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Michael Hepworth had a very special lunch at the Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park

Pennyhill Park Hotel and Country Club in Bagshot, Surrey, has recently been upgraded by the AA to five star hotel status. This puts enormous pressure on their fine dining restaurant to live up to such lofty ideals, not to mention high prices. But it's good news for our Dine-Online readers looking to splurge out or celebrate a special occasion: you will not be disappointed but will almost certainly remember your visit for sometime as something special.

The head chef, Karl Edmunds, pictured right has been at the hotel for nine years and although the demands of both conferences and banqueting are very intense, the Latymer remains his special baby. Edmunds has a very talented sous-chef in Ian Hodgkins who has his own brigade of five more chefs dedicated to the task of maintaining the highest possible standards in the Latymer.

It's clear that Edmunds and his team are serious contenders for a Michelin Star, but for the moment he is content with 3 AA Rosettes and a similar accolade from the RAC. This is a pretty good achievement considering that the kitchen burned down last year and they had to operate from temporary facilities for almost eleven months. Now Edmunds presides over a state-of-the-art kitchen costing £1.5m.

The dining room itself seats only 36, but it is absolutely delightful in true Country House style with tapestries, linenfold pannelling and impressive looking silver table decorations depicting various quarries. We had a very noble looking silver stag adorning our spacious table. There's plenty of atmosphere even at lunchtime, and in the evening the oil lamps lend a more sophisticated charm.

We ate a lunch chosen entirely from the a la carte menu which is available both at midday and in the evening. We got off to a good start with an amuse caviar on melba bread which is served to everyone in the bar before going into the dining room. Then, at the table, came a selection of freshly baked breads. My guest made a special note of the cheese bread which he described "out of this world".

He was just as effusive about his starter, a Sautée of Foie Gras with Soured Apple Brioche and Morel Jus, using the word "terrific" a lot, reserving particular praise for the rich texture of the jus. My selection of Warm Pigeon and Celeriac Tart was just as outstanding, a marvellously creative combination with an incredibly intense sauce made from a walnut oil infusion.

We were refreshed by an orange and white wine granita which is served to every diner between courses. It's the little touches like this, which when so well done, make such a lot of difference and help the guests to feel that bit special.

We could hardly wait for the main courses which, at the risk of sounding repetitive and predictable, were also brilliant. My selection was a Fillet of Beef on a gateau of spinach with wild mushrooms topped with, yes you guessed it, Foie Gras. This is a classic combination of top quality ingredients and flavours that work so well together. My friend chose the Panache of Seafood with Saffron Linguini in a tomato and herb broth. The presentation was dramatically enhanced by the presence of a large langoustine clambering, so it seemed, over the edge of the bowl. The meat had been removed from its shell and it tasted really lobster- y. Included in this attractive looking dish was Red Mullet in a piquant sauce, crab and several other small pieces of fish complemented by the delicious saffron flavoured broth to make an exceptional taste experience. Other main courses included Pan fried John Dory, Saddle of Rabbit, Baked Halibut and Scallops and Ravioli of Goats Cheese.

By now we were really on the look out for anything that we could find to criticise, as, sad to say, it's so much easier to be witty and droll about a restaurant's shortcomings than their achievements. But this was not to be! With such good bread served earlier, it came as no surprise to find that the pastry department is as talented as any I've come across. I enjoyed Chocolate Disks layered with Raspberries in a light chocolate mousse, and my guest's warm Apricot tart with nectarine and peach encased in caramel was very pretty both to the eye as well as to the palate.

For the wines, we were recommended to try the Cape Mentelle Western Australian white with the starters, and a racy 1997 red Beaujolais Cru from Brouilly to go with the main course - both choices turned out to be perfectly matched to the food. The sommelier's wine book is a work of art in itself, illustrated with tasting notes and labels.

Another word of credit must be reserved for the helpful restaurant manager Gyula Folmer who really knows his stuff. This lunch was a real treat, every part of the meal was sheer delight, so we hope you will go along and enjoy yourselves just as much. We found the Latymer restaurant to be capable of the very highest culinary achievement so we felt the high prices were justified in terms of value for money.

The cost of your meal:
A la carte starters £16.00 to £20.00 - mains: £24.50 to £30.00 - desserts £10.00
Menu Gourmand: seven courses including coffee and petits fours £65.00

3 course lunch menu £26.00 - 3 course dinner menu £35.00

The Latymer Restaurant, Pennyhill Park, London Road, Bagshot, Surrey
Reservations: Tel-01276-471774 Fax-01276-473217
Nearest Train Station - Sunningdale. Dress - Smart

Pennyhill Park is a member of Grand Heritage Hotels
International reservations: +44(0) 171 244 6699 Fax 244 7799

Dine Online has reviewed some other Grand Heritage Hotels:

The Milestone, London

Sir Christopher Wren's House, Windsor

Taplow House, Maidenhead

Tillmouth Park, Northumberland

Hotel St Nicolas Bay, Aghios Nicolaos, Crete

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