REVIEW: The Ultimate Veganuary Treat!
Pinkies at the ready! Muddy pops in to review the Vegan Full Afternoon Tea at Mallory Court Country House Hotel, near Leamington Spa.
Just because you’re vegan, vegetarian or participating in Veganuary doesn’t mean you have to miss out on that very quaintest of English traditions – the afternoon tea. Thankfully, chefs around the country have been dreaming up creative menus that cater to the nation’s growing appetite for animal product-free eating.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 20 and one of the best, I’ve discovered here in Warwickshire is at Mallory Court Country House Hotel, near Leamington Spa. Talented Head Chef Paul Evans talked me through his delicious plant-based high tea menu, with recipes inspired by his vegan wife, Kate!
An impressive 43-room Relais & Châteaux Lutyens style country house hotel awarded four Red Stars by the AA. It’s set down country lanes in 10 acres of landscaped gardens in the picturesque Warwickshire countryside, just outside the fashionable Regency town of Leamington Spa. Features include the 3AA Rosette restaurant, a 2AA Rosette art deco brasserie and award-winning Elan Spa.
As the rain lashed down outside, vegan full afternoon tea was served in The Manor House inside the cosy stylish lounge in front of an open fire which had a more relaxed period home living room feel. It looks out over the attractive lush gardens.
The biggest influences on Head Chef Paul’s cooking may have been the likes of Michelin-starred chefs James Sommerin and Simon Rogan but closer to home, he’s also greatly inspired by his wife Kate, mum to their young son and new-born baby daughter. Paul’s been especially impressed by her vegan creations in the kitchen. He too has switched his diet to include meat-free days and experimented to adapt some of her vegan recipes and sweet courses.
A former buying assistant for one of the UK’s largest trade suppliers of home accessories, Kate set up Honest Abode while on maternity leave to curate a selection of cruelty-free and vegan home accessories, gifts and more from their Cotswolds home.
Having dined at some of the best restaurants in the country through the course of his work, and in the name of ‘research’ Paul quickly noticed a stark difference between what was on offer for fish and meat eaters compared to vegans. Kate was frequently presented with far “less inspiring dishes” than him – and these were really good quality restaurants, some Michelin starred. Paul said: “I want to make sure vegan and vegetarians have the same good experience!”
Many of his dishes are influenced by the abundance of organic, seasonal produce growing in Mallory’s Kitchen Garden including a wide selection of veg and fruits such as elder-flower, gooseberries, rhubarb, apples, plums and fig trees. It has its own bee hives and is working with Warwickshire’s Garden Organic, Ryton, to grow heritage vegetable varieties. The hotel’s gardener and kitchen team work side by side. Paul is also a big fan of pickling, curing, fermenting and preserving. With home-grown ingredients and a team of fantastic local artisan suppliers, not only are food miles reduced but his kitchen follows the philosophy of traceable dining.
THE HEAD CHEF
Mallory’s Liverpool-born head chef Paul has worked with some of the top chefs in the country and has ambitions to reclaim the hotel’s Michelin star.
He joined Mallory in 2017 after stints at The Burlington Restaurant in The Devonshire Arms, Yorkshire, where he held his first chef position and was awarded three AA rosettes. He was also at Lords of the Manor Hotel, Upper Slaughter, Glos and worked at the Michelin-starred Crown at The Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, under James Sommerin for five-and-a-half years where he progressed from Demi Chef to Sous Chef. Welsh chef James has since gone on to open his own Michelin-starred restaurant in Penarth, near Cardiff.
Prior to that he worked with Simon Rogan at the two-Michelin-starred foodie heaven L’Enclume in Cartmel, in the Lake District; then moved to the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire (reviewed here by Rachel, editor at Muddy Berkshire). Paul said:“When I worked with Simon, he had a small team. He was a great chef and a fantastic boss. We’d listen to music in the kitchen and after work he’d get curries for everyone. At the time he was very molecular making wacky dishes such as consommé-like jelly and hot seafood foam! He’s since opened a farm and has gone back to a farm and fork philosophy managing a team of 60. As chefs you keep moving and evolving.”
Dad-of-two Paul grew up in Huyton, Liverpool. It was by pure chance he first decided to opt for a GCSE in Food Preparation and Nutrition – to impress a girl he liked who also took the class. He said: “She was a bit stuck up, but I loved cooking!” He remembers his late mum giving him £10 to buy ingredients, making recipes and sharing his finished with his class. Paul said: “It was when Jamie Oliver was on TV in The Naked Chef – he inspired me to cook. I liked cooking for friends and family and making them happy with the dishes I made.” After completing his training, chef Paul Askew of the BBC’s Great British Menu – who set up The Art School Restaurant, Liverpool – gave the young chef his first big break in fine dining.
SCOFF & QUAFF: THE AFTERNOON TEA
Paul’s imaginative and beautifully served plant-based offering includes finger sandwiches filled with fake “tuna” (blitzed chickpeas, vegan salad cream from Tesco, sweetcorn and malt vinegar), Avocado and tomato and vegan cheese with home-produced garden chutney.
Handmade desserts include beautifully presented Lemon drizzle cake, Single origin chocolate brownies, carrot and walnut cake which Paul’s personal favourite – derived from one of Kate’s home recipes and decorated with sunflower and pumpkin-seeds on top.
Then there are these delightful, colourful yogurt and mixed berry Eton mess pots made with Alpro Soya Yogurt Alternative, blueberries and raspberries.
Freshly baked scones made with Flora – now vegan – are served with clotted coconut cream and home-preserved jam.
You can opt for traditional tea in china tea cups or a speciality fresh ground coffees. Be aware when booking that Paul and his kitchen team do need 24 hours advance notice. Cakes and fancies may change in tune with the seasons.
Excitingly, Paul is also incorporating more vegan dishes onto the A La Carte menu and there’s a Vegan Tasting Menu.
OUT & ABOUT: OTHER VEGAN AFTERNOON TEAS IN WARKS & BEYOND
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recommends vegan afternoon teas at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rooftop Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon; Laura Ashley tea rooms in Coventry and Solihull; and The Vegan Cakery, Leicester. In Birmingham, top vegan high tea options include Malmaison, Harvey Nichols and The Edgbaston Hotel.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Vegans obviously – and romantics! So much thought, care and attention has gone into the creative culinary process behind this. It’s especially good if you’re looking for an extravagant plant-based winter treat or arranging a special celebration for someone who’s vegan. Valentine’s Day is approaching fast (no pressure)! If you’re feeling in need a lift, why not combine with a little post-Crimbo pampering at the hotel’s gorgeous Elan spa.
Not for: Anyone on a new year health kick, the afternoon tea an indulgent masterclass and utterly delicious. Your taste buds may have a party, your waistline not so much. Get in a few lengths of the pool in the spa, or a brisk walk around the grounds and you’ll soon be calorie neutral.
£££: Very good value for what you get. Vegan Full Afternoon Tea, Traditional Afternoon Tea, with four choices of finger sandwiches and Savoury Afternoon Tea, all £27.50.