THE FALCON HOTEL, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON
By Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography.
There are so many good things to say about the food and drink at The Falcon Hotel in Stratford Upon Avon. Firstly, The Falcon is steeped in history. The beautiful black and white half-timbered Tudor building dates back to the 15th century. It’s believed that William Shakespeare himself would have frequented the Inn as it’s located just a few minutes walk from his birthplace, and New Place where he spent his latter years. It’s also just a few minutes walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre so the perfect place to dine before or after seeing a play.
The Tudor building is a Grade 1 listed building and has all the atmosphere and ambiance of a period hotel combined with the modern and stylish reception and bedroom areas. There are imminent plans afoot now that The Falcon has been taken over by St James’s Hotel Group, for a major refurbishment to some parts – including a newly designed kitchen.
We chatted to head chef, Phil Bailey, prior to dining at Will’s Place Restaurant in The Falcon Hotel. Phil has been at The Falcon for around a year, and was previously head chef at Billesley Manor and at Alveston Manor. Phil said: “All our meats, fish, fruits and vegetables are as locally sourced as can be. Sustainability is also very important – and all cooked with a modern twist. Menus are changed seasonally and half the fun is creating new dishes. There is a lot of work because of allergies, although much of our food is gluten free anyway. Good food takes time and we reduce our stock right down, so you don’t need to thicken it. That’s where you get the depth of flavour.”
Talking to me about how he started out as a chef, Phil said that he was born in Derby and grew up in Coventry. As a youngster he spent a lot of time with his gran, often making pastry and cakes. With other family members in the fishmonger and market trades he grew up surrounded by food. He added. “At 15 I worked at Stonebridge Hotel as a pan basher – doing the washing up.”
However, he hadn’t at that stage decided to be a chef. At Stratford College he studied Art and Design – something that has clearly stood him in good stead, if the beautiful presentation of his food is anything to go by. He moved to London in his early twenties and began his career in food being classically French trained – and trained as a pastry chef.
Talking about the way he likes to cook, he said: “I’m all for showing people how to cook, making it simple so they can do it at home. For example you find that people don’t understand fish. They don’t know what they can do with a product. I want to make it less intimidating.”
At The Falcon, Phil has a great team around him. “I have a close network of chefs and guys who have worked for me in the past. My sous chef, Brad French is 21 and has worked for me since he was 16. We are like a little family and we get great support from the company. It’s all about good food, etiquette and good service. I have a great team – which makes me confident when I’m not here. A chef is only as good as his day off!”
I could hardly wait to eat!
The atmosphere and ambiance of Will’s Place Restaurant was relaxed and comfortable, with oak panelling, a big open fireplace and candlelit tables it couldn’t have been better. The service and staff were excellent – friendly and helpful, knowing what they were serving and recommending the perfect wines to go with each course.
My good friend and photographer, Rob and I were served with an unexpected little amuse bouche to begin with of smoked salmon on a tiny Scotch pancake, which was perfect. For starters we had roasted white onion soup with crumbled Stilton, and salad of goat’s cheese with beetroot flavours and honeycomb.
The soup was mild and creamy so that the tang of Stilton gave it a bit of a kick. Lovely with a choice of wholemeal and seeded rolls. And while the soup was presented beautifully and was lovely and hot, the salad of goat’s cheese was a picture! Presented beautiful and tasting divine. The different textures of beetroot along with the goats cheese was a perfect combination but the added pieces of honeycomb took it to a whole new – and unexpected level, creating quite a taste sensation.
As Phil had mentioned earlier, you should be able to put a little of everything on the plate, onto a spoon and together it should make you go “Wow!” I have to say… “Wow!”
The main courses gave you a choice of plaice, duck, risotto, steak, bream or pork. We had crisp skinned black bream, pomme parmentiere, parsnip puree, wilted kale and chicken juices. This again was a clever combination of flavours and textures, with perfectly cooked fish and a crispy skin that was delicious – and I never eat fish skin. I see now what I’ve been missing when it’s cooked right!
Our other choice for the main course was slow cooked belly of pork, confit cheek of pork, black pudding, pickled apples, pomme fondant and natural jus. Every element of the dish was cooked to perfection. The black pudding was a little cube with a crispy coating; the little pickled apples came as an unusual surprise, and there was also a slender strip of pork crackling.
Then came heaven on a plate. Flavours of raspberry and marshmallow which sounds very simple, but in fact was a heavenly raspberry mousse, little pieces of raspberry jelly, raspberry sauce, dots of chocolate sauce and chewy marshmallow. Each element absolutely delicious, combining to create the most heavenly pudding I’ve eaten in a long time.
So all in all, a fabulous meal, cooked and served to perfection.
Head chef, Phil Bailey loves to create delicious food that looks spectacular and he’s keen to show people how to cook by uncomplicated methods so that they can cook great food at home.
To book for his Simply Stunning demonstrations and dining experiences the cost is £29.50 per person. They take place on: Thursday 3rd December 2015; Thursday 3rd March 2016 and Thursday 2nd June 2016.
CONTACT THE FALCON HOTEL
The Falcon Hotel,
Tel 01789 279953.