Last month, two lucky Rewards members were selected to join AA inspector Alistair Sandall for lunch, at the prestigious Seven Park Place by William Drabble.
Alistair gave members Ben and Jane an engaging insight into the life of an inspector, providing a critique of each dish and explaining what food critics look for when assessing a hotel or restaurant.
Here’s what Alistair, Ben and Jane had to say about their experience.
Our diners were presented with an amuse-bouche of tiger prawn with basil and tomato before receiving their starter – a choice of either warm pea and asparagus mousse with lemon butter sauce and spring vegetables, or seared foie gras with black pudding and apple purée.
‘One of the key things we look for on the menu is seasonality,' Alistair commented. ‘This is very much in evidence here in the first dish especially. Asparagus has just come into season and is beautifully complemented by the spring vegetables.'
A choice of either confit salmon with a tart tatin of endive, red wine and tarragon, or slow-cooked belly of pork with black pudding mash and caramelised shallots, was offered.
‘The addition of the crisp, caramelised shallots to the belly of pork, or of the tart tatin to the salmon, provides a nice textural contrast with the rest of the dish,' Alistair observed, ‘otherwise you are at risk of palate fatigue setting in and the meal becomes uninteresting.'
Dessert was a choice between dark chocolate cheesecake with banana ice cream, or a vacherin of gariguette strawberries with strawberry sorbet. Ben, Jane and Alistair all chose the cheesecake, which arrived beautifully presented with a touch of gold leaf.
‘Although we assess for Rosettes purely on the quality of the food itself – not surrounding aspects such as the service or the diner experience – at three-Rosette level and above we do take into account how well the food is presented on the plate,' Alistair explained. ‘Seven Park Place is awarded three Rosettes, and you can certainly see the care that has gone into constructing this dish.
‘Generally we inspectors try to sample one course that includes pastry, if it’s on the menu. Pastry is notoriously difficult to get right so it’s important for us to test it if possible.'
After dessert, the guests were offered tea or coffee and petits fours, and executive chef William Drabble emerged from the kitchen for a quick meet-and-greet.
AA inspector Alistair Sandall with members Jane and Ben, and executive chef William Drabble
The meal over, we asked Ben and Jane what they had thought of the experience.
‘What a fabulous meal, beautifully cooked and presented,' Ben enthused. ‘And it was fascinating to learn what an inspector looks for when assessing food in hotels and restaurants. It’s been a truly enjoyable afternoon.'
Jane agreed: ‘Delightful company and delicious food – all very convivial! It really was very interesting to have the ‘secret life’ of an AA inspector revealed.'
Whetted your appetite? Look our for more chances to dine with AA inspectors in future months.
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