A decade or so ago you would have been hard pressed to find much in the way of dining innovation outside of The Big Smoke. But in recent years the West Country has been redefining your average meal out. With an abundance of award-winning restaurants and Michelin Stars throughout the region, it’s no surprise that eyes – and appetites – are turning to the South West and it’s new wave of culinary talent. One such establishment at the forefront of foodie innovation is Lewtrenchard Manor and when FOODLOVER was given the opportunity to try their Purple Carrot Dining Experience, we were curious to find out more…
When one thinks of Lewtrenchard Manor and it’s beautiful 17th Century facade, flat screen televisions and nouvelle cuisine may not immediately spring to mind. But ‘The Purple Carrot’ is an innovative chef’s table experience unique to the region. The Purple Carrot offers a private dining experience with a twist: guests are invited to take a seat in their own exclusive dining room and are treated to a bird’s eye view of the hotel’s state of the art kitchens during service. Everything is captured on camera and live-streamed to several flat screen televisions; while two special vantage points offer diners the opportunity to interact with Head Chef Tom Browning and his team.
Tom Browning took to the helm of Lewtrenchard’s kitchens back in August 2018, having worked at the hotel for five years and risen up through the ranks under previous Head Chef Matt Peryer. Like his predecessor, Tom works closely with the hotel’s kitchen gardens and regularly liaises with Head Gardener Martin Ashley to discuss what seasonal produce is available for his menus.
“I run an ingredient-led kitchen and I try to teach the team the importance of seasonality and locality whenever possible,” Tom explained during our visit, “Therefore, I source my ingredients from the hotel grounds and a wealth of local suppliers. Ultimately, this means that the produce shines through on the finished plate of food”.
For Tom, The Purple Carrot Dining Experience is a brilliant way of giving his guests an insight into the inner workings of the kitchen. “It gives diners an opportunity to see firsthand the level of care and concentration that goes into each of the dishes we present,” he told us, “It also gives us a chance to demonstrate our skills and dedication as chefs”.
An evening at The Purple Carrot starts with a glass of champagne and canapés in the bar, followed by a specially designed eight course menu, with the option of a matching flight of wines. Diners are invited to step through the kitchens before taking their seats in a room of televisions, that is strikingly modern in comparison to the rest of the manor house hotel.
When the camera’s on there’s nowhere for chef to hide, but it was clear from the relaxed on-screen atmosphere that the young kitchen team were in capable hands. Each of the eight dishes we tried on the night – from delicate pigeon to tender venison ragu – was perfectly executed. Likewise, chefs’ introduction to each course really added to the overall dining experience.
Tom assured us that whether or not the hotel has guests in the Purple Carrot, Lewtrenchard’s kitchen is always calm and collected. “I believe it’s important, that once service starts, all the team get their heads down and produce the best quality food that they can. It’s nice that customers get the chance to watch us at the height of concentration. Although, we do all have a laugh during the day as well.”
So far, the feedback from the Purple Carrot has been overwhelmingly positive and it would seem that this kind of unique culinary concept mirrors a larger trend in the region. Gone are the days when diners are content to spend their hard-earned cash on average food or unnecessary air miles. These days, providence, quality and theatre seem to be taking centerstage. The average foodie appetite pines for more than just a ‘nice’ plate of food. This is the age of the supper club and the chef’s table, and long may establishments like Lewtrenchard Manor lead the way.