Friday, 4 March 2011

Arrival of ex-French Laundry and Fat Duck chef marks new era for The Castle at Taunton

The departure of Richard Guest as head chef at The Castle hotel in Taunton may have caused owner Kit Chapman a temporary headache at the time but the good news is that he has found a very gifted replacement.
Young Irishman Jamie Raftery, the son of a respected poet, has injected new vigour into this historic venue. The Castle has produced some notable chefs over the years, including Gary Rhodes, but after lunch there today I think we will be hearing a lot more about the newest recruit, who worked for a year at the French Laundry and also at The Fat Duck.
Raftery's arrival has coincided with some major changes at the hotel. From early April, the hotel's famous dining room will only be open for events and 'high days and holidays'. The Chapman family - which, of course, includes Michelin-starred chef Dominic Chapman who now cooks at The Royal Oak at Paley Street - has decided to move the Castle's food offering to the more informal Brazz brasserie next door.
Brazz at The Castle will essentially offer the same high level of service and food but in a more relaxed, contemporary setting.
I tasted a number of dishes destined for the new menu and they were excellent. Raftery is clearly a gifted and passionate chef who has learnt well at his previous restaurants.
His food is produce-driven and delivers big flavours, as was evident in a faultless starter of chicken liver parfait with medlar jelly and brioche and a delicate and beautifully composed goat's cheese mousse, beetroot, apple, celery and walnut.
For me, the star dish was a robust and rich main course of venison faggots with lentils, red cabbage and parsnips, although it was a close call between that and an inspired dessert of apple mousse, cider apples and sorbet.
Talking to Kit Chapman and his new chef, I got the sense that the move away from formal dining in the Castle itself marks the end of one era but the dawn of an exciting new one and I think Brazz at The Castle will be a huge success when it launches officially next month.

1 comment:

  1. Blast from the past - I had my 18th birthday here, when Phil Vickery was head chef I believe!