I could scarcely imagine a more beautiful English setting. Snug in the beautiful Surrey Hills is an ancient hotel at the foot of Surrey’s crowning glory, Box Hill. Better yet, inside that hotel is Emlyn Restaurant, serving contemporary British cuisine.
It suffered badly in the floods of 2013/14, with water over a metre deep destroying everything. As a result the hotel and restaurant closed for nine months while the interior was completely resuscitated in very up to date, stylish furnishings and décor.
It’s a lovely sedate space with a few clever nods to its 760 years of history. Entrance chairs are printed in Keats’ poem Endymion, which was penned in the hotel. A quote from Jane Austen’s Emma on picnicking in Box Hill graces the dining room wall. Perhaps most interesting of all is a wall print at reception of one of the placemats Lord Nelson gave to the hotel during his illicit last stay with his mistress Lady Hamilton, immediately before departing to what became the battle of Trafalgar.
We started with a relaxing drink in the bar. Often old buildings are cramped and dark feeling, but all areas are open, airy and bright and the bar gets the last of the evening sun.
To the rear of the building is the al fresco seating area with superb views of Box Hill, the view that inspired so many of its poet guests in the past.
Emyln Restaurant is through a ‘tunnel’, giving it a sense of separation from the hotel. Nick Sinclair joined as head chef shortly after the re-opening and has lots of enthusiasm and big plans for making his mark on the Surrey dining scene.
The dining room is a bright space with well spaced tables and of course, all brand new furnishings.
Regarding the service, an old-school ornery couple sitting near us were challenging and it was interesting for me to see how the staff dealt with them. The servers bent over backwards to please them, despite the couple have no cause to complain they complained loudly and repeatedly about everything and anything.
Essentially the man was outraged that garlic bread wasn’t on the menu. Staff, always smiling, arranged with the kitchen to get him some garlic bread, at which point he loudly declared he also needed marmite butter – and they got him some. Clearly the staff are both friendly and accommodating, and more patient than I could ever be (this is admittedly a low bar.)
Menus change regularly and use seasonal ingredients sourced, when possible, by local suppliers. Head Chef Nick Sinclair has big plans for the hotel grounds and is in the process of creating a kitchen garden complete with beehives and a smoke house, can’t get much more fresh than that.
Everything is prepared onsite daily, including bread, ice cream and smoked items.
There’s a choice of an a la carte menu, a market menu (which is a weekly set two £19.95 or three £23.95 course meal) and a £55 six course tasting menu (regular or vegetarian). Check their website for special offers. As we were staying in the hotel we were both able to indulge in the tasting menu with wine matchings £90.
Bread arrived first, with regular, poppy seed and balsamic butters. Mmm, balsamic and butter is a new love of mine!
For a canape we were brought a ham hock terrine with pistachios, carrot puree and edible flower. It was certainly one of the more manly amuse bouches I’ve had and marked the first of a string of delightful surprises that evening.
First up was Peas & cheese Lanchasire Bomb gnocchi, variations of peas, hazelnuts paired with Faustino V Rioja Blanco Viura) I had to google what Lancashire Bomb is, it’s a cheese that looks like a bomb from a Road Runner cartoon. Lots of combinations of tastes and textures here. The gnocchi and parmesan sponge were a wonderful combo. A very tasty introduction to our meal.
The next course was Black Bream, cauliflower, coconut, crispy oyster, ponzu dressing paired with Dashwood sauvignon blanc. Somehow incomprehensible to me I don’t have any photos of it, despite my religion of taking photos of everything I ever eat. Let me describe it to you: scrummy. The cauliflower came several different ways. One of those was smoked in hay, it was beyond good, I would have been completely happy to have nothing but a giant bowl of it for dinner. And the wine was so nice that I went home and ordered a case.
Next came Quail, morels, black garlic, spinach, mustard seeds, baby turnip, onion popcorn. I found each of the dish to be treasure troves of different flavours and textures and this was my favourite dish in that regards. I hadn’t read the descriptions ahead of time, and had a moment of glee when I discovered the popcorn on my plate.
For the finale of the savouries, Hay smoked sirloin, Jacobs Ladder, onions, horseradish, ale paired with Vina Pomal Centernario Rioja Reserva. Again everything was super tasty and interesting. I’m getting really into this hay smoking, I hope it’s the next big wave in food.
The first of the desserts, Chai Tea Panna Cotta, honey, apricots, pistachios. Super refreshing and light, a perfect segue from the savouries to the sweets. It was one of those food tricks, where by appearance you were expecting savoury and you’re not familiar with the flavours but then it was sweet, but not too sweet. I loved it.
The nice thing about this point in the evening is that we were still feeling comfortable, not overly stuffed when the final course arrived. Strawberries and Cream, Champagne consomme, clotted cream, basil sponge paired with Muscat De Baumes de Venise, Cave des Vignerons. Another visual and yummy delight, with the most adorable little macaroons.
It’s apparent that each of the dishes had lots of complex cooking techniques put into them, it all came together to create a truly enjoyable meal. At £55 this tasting menu represents incredible value, you can imagine what a comparable meal in London goes for. I do wonder what will happen to prices when word gets around, you should go now before it’s found out.
Bonus, the breakfast the following morning was excellent as well, one of the better hotel breakfast’s I’ve had.
Dinner and a stay at the Burford Bridge Mercure is a perfect spot for a getaway in the countryside. Some nice hiking around Box Hill followed by a dip in the hotel pool topped by a superb meal, what more could you ask for? Even if you don’t stay over, Emlyn Restaurant is well worth seeking out.
At the Foot of Box Hill, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6BX
We were guests of Emlyn and Burford Bridge Mercure but this is no way biased my review.