Restaurant review - Allium by Mark Ellis, Tattenhall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 September 2017
Mark Ellis was one of the stars of BBC's Great British Menu, and the head chef at Peckforton Castle for nine years. All that experience goes into his new restaurant with rooms, Allium in Tattenhall, writes Louise Allen-Taylor
There are still, bizarrely, some fine restaurants where you leave just a little bit hungry; restaurants where you know to make the most of the bread. Mark Ellis’s Allium at Tattenhall isn’t one of them.
Even before we get to the table, we are treated to the heartiest of nibbles: cauliflower fritters, a mildly curried mayonnaise dip, deeply flavourful parmesan crisp and hunks of pork crackling which are the very paragon of piggy perfection.
We juggle these treats while sampling a couple of items from Allium’s ‘Around the World in 30-ish Gins’ menu. My Wrecking Coast Clotted Cream Gin (£6.50) comes not just with 1724 Tonic but also raspberries and strawberries - a liquefied, boozier version of afternoon tea, weirdly wonderful.
We opt for Mark’s six-course ‘Experience’ menu (£50 per head, with the option of a £35 per head wine or gin pairing). Elsewhere on the bill of fare, there are steaks cooked on a lava stone grill (a bit of DIY dining here, as you finish the cooking off yourself at the table), a complete vegetarian ‘Experience’ menu and a whole slew of dishes which often seek, through dextrous cheffing, to reimagine simple comfort foods like the cheese and onion pastie, macaroni cheese and the kind of chicken you’d expect to be served in a bucket (of which more later).
Allium opened earlier this year in what had been 1836 bar restaurant, but which, stretching back into the 19th century, had been Tattenhall’s village shop. It’s been styled with a shiny, knowing opulence: chandeliers, lime green banquettes, ornate mirrors and a large inscription on the wall explaining that allium is the genus to which onion, leek and garlic belong (their many layers being emblematic of this enterprise’s many layers: bar, restaurant, rooms, outside catering).
Ellis hails from Parkgate in Wirral, and his early experience was of simple British staple dishes. His foodie education came through working with Simon Radley at the Michelin-starred Chester Grosvenor for five years, followed by stints in various kitchens (including that of Gordon Ramsay) before spending nine years honing his creative skills as head chef at Peckforton Castle. Allium now allows him to give full head to that creativity.
First course in that Experience menu is billed as ‘Aerated Tomato’ - a little ramekin of zingy, foamy tomato soup. Lovely. Next comes ‘Mac and Cheese’ - one of Ellis’s comfort food reinventions. It’s a little tower of macaroni, topped with parmesan crisp, with the odd dab and swirl of cheesy, creamy sauce and some slivers of cauliflower. Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it? But because the dish entails cream infused for two days with 30-month-old parmesan, it has cheesiness of epic proportions. It is tangy, deep and complex - quite simply the best macaroni cheese you’re ever likely to taste.
Abersoch mackerel comes next - a sliver of smoked and charred fish with a kind of coarse, creamy mackerel paté, gooseberries, almonds and salad - a superbly balanced mix of tartness, creaminess and nuttiness.
TFC is Tattenhall Fried Chicken, Ellis’s take on a well-known brand. A hunk of charred chicken breast comes with a croquette of leg meat, charred fragments of sweetcorn and a delicious crisp of chicken skin, as flat and thin as paper. Need it be said, it knocks the Kentucky alternative into a cocked hat...or indeed a paper bucket.
The first dessert is billed as ‘cheesecake’ - but the confection of aerated rhubarb and toasted gingerbread is much lighter and less cloying than that name suggests. Next up are strawberries with a strawberry sorbet, mint cream and an intriguingly brittle green sponge. Everything is so artfully presented, yet somehow (this is a clever chef at work) the effect in the mouth is satisfyingly, dazzingly simple: beautiful natural flavours combining perfectly.
Our coffee comes with a little boxful of rich chocolate truffles. Having dined royally, and sampled the matched wines, we repair to one of Allium’s pretty, comfortable five bedrooms - a comfy and informal arrangement in which you breakfast in your room next morning on pastries and cereal.
Allium by Mark Ellis is at Lynedale House, High Street, Tattenhall CH3 9PX , 01829 771 477, www.theallium.co.uk