Friday, 7 December 2012

The Wineglass, Etrop Grange

Etrop Grange
I'd been looking forward to eating at the Wineglass at Etrop Grange ever since I first saw it spring up on Twitter. When I saw photos of Ernst van Zyl's dishes, I could see he had his presentation nailed, but I wanted to know whether it would taste as good as it looked. As it turned out, the proof really was in the pudding.

Just so readers know, Ernst was more than aware that we were coming to the restaurant, as he had insisted upon creating a bespoke menu for me. As regular readers will know, Ernst loves a challenge (see our Q&A with him, & DineInOut for more information on that!) and enjoys teaching his kitchen brigade new skills and flavour combinations; a personalised menu creation is a perfect opportunity to do that. We were pleasantly surprised with a complimentary glass of Prosecco, but other than that we did pay for our meal in full (I say we, I mean Jamie, it was my birthday after all!). Before I get lost in the details of the dishes, let me mention that the service was brilliant, and we also had a beautiful selection of wines to match each course. I haven't gone into detail about them here, as the food really was the star, but they all complimented the food delightfully.

Beetroot 'Aero', watercress puree and beetroot crisps
I don't think I've ever been to a restaurant where I haven't read the menu at least once before dining, so this was to be an unique experience (oh, and because of the food itself, of course!). Seeing the menu placed in front of me as we were sat in the conservatory area was incredibly exciting. I had an inkling that a venison tartare might appear as it is something that I've wanted to try for a long time. Funnily enough, this turned out to be the dish on the menu I least enjoyed. So after an amuse bouche of a beetroot 'aero' (think beetroot with the texture of marshmallow) we settled down to enjoy the most interesting five courses of food we'd ever tried.

I apparently leapt back in time to my first year of university when I became vegetarian for a year as a moral experiment, and suddenly couldn't stomach the taste of the raw deer in my mouth. It was clearly good quality meat, but entirely wasted on myself. I began wishing I'd grown up in a Scandinavian country where eating this would almost be the norm. Funnily enough, my childhood didn't change, and I sat there, a girl from inner city Birmingham - with no accent, mind! - unable to appreciate the beginning of what would soon turn into my favourite ever meal (except Jamie's Hanger steak, & his version of Heston's fish & chips - ah the Brummie in me appears!). Jamie enjoyed his starter but was unsure of the inclusion of fir pine. I'm sorry Ernst, but I don't think Manchester's ready for this dish yet!

Venison tartare/ bitter chocolate/quince/douglas fir

I was excited to see that two of my favourite foodstuffs were to be included in the next course, but was completely clueless as to how they might turn out when combined. Celeriac and granola! When I took a bite of all of the components of the dish, which included to name but a few: cranberries, whey jelly, fresh cheese, and yoghurt, there was a total harmony in my mouth. The celeriac was perfectly cooked, so earthy and sweet, and worked beautifully with both the granola and fresh, bitter cranberries. Despite being the second course on an evening menu, I would love to eat this for breakfast every day, and if I were more sophisticated, perhaps I would go to some efforts to make that happen. Whilst every morsel of it was delicious, it did seem unusual eating it on a tasting menu. I mean no criticism in that, as whilst Ernst loves a challenge, I think he might enjoy challenging his diners even more. Fortunately that's a game I like to play.

Celeriac/granola/cranberries/fresh cheese
Another surprising combination next, but now I felt myself really slipping into the comforting, delicate touch of the meal. Sole, which Jamie spotted had been filleted then glued back together to create the perfect fillet - what attention to detail! - served with brussel sprouts, grapes and a spelt sauce. These were probably the best brussel sprouts I've ever tasted, though we later found out that they were simply boiled and buttered. I need to get my hands on Ernst's brussel sprout supplier in time for Christmas I think! Grapes, both in their fresh and dried form. I was expecting a modernist take on the classic sole Veronique when I read of their inclusion in the dish, but with the addition of chicken skin seasoning the fish, and the robust flavour of the spelt jus, it was a world away. Everything worked beautifully and I really began to allow myself to sink into the tasting menu.

Sole/grapes/brussels sprouts/spelt
Total, utter comfort was next - though beautifully executed as ever. Duck, served pink - sous vide, I imagine - with butternut squash, blackberries and feta. Not too wild I thought, and was somewhat glad of that. I think sometimes with a main it's important to dial down the crazy and allow the diner some time to pause before hitting them with dessert. Words are beginning to fail me for this one, because I don't know how I can ever get across how delightful it was to place all of these ingredients on my fork in one go. The blackberries were the most perfectly ripe fat little berries I've ever tasted, and the duck perfectly cooked. The feta broke through the sweetness of the rest of the dish and danced around the palette. Just go there, and ask Ernst to make this dish for you - seriously, you won't ever regret it.

Duck/feta/sweet potato/blackberries
And, though sad it is to say, all great meals must come to an end, and here was ours... the wittiest and most beautiful take on lemon meringue pie I have ever witnessed. Soft little peaks of meringue sat next to butternut squash curd, all on a bed of gingerbread puree. I remember watching Great British Menu one year and the judges announced that if they arrived at the gates of heaven and the dish they were judging were placed in front of them, they would be happy. At the time, I thought their comments ridiculous. At the time, I had never eaten this dessert. Now I understand what prompted them to utter such superfluous words. This was the perfect end to a beautiful meal.

Butternut squash/granny smith/gingerbread/meringue
I didn't like everything I ate at the Wineglass, and nor would I eat some of it again. Other dishes I could be fed for the rest of my life, and I'm not sure if I would ever get bored. If someone told me this was their regular tasting menu, I would be impressed, even knowing that this was served every night, but to know that this was an ad hoc creation, is remarkable. Ernst's skill level, attention to detail and sense of adventure is witnessed on every plate, and cooking of this level - I believe - deserves more than 2 AA Rosettes. Michelin, listen up! I've heard people talk about restaurants they love so much they don't want to tell anyone about them, for fear they'll lose sight of what was once great about them. I'm confident that Ernst won't fall prey to that game. Jamie treated me to this meal as my Birthday present, so here, dear readers, is my Christmas present to you: dine at Etrop Grange, let Ernst know, and experience your very own tasting menu: you won't be disappointed.

The Wineglass, Etrop Grange
Thorley Lane, Manchester Airport
M90 4EG
0161 499 0500

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