Michael Wignall Latymer Restaurant Surrey Menu Watch

The Staff Canteen

Michael started his career working with Paul Heathcote at Broughton Park in Preston, then moved to Heathcote’s restaurant in Longridge. Michael’s career has seen him work at Michelin starred restaurants L’Ortolan, The Cliveden, Michael’s Nook and The Devonshire Arms, before moving to the Latymer at Pennyhill Park Hotel. He describes his cooking as ‘complex, carefully crafted and very technical, but not intimidating’. When not cooking, Michael enjoys travelling the world and doing extreme sports such as snowboarding and wakeboarding. He spoke to us about his menu and what he thinks about foraging.

Michael Wignall Latymer Restaurant wonderful to come and see you again thanks for the invitation. Today's feature is Menu Watch so let's start by understanding how many menus do you run here at the Latymer?

At lunchtime, we offer a lunch menu and a menu gourmand. One is priced at £34 and that includes canapés, amusé bouche, a choice of four starters, an intermediate, a choice of four mains, a pre-dessert, fours choices of dessert and a cheese trolley for an extra £8. We also do a menu gourmand at £64 and we also do a vegetarian tasting and a vegetarian menu as well at lunch and then on the evening"¦

Is there a demand for vegetarian? Yes, quite a high demand. Really? Yes, really big. We get so many different special dietary requirements; it's more and more all the time - that's why I've decided to do a vegetarian gourmet. And we do a fish tasting gourmet as well so it's just fish because you get so many people, well sort of vegetarians that aren't really vegetarians that say they eat fish because fish don't have any feelings or anything do they? ((laughs)) I'm vegetarian I eat chicken. Exactly yes because a chicken doesn't feel anything when its head's pulled off does it! Yeah exactly, yeah. That's quite a few menus. Do they interlink? Yeah the fish tasting one obviously links with the normal gourmet menu"¦ Because otherwise you're going to have a lot of mise en place aren't you? We probably do about 60% gourmet, especially on the weekend, I'm looking to just do the tasting on a Saturday night and see how it goes. I make the gourmet menu quite different from the normal menu as I just don't want my gourmet to simply have mini versions of the à la carte - that's not what I'm about. Do you have to give that sort of range of menus because you're a hotel and people expect to see"¦ No. "¦if you were a standalone restaurant you'd probably just be able to go, "It's all tasting menu." Possibly I think you've got to be careful though when you're in the city it's a little bit different but when you're a bit more in the sticks as perhaps we are, I think you've just got to be careful. At the Laytmer we're not too bad but there again probably 50 to 60% of our clientele is non-resident anyway. So you've really driven up that haven't you? We've got to limit it at the weekend somewhat because we've got so many residents but now it's to the point now where you have people ringing up for the master suites and saying if they can't have a table they're not going to book the rooms which just causes a little bit of friction. But great for the restaurant? Yeah it's great for the restaurant but you know we've just got to watch that really because the leisure's growing but with the economy the way it has been for the last two years the corporate's down but the leisure's growing. There's always going to be people with money who are always going to spend money, aren't they? Yeah, and they're kind of almost recession-proof aren't they"¦ Now tell us about changing the menu then I mean what constitutes a menu change? Do you do the traditional or the old style I would say of spring, summer, autumn, winter? Or do you tweak things? We do change with the seasons but the luxury of printing our menus in-house means we can introduce new things literally on a daily basis. We tweak things all the time. Something'll change slightly, more or less every day, depending on what we can get. If something just comes in or a supplier's got something we'll get that and it goes straight on the menu and we'll just take something off or adjust it accordingly.

So you can print in house and change? We print every day lunch and dinner. After lunchtime today we'll reprint the menu for tonight and it's a bit of a nightmare cost-wise to reprint but we just tweak the menu every day really. Talking of costs then how do you cost your menus? Obviously, it's a large kitchen; we've got banqueting, the brasserie, and the spa and so on"¦ So is that all taken into account you're not kind of fenced off? We all have our own GP targets but at the end of every month, they're all collated. I think someone said on average food prices are going to go up by 20%. I think they have done over the last two years they've gone up by about that much and I know in the next month they're going up by another 5% so it's really challenging. You've just got to be clever on what you use. I mean, great if you can forage in the woods, which seems to be the in thing at the moment but not everyone can do that and not everyone likes eating nettles all the time do they? Foraging has become a little bit of a bandwagon hasn't it to a degree? Yeah definitely. And if you take people like David at Champignon Sauvage he's been doing it for 20 years. Yeah, he's been doing it for absolutely ages and I don't think he did it because he had to do it because of costs which is the reason why you should be doing it. I think rather than just for the sake of actually having foraged on the menu. We do it a little bit - we send the KPs out forceps in the woods and we've got elderflower growing at the moment. We are investing a hell of a lot of money in our own garden as well. We had a little piddly one for the last two years and we're going to have a much larger one with two or three polytunnels.

So is the goal to be self-sustainable? Yes but you can only be self-sustainable for a certain amount of time of the year and in fact when I was at the Devonshire Arms we had a massive garden there and we'd have nothing for ages then you'd almost have too much. We'd end up selling it to the veg supplier and exchanging ten kilos of flippin' kale or whatever you can't use for something else and doing it that way, which seems to be all or nothing. Talk about the food on your menus then Michael I mean you've been here nearly four years now, how would you describe your food style and how do you feel your food style has evolved in that period of time? It's evolved quite a lot I think I mean obviously my style is quite technical, but it's probably slightly simplified as well over the last three or four years. Why is that is it something you've consciously done or it's just evolved that way? No I think it's just evolved that way really. I think the more confident you are with things and the less you put on [the menu] to a certain extent. I don't just put things on a plate for the sake of them looking nice, they're there for a reason but I think you've got to be careful about putting quite a few things on the plate, making sure that they actually all do match together. And I guess what makes it more difficult as well is that if you're doing that on a tasting menu the more components you've got on each dish that's got to balance all the way through the menu hasn't it? Yeah of course - you can't have a strong dish and then have something else and nothing balances, you know, they might be fantastic dishes on their own but when they're all put together with another sort of eight or nine courses it's a bit of a"¦ Give us a dish then that's on the current menu, any menu that you feel right now sums up Michael Wignall? The cassoulet we've had on for ages which is on the gourmet menu, we keep taking it off then putting it back on and it's so flipping simple. We get so many comments about it. Basically it's just three different types of clams: palourde, venus and razor and I only cook the razor clams for 20 seconds, just so they release and then slice - they are still transparent, so they're really, really soft. That's served with a poached quail egg which we get from a farm, literally just five miles away, free range. Squid ink tapioca and cuttlefish gnocchi, to look at it, it is really simple but the combination is just, you know, it's a really nice combination but that's quite simple for me. You mentioned you get lots of good comments. How important is customer feedback when you are engineering a menu? Do you look and listen to what the customers are saying? Yes definitely. I think it's really important that you should do that but you've also got to be confident in what you do as well. I mean not everyone's going to like what you do; you are going to get negative feedback about certain things and if it's a valid point well, fair enough, take it on the chin and learn from it. It's the same with the guides, obviously they're important for getting customers and staff to your restaurant, but I think you've just got to be careful really about being driven by guides and things like that as to be true to yourself you have to be confident in what you do rather than what someone else is dictating to you, especially with bloggers which again are great for your restaurant because it's instant they can just tweet straightaway about a good l or the bad meal that they're having but it also can be pretty damaging as well.

Everyone is a food critic. But having said that, that's your paying public so you've got to take it on board and listen to them. Yeah I mean I've seen you on Twitter as well. Is that part of a social media strategy or are you"¦ Well I try to yes - it's something I have just started and so I'm a bit inexperienced at the moment I think you've just got to be yourself on Twitter. Yeah we do put the odd dish picture on and things like that, "This is my new"¦" but when you start putting stuff on, "I'm up at 6am picking nettles," or, "I'm up at six doing such a thing," or whatever. I think it needs to be a bit more light-hearted. I think you've got to be yourself. Yes if you do work 16 hours a day, the last thing I want to be hearing about is that someone's had a great service, I mean I've put it on myself but mine are normally, "I've had a rubbish service," or "such and such a thing has happened." I think you get more by-in for being yourself, people realise it's you. Yes, definitely. I think the thing with Twitter is you can always see when something's done with a marketing angle and you just go oh it's marketing bullshit, I think you either buy into that or not"¦and the bottom line is with Twitter if you don't like it don't bloody follow on them. Yes exactly. Last question then for you Michael what's your favourite menu season and why? Probably round about now when it's coming into spring and the end time of spring. Peas, all the mushrooms are coming in, I like the game season as well and I always look forward to hare being on"¦ I love putting hare on and it's always a big seller as well. I think from a cook's point of view Game's always interesting but you're kind of limited sometimes to the rest of the produce that go around. I think all the seasons are pretty interesting especially winter now. It used to be a nightmare trying to come up with different things but I think now with everyone using cheaper vegetables, you can come up with so many different techniques of cooking. Vegetables have become very fashionable now as well haven't they? You know the different methods and different things you can do with vegetables because I guess to a degree we've almost exhausted what we can do with meat and poultry "¦ "¦and so we're now looking at what we can evolve putting around it. We've got a dish on at the moment, a mackerel dish where we compress the cucumber and then chargrill it and the taste it just tastes so good, whereas cucumber doesn't really taste of much because it's 90-odd per cent water. But it just changes is completely and the texture of it, it's just experimenting a bit more. I mean I've always been pretty strong when it comes to vegetarians because I've always had a pretty good following, I'm not saying I'm a vegetarian cook or anything but if you can cook vegetables well, you should be able to cook everything else as well. You've just got to be an all-rounder. I think it's something that a lot of people forgot about really and now they've got to do something about it and it takes a lot more thinking about. Every time vegetarians come into the restaurant, they often comment that it's the "best vegetarian meal I've ever had anywhere" and so if you can please someone like that, well surely the rest of your menu follows through on that as well. I think sadly sometimes vegetarians through quite high profile people have been dissed and neglected and you can have a bit of tofu and some beansprouts"¦ Yes exactly. "¦and at the end of the day they're paying an awful lot of money to dine with you and if one's a vegetarian and one's eating off your gourmet menu why should one be substandard to the other. Exactly yes. Well listen it's great to see Latymer being a great success it's obviously going very, very well, congratulations and I wish you every success for the next four years. Thanks. Thank you. Find crucial information on chef jobs London and how to contact the best chef jackets suppliers by joining The Staff Canteen for free today!

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th July 2011

Michael Wignall Latymer Restaurant Surrey Menu Watch