and at Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons, but his approach at The Zebra focuses on set menus. There are four - Meat, Pescatorian, Vegetarian and Vegan - each of four courses and costing from £45-£48 a person plus drinks. Several dishes are common to all the menus, apart from the main course (here called The Feast), which varies according to the option chosen, and all speak of an inventive approach, best summarised in one of the starters, honeymoon melon tartlet with feta cheese and marigold. Other starters on our visit and providing interesting reading as well as eating included smoked taramasalata with leek ash, served with pink fir potatoes from the Birch farm; Gilchesters porridge sourdough with old bread miso and smoked cultured cream, and house cured meat and pickles. Taramasalata with a side of potatoes? See what I mean? And it worked.
Soup course (just called Corn on the menu) was grilled English sweetcorn with peas, garlic, miso (again) and dill, bathed in an earthy and satisfying XO sauce. This led to the main course, meat in my case and monkfish on the other side of the table. The meat was Swaledale beef Denver, a modern cut introduced about 10 years ago according to the official history to produce a steak from the chuck roll, typically used previously for roasts and stews. It was well marbled, flavourful and substantial, giving the lie to this being just a tasting menu. The monkfish, a much simpler offering, also went down well, assisted by the accompaniments common to both dishes, which were a cassoulet of borlotti beans and two kinds of tomato, Datterini and smoked San Marzano. Dessert was English strawberries and ice cream, which sounds ordinary but also included lemon jelly for an extra kick of refreshment. It was followed by an unexpected free treat, two exotic French pastries called canelé loaded with a rum, vanilla and custard mixture to provide a satisfying ending to the meal.
For guests with larger appetites, the menus also feature optional add-on courses including native lobster with flatbread, summer tomato salad, soft herbs and lobster mayo for a £14.50 supplement and white Cornish lemon sole for two with lemon noisette potatoes at £26 extra. A cheese course is £14.50 with unfamiliar choices such as Darrus, Beenleigh blue and Brightwell ash, served with rye crackers and Birch honey, to tempt your tastebuds further.
This ‘restaurant led by nature’ with its own large vegetable and herb gardens on view as you approach is an experience as well as an outing. Service by Andrea was friendly and efficient and we enjoyed watching the chefs in constant motion in the open kitchen sharing one side wall of the stables with a well stocked cocktail bar. Like its name, The Zebra Riding Club is definitely something different.
Dinner for two cost £121.50 including two glasses of wine and a 12.5 per cent automatic service charge. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
The Zebra Riding Club
Lieutenant Ellis Way
Cheshunt EN7 5HW