When I think of the concept of hotel dining, my mind is cast back to days long gone when a hotel was more than just a place to spend a night; they were gilded temples of food, drink and relaxation for the financially well off. Hard to imagine in these days of Travelodge’s, I know. Through my day job I have stayed in my fair share of hotels, and one normally plumps for the hotel restaurant when there are no other dinner alternatives that evening. So you can imagine my surprise (and intrigue) when the Marriott Portsmouth got in contact to inform me of both a new chef and a new menu, whilst kindly extending the offer of a dinner in their Sealevel Lounge. I have in fact been to the Marriot before, not so much as a guest nor a diner, but for a work conference many moons ago. I recently missed out on gong to The News’s Women Of The Year event with my sister, however by all accounts my father made up for that. So a hotel on the outskirts of Portsmouth has their aims set on making a name out of itself through its cuisine? There was only one way to find out, and before you could say “Corby trouser press”, the taxi was booked.
Upon arrival we were met by their food and beverage manager Rony, who from start to finish made sure that we were well looked after. To mark the evening a special menu was put together for us; a range of starters, followed by a mains from the specials and a range of desserts. Our starters consisted of a mix of items that you can order separately on the menu; a twice baked cheese soufflé, homemade scotch egg with piccalilli and a cauliflower veloute. As opening salvoes go, this was pretty strong; the piccalilli and scotch egg combo kicking some serious butt in particular. For mains we decided to mix things up a little bit in order to exercise the chef’s talents, going for: the slow cooked venison haunch, the pan fried cod supreme, the Hampshire beef feather blade with seriously good horseradish mash and a ratatouille linguine respectively. My venison packed some great flavour punches and the cod with its frozen salted cucumber strips (neat trick by the way) kept my fish enthusiast of a sister more than happy. With just enough room left we embarked on the trio of desserts: an apple panna cotta with apple gremolata which blew the roof off, rice pudding (unfortunately persuading a Thompson to enjoy rice pudding is a bit of a challenge) and a deeply flavoured chocolate fondant.
All in all, this certainly was a pretty impressive meal and thanks to the great service we were made to feel special throughout. A particularly nice touch was being given the recipe for the seriously top drawer piccalilli at the end of the meal. Was there a downside to the meal? Not really, the prices are perhaps on the steeper end of the scale, but I think this is to be expected. And certainly not a problem if you are here on business and armed with Mr Amex. It was great being able to meet the new chef Martin to hear about various local suppliers and his plans for the Marriot’s kitchen. He has quite a challenge ahead of him, but if he bangs out consistent dishes as he did for us, they will be just fine. Big thanks to the Marriott Portsmouth for having us.
Edit: Whatever Rony is on, give him a raise.