Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Cardiff Marriott and River Cottage in partnership

The display featuring muddy carrots is not something you usually see in a hotel restaurant. Another clue as to what’s occurring are the shelves of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall books. We are in Zest, the restaurant at Cardiff Marriott, to sample the new menu created in partnership with River Cottage.

People increasingly like to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. In responding to diners’ interest in the provenance of their food, Zest has teamed up with Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage: an organization built around locally-sourced, ethically and sustainably produced, seasonal food.

Cardiff is one of only two Marriott Hotels to trial the partnership. If successful, it will be rolled out to more of Marriott’s other 50 UK hotels. The goals the partnership has set are ambitious ones.

For the menu, Marriott is committing to increase the use of local food, produced within a 60 mile radius of the hotel, to 80%. In Cardiff, Marriott is lucky. There is a wealth of Welsh food producers to choose from. The produce sourced for the menu so far includes meat from Graig Farm and Slade Farm, fish and shellfish from Gower Coast Seafood and E. Ashton, eggs from Farmhouse Freedom Eggs, cheese and dairy products from Calon Wen and Abergavenny Fine Foods, and vegetables from the Welsh Box Scheme and Ty Mawr Organic.

Because the menu is seasonal, the menu will change frequently. Daily changes are expected, so even regulars will find something different to order.

The amount of food wastage in the catering industry generally can be pretty shocking. Marriott’s are here committing to further reducing food wastage from their current low level of 5%.

By improving sustainability practices, Marriott’s hopes to improve its Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating in the two hotels trialling the partnership with River Cottage.

All the meat and vegetables on the menu will be organic, with the chicken also being free-range, and the fish and shellfish sustainably-sourced.

The partnership has involved staff from Marriott Cardiff taking part in training courses at River Cottage’s recently launched Chefs’ School, to acquire new skills relating to sustainable food procurement and other areas that complement their catering industry expertise.

On the table, the rosemary bread was very fresh, and there was a sprig of rosemary on the table (impossible not to pinch and smell). We started with ‘Parsley Salad’ and ‘Squash & Goat Cheese Salad’. Parsley was a feature of my salad, but the main interest was the crab meat, accompanying soft-boiled egg, and the intense anchovies hidden underneath. Crisp thin-sliced beetroot was the unannounced star of the other colourful salad.

For Mains, I opted for ‘Slow Cooked Organic Graig Farm Brisket’, served with anchovy and rosemary potato gratin and red wine sauce; the meat melted in the mouth. My partner had the ‘Slade Farm Lamb’, with mashed celeriac, chilli and thyme. The lamb had a subtle barbeque flavour.

The other vegetables, ordered as sides, were ‘Honey Glazed Carrots’ and ‘Kale, Chilli and Fennel Seeds’. The carrots had a wonderful intense flavour and looked great – orange, white and purple. The fennel on the kale produced a sensational effect, though the chilli was a little heavy for our taste in this context.

With sides this was not ‘small plate’, but rather ‘three good things on a plate’ (the title of one of Hugh’s books).

I’m afraid that for the ample puddings we opted for exotic options, with some ingredients what were probably not grown around Cardiff. My ‘Sticky Date Pudding’ came with homemade vanilla ice cream, and my partner’s ‘Almond and Orange Pudding’ came with a slice of pear cooked in red wine as well as the ice cream. However, a warm beetroot brownie, and apple and cherry crumble with custard, were also on the menu.

Local wine and beers are available, although they were not listed on the main wine and drinks menu. We had a bottle of Glyndwr 2012, a medium dry white wine produced on a vineyard established in 1982 by the Norris family in Llanbleddian, near Cowbridge, in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Generally, the local and seasonal approach can help produce a coherent menu, where fresh food items are used in different ways throughout to create a satisfying dining experience that also celebrates and supports local growers and artisan producers.

Zest actively encourages locals to join hotel guests in their dining room.

Marriott Cardiff:

River Cottage:

All food and drink consumed was kindly provided by Marriott Cardiff.

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