Even if you don’t know much about racing, you’ve probably heard of some of the more famous English racing occasions. Ladies Day at Ascot, the Grand National, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. How about Glorious Goodwood?
Now, I’m no massive racing fan, but I’d heard of it. Indeed, I’d heard of Goodwood for reasons extending far beyond racing. Home to the Goodwood Festival of Speed (on Mr M’s bucket list), Goodwood Revival and plenty more, it’s a kind of quintessential English place. Not surprising really, given its illustrious history and links to royalty.
What I didn’t know is how much of a foodie destination the Goodwood Estate is. Within the sprawling 12,000 acre Sussex pile, complete with its picture-perfect rolling hills, is Goodwood Home Farm – one of the largest lowland organic farms in the UK. Here they farm sheep and cattle, produce milk and cheese and even brew their own ale and lager.
The emphasis is on quality, not quantity, and the theme runs through the whole food operation at Goodwood. I visited ahead of its most famous race meeting, Glorious Goodwood – now known as the Qatar Goodwood Festival – which starts on Tuesday (July 26). It’s an historic occasion, with Goodwood’s racing history going back more than 200 years of history since the 3rd Duke of Richmond launched the inaugural race meeting in 1802.
It’s in honour of this history that Rhubarb, the people behind the food operation at Goodwood (a fairly big operation, considering there’s 30,000 people who will need to be fed over the five days of racing), have come up with a special tasting menu to celebrate more than 200 years of racing at Goodwood.
The menu is inspired by a book that dates all the way back to 1887 – Major James Henry’s Breakfasts, Luncheons and Ball Suppers. Basically a look at the kind of dishes that were served up at those occasions. Knowing that your average 2016 foodie might not want to dine on exactly the same dishes as our predecessors in the 18th and 19th century, the Rhubarb chefs have taken ingredients from some of the dishes in the book and used them as inspiration for a menu that combines the ancient with the modern, so to speak.
Of course, with so much great produce on their doorstep, they’ve used specially-selected ingredients, some from Goodwood’s own Home Farm and others from the surrounding Sussex countryside.
Lucky old me, I was part of a little group of food fans who got a sneak peek at this menu, set in the stunning setting of a dining room overlooking the course and its rather unique (so I’m told) backdrop of rolling hills.
We started with some champagne (obvs) and canapes stood outside on the terrace while we perused our special menu. ‘Mutton broth’, ‘veal hash’ and Earl Grey bavrois for dessert certainly sounded interesting….
Lucky for us, each course was accompanied with a bit of explanation from one of the chefs, who outlined their inspiration, their ingredients, and the finished dish. So, with wine in hand we took a trip back in time to check out a bit of Goodwood’s past – and present.
The first course was dubbed ‘Half a cold salmon with mayonnaise sauce’, an historic description that just scratched the surface of the beautiful dish that appeared in front of us. A beautifully fresh, meaty piece of cured and smoked salmon, accompanied by shavings of crunchy, aniseed-y fennel then surrounded by delicate additions of ‘burnt lemon jam’ and ‘horseradish snow’.
Talk about a party on your tongue. This dish would apparently have been served across the summer months at Goodwood and with such a light, delicate feel you could see why. But don’t mistake that for bland or tasteless – the fiery horseradish, bitter lemon, and distinctive fennel certainly packed a punch.
Next up was ‘Mutton Broth’ – certainly smacks of the olden days huh? I don’t think I was alone in not being sure what to expect, but what came was actually the most high end ‘broth’ I think I’ve ever had. A clear, flawless mutton consomme, packed with rich flavour, and in it floating tasty chunks of braised belly made from organic roasted meat reared at Goodwood. With it, a soft tasty chunk of onion toast.
If what the chefs at Rhubarb was trying to do was add their own twist on some centuries-old dishes, they definitely managed that here and it was far from what I was expecting from a ‘mutton broth’ – in a good way!
I think by this point, we’d all begun to realise that we should ignore any preconception we might have had from the historic titles that inspired the tasting menu. They were clearly just the tip of the iceberg of what the chefs at Goodwood had created – with far more lying beyond the quote that had inspired them.
Our next treat was ‘Pot Pourri Salad’, apparently a marker of seasonal change in the racing season as it moved into spring dining. As you can probably imagine, this was no ordinary salad. A rainbow of colours, it consisted of a shaved raw and dehydrated vegetable salad plus delicate shavings of summer truffle with its unique rich, earthy taste.
It might be simple, but this was the kind of dish that forces you to take your time and savour every single element with its own distinctive taste and texture.
Next up was “Veal Hash”. And before you start worrying, it wasn’t the horrible veal that we’re all supposed to shy away from because of the cruelty that goes into its production, but ethically-produced rose veal – something we should all eat far more of, according to this article that I recommend you check out if you’ve got any reservations.
I’ve got to say this dish, which apparently marked the transition from summer to autumn, was a real treat. An oh-so-tender rose veal loin, served with a bubble and squeak hash, contrasting crispy veal ‘popcorn’ and a sweet, rich (in colour and taste) pea and lovage puree. All in all, the combination made for a slightly sweet dish full of subtle flavours of spring and summer.
Feeling rather satisfied, I wasn’t sure how the two desserts on the menu were going to stand up to their preceding plates of food. As the first emerged, I realised I shouldn’t have given it a second thought. One glimpse of our ‘Individual Savarins’ made it clear that the pastry chefs at Rhubarb are just as accomplished as their colleagues who had come up with the clear consomme, rather special salad, and fabulous veal.
You can’t get much more stereotypically English than a dessert made of Earl Grey tea but while I like a good cuppa, I’m never too sure about whether I want it in my pudding. However, the Earl Grey bavarois had just a hint of tea-taste, especially when paired with a slice of bitter orange that cut through its creamy richness.
The final treat of the day was ‘Galettes De Plum’ – a Victoria plum galette with five spice caramel and creme fraiche sorbet. Again, it combined a traditional English touch, thanks to the use of plums, with a more modern avant garde twist due to the addition of five spice, while the slightly sour creme fraiche sorbet proved the perfect complement to the plums.
More than suitably satisfied, we left our lunch with only one thing missing – a bit of racing to watch. It wasn’t the end of the world, but with all that history of racing and dishes inspired by centuries of equine-lovers, it felt proper that this meal should have been accompanied by the sound of drumming hooves and cheering crowds.
Needless to say, we managed fine without them, instead enjoying the beautiful fees and fine food. But you, dear reader, could well got both if you get yourself down to Goodwood, which I can highly recommend. The Qatar Goodwood Festival runs from July 26-30. Tickets start from £14 and can be purchased from www.goodwood.com.
I was invited to Goodwood to try the 200 Years of Glorious Goodwood tasting menu, produced by Rhubarb. I wasn’t asked to write or blog, or a positive review.