With the arrival of our little one last year, it’s been a while since Mr V and I have been out for a meal. I’ve observed the new partnership between Marriott Hotel and River Cottage with interest and enjoyed reading the reviews. I’ve been dying to try it out and now it’s our turn with an invitation for lunch at Zest Restaurant.
The unusual pairing is being piloted in two Marriott Hotels, one of which is Zest in Cardiff and if successful will be rolled out. Zest’s chefs have been trained at River Cottage and are creating dishes that use locally sourced ingredients and minimise waste. Menus change daily making the most of the produce available. The concept behind the restaurant really appeals to me and it is great to see a large chain taking on the River Cottage ethos.
Despite entering through the Marriott’s reception, once inside Zest we are pleasantly surprised by how un-hotel like it is. It’s welcoming, modern and casual with cosy booths or a more formal dining area. The only give away that we’re in a hotel is the very typical patterned carpet and air conditioning vents on the ceiling.
Arriving for lunch, we find out that we are the only diners. Zest currently only opens for evening service but as we have been invited as guests they have accommodated us without question. We are immediately brought freshly made bread as our waitress happily talks us through the menu and local producers which are proudly displayed on a chalk board behind us. Tick! Attentive staff and bread and water as standard. How it should be in our opinion. As we browse the menu we are already chatting excitedly about coming back before even tasting the food.
The menu is printed on paper because it changes so often mirroring the River Cottage ethos of sustainable cooking. Personally I love ever-changing menus because I always like to try something new. It keeps me coming back. There’s nothing on the menu that doesn’t appeal to me but we narrow our starters down to Marinated Rabbit Salad with pine nuts raisins and basil and Slade Farm Smoked Venison with winter leaves, horseradish creme fraiche and beetroot mousse. The descriptions of the dishes are kept simple and down to earth rather than pretentiously listing every ingredient which is all too common now.
Presentation, like the menu descriptions is appetising but without the pretence. Served chilled, the venison looks and tastes fantastic. The smoke is subtle and the mousse is delicate and creamy. Roasted garlic adds some texture.
The rabbit salad is fresh and nutty with a good balance of sweet and sharp.
The mains are seasonal and heart warming. My choice is the Pork Loin Steak with sautéed potatoes, home cured bacon and leeks in a chestnut mushroom sauce. Everything is cooked perfectly and the sauce is rich, sweet and meaty. A lovely dish.
Mr V opts for the Beef Brisket with roasted Jerusalem artichokes, January King Cabbage, dressed in a mushroom jus. Marinated for 10 hours and then slow cooked for 10 hours the meat is stunning! A side order of honey glazed rainbow carrots is a nice accompaniment to both dishes.
Rounding off the meal we order desserts. I have had mine picked out from the beginning, I’m going for the rather unusual sounding Apple and Potato Pudding. It’s doughy pancake quality is filling but still light.
Mr V’s Sticky Date Pudding is moist and sweet as you would hope.
Chatting to the chefs after our meal, it is clear that they are very enthusiastic about the partnership and relish the opportunity to have free reign on the dishes they create rather than being restrained by a corporate menu as they were previously. I love the concept and I think it could be very popular when it is rolled out. The only thing that I think might hold it back is the fact that it is so obviously based in a hotel. With so much choice when it comes to dining out, will people see a hotel restaurant as a contender?
Entering through the hotel’s main entrance isn’t ideal. Zest isn’t visible from the outside and I don’t like walking into somewhere I can’t see. It lacks an identity of its own which is a shame. It needs to become an establishment in itself rather than just part of a hotel. Park Plaza has achieved this with Laguna Bar and Restaurant and it has a solid reputation independent of the hotel.
If Zest can establish itself as a restaurant in its own right I think the partnership will go far. The concept is fashionable and ethical, the food is great and the price is right at on average £5.95 for a starter, £14 for a main and £5.50 for a dessert.