My Life in Food: Lyme’s best kept culinary secret

HOTEL owner Jerry Ramsdale welcomes the bed and breakfast proprietors to the Mariners Hotel

IT’S Lyme’s best kept culinary secret – but not for long. To celebrate his tenth anniversary of owning the Mariners Hotel, Jerry Ramsdale is launching a number of new initiatives with the emphasis very much on fine dining.

With this in mind – and with two talented chefs in situ, Nick Larby and Shaun Cassidy – the Mariners is planning to stage a seven-course taster menu on the first Friday of every month, commencing in May.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Lyme’s expanding and ever-popular bed and breakfast fraternity were given a taste of what their guests can expect if they direct them to the Mariners Hotel for their evening meals.

The taster menu included free range chicken breast

Around 40 B&B proprietors acccepted Mr Ramsdale’s invitation to try the new taster menu – and none of them came away disappointed. And in a clever promotional ploy, Mr Ramsdale gave each establishment a discount card for their guests with money-off benefits ranging from 10 per cent to 100 per cent to help promote his new dining experience.

Having worked on publishing projects with Mr Ramsdale in the past, he was kind enough to invite my wife Jackie and I to the Monday gathering, as he is a firm believer in local papers.

There’s always a friendly welcome at the Mariners and we were greeted with a stiff gin and tonic and some delightful canapés including shots of Bloody Mary crowned with an oyster. Quite delicious.

The first course served was a warming cup of lobster bisque, just what was required on a cold evening, followed by game ballantine (from the French ‘balle’, meaning a package), served with kumquat and Seville orange marmalade on a toasted sourdough. Very comforting.

By this time there was an agreeable buzz around the room with our fellow diners nodding approval after every mouthful, especially after the third course – pan fried halibut with pickled quails eggs and celeriac puree.

Chefs Nick Larby (left) and Shaun Cassidy pictured with hotel manager Stuart Harrop after impressing diners at the Mariners Hotel with their first seven-course taster session

The main course was just as popuar – free range chicken breast with crispy pressed thigh, herb gnocchi, morel mushrooms and a truffle split jus. Just for a moment I thought I was a judge on Master Chef (a secret ambition), such was the quality of this dish. Nick and John, get your applications in chaps.

Whilst we were eulogising over the main course, the next up tricked us all. At first we thought it was a pudding but it turned out to be what they call in the trade, a pre-sweet – three quenelles of goats cheese, orange, lemon and nougatine with an edible flower. One of the guests afterwards told me: “I thought, oh no, I don’t like goats cheese but it was marvellous. Now I’m a convert!”

We may have been confused but the sweet course was well worth waiting for – a coconut panacotta with coconut foam, passion fruit sorbet and exotic fruit salad. For someone with a sweet-tooth like me, it was the perfect way to end a memorable evening. But it wasn’t quite the end to Nick and Shaun’s talents – home-made petit fours followed with the coffee and they were a sheer delight.

The management at the Mariners have other ideas to re-establish their restaurant by re-introduing lunches, especially for the business community.

The Mariners will also be serving lunches on Easter Sunday (April 1st). To book a table at the Mariners call 01297 442753.

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