When I read ‘fiorentina steak for two’ on the menu at Zacry’s –Watergate Bay Hotel’s new restaurant which opened in March – it felt that someone else was also sharing a food memory.
That someone else is Neil Haydock, executive chef at the hotel, who explains that the menu has been, “45 years in the making.” He goes on, “It’s my food journey – my food memories and all the food I love.”
Much of the food that Neil loves is American. Despite being classically trained in France and also at the Italian-inspired Fifteen Cornwall – he describes eating in the States as eating on, “another planet.”
Our starter, Zacry’s fried rabbit, in crude terms was a gourmet version of KFC but in more refined terms, is a re-working of a dish that Neil ate in Miami. The rabbit meat is soaked in buttermilk for 48 hours to break it down, fried and served with celeriac and apple slaw with a chipotle ketchup to add balance and freshness. The result was anything but KFC and everything about it was fun, unusual and challenging to my own food memories or expectations about how rabbit should be served.
My crispy Cornish scallops were served with a spicy mayo and white truffle oil. It was hard to taste the truffle but the combination of scallop and spicy mayo was entirely new to me – gone were purist thoughts of presenting the scallop as the solo act and Neil’s version worked brilliantly: the crispy texture of the scallops cut through the mayo superbly. Yes it was rich, but as Neil says, “You want food to be rich when you go out for dinner.”
Conversely, the menu also offers a range of salads as main or starters, again an influence from the States. From Cornish spider crab to beef carpaccio, grilled artichokes to salted almonds and fresh curd, these are salads meant to blow flacid Iceberg and bagged leaves out of the water, as well as catering to smaller appetites.
The main event arrived: a fiorentina sliced into five or six steak-sized chunks on a wooden board with a small copper frying pan of buttery green beans and a mini saucepan of rosemary potatoes with béarnaise sauce to add. Little about this dish was classically Italian – never serve a fiorentina with sauce; the meat should come from an ancient Tuscan breed of cow and should be served on the bone. As with the other dishes however, Neil had made this his own.
The meat, as it should be, was very rare, crispy on the outside where the Bertha grill had sealed a smoky crust, enhanced with a handful of applewood chips. The taste of the meat, aged for 30 days, left on the bone and left another 24 hours to firm up before being grilled for 6 – 8 minutes, had a depth of flavour only obtained by quality cows, quality butchering and quality storage. As the centerpiece of the menu, it certainly shouts ‘wow’ in a brazen Italian manner in the face of more conservative English tastes for steak.
Dessert was a chocolate fondant filled also with mango curd and a yoghurt sorbet. A restaurant staple, perfectly executed.
We lacked a bit of wine guidance with the starter and the main as we were directed only to the house red – Running with Bulls, a Tempranillo 2011 from Australia but it was a very decent wine with the meat.
The décor at Zacry’s is a mood board of dining experiences – farmhouse country chic with diner-style padded banquettes alongside informal kitchen-style dining; a backdrop of stark white tiles and a black and white zigzagged floor give focus and a clean uncomplicated feel.
Both food and place at Zacry’s reflect Neil’s food philosophy: “Food is about fun and enjoying it.” And what a relief for a hotel restaurant to have the balls to do it. With plans for the likes of a whole suckling pig on the menu and the chef coming out to serve it, WGB goes further than just adding in an open kitchen: barriers between the chefs and guests are deliberately blurred, tablecloths are thankfully few and eating is centred around sharing dishes.
The new menu and the décor at Zacry’s allow guests to create their own food story; exactly as the chef intended. Added fun and KFC puns included.