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Like Water for Chocolate

(Common) – Stovell’s, Chobham

This is a year of ‘significant’ birthdays – those divisible by ten – and different people have chosen to celebrate in different ways.

Our daughter, Karen, and her husband Bill, chose to invite us to dinner in Stovell’s in Cobham, Surrey to celebrate her ‘decimal’ birthday.

Stovell’s is the ‘home’ – as the name suggests – of Fernando Stovell, a Mexican chef who, after growing up in Mexico City, came to London in 1997 and enrolled on a catering course.

On qualifying he worked in various leading kitchens, including the Michelin-starred Capital Hotel, the Wellington Club and the Cuckoo Club.

In 2012 he opened Stovell’s in a Tudor farmhouse, the restaurant has been awarded the Waitrose Good Food Restaurant of the Year for the South East, and four AA rosettes; he’s also appeared on BBC’s ‘Saturday Kitchen’ a few times.

As you might expect for a Tudor farmhouse, the restaurant occupies a number of smallish rooms that have been opened up to create a low-ceilinged dining area. Outside there’s a smallish, but adequate, car park and a couple of alfresco tables and chairs; inside there’s a small bar for diners waiting for their tables.

We were promptly shown to our table, we had a 7pm booking; the restaurant was not busy and while we had been warned that they would need the table at nine we didn’t feel hustled.

The Maitre’d – sharply dressed with an a stiffly waxed moustache – presented the menus and explained the daily specials. Thankfully these were also included with the menu as his accent was almost impenetrable.

Before the starters we were presented with the first of several ‘amuse bouches’ – a tomato crisp (artfully suspended on a wire frame), with guacamole, smoked butter, pork dripping, a shot glass of something similar to guacamole, bread and chilli sauce.

Mexican Amuse Bouche at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

‘Mexican’ Amuse Bouche

It was a delicious diversion, and while the chilli sauce was a true revelation – rich, fruity and chilli flavoured with only a hint of heat – I learned that pork dripping doesn’t do it for me.

Guacamole Amuse Bouche thingy at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

Guacamole Amuse Bouche thingy

For starters, between the four of us we ordered the Tiger Prawns, Crab, Duck Pate and the Quail. My order was the Barbecued Anjou Quail & Red Roses, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ which came with a one page explanation of the ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ reference – a tad pretentious.

'Like Water for Chocolate' description at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

‘Like Water for Chocolate’ description

Back to the starters, which were all declared delicious.

'Like Water for Chocolate' at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

‘Like Water for Chocolate’ Starter

My Quail was rich and full flavoured.

After the starters we enjoyed another amuse bouche – this one a prickly pear sorbet. It transpires that prickly pears taste a lot like their domestic equivalent, who’d have thought it?

Prickly Pear Sorbet at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

Prickly Pear Sorbet

Val and I shared the ‘Rabbit, nose to tail’ main course that comprised a number of different treatments of rabbit meat.

Rabbit Nose to Tail at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

Rabbit Nose to Tail

Tiny, delicate ribs, ‘lollipop’ legs and other pieces I couldn’t recognise, served with ‘fermented’ (pickled) baby turnips.

Karen and Bill enjoyed the cote de boeuf – juicy and delicious – which was presented on a barbecue style grill, though thankfully it was not lit – and accompanied by smoked bone marrow.

Cote de Boeuf at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

Cote de Boeuf

Another lesson for me, like pork dripping, I’ll pass on bone marrow in future. I’m an Essex boy at heart.

We then enjoyed a final amuse bouche of melon somethings in melon juice before the desserts – please excuse the vague descriptions, I’ll explain later. Karen and Bill each enjoyed the chocolate bombe, while I enjoyed the pineapple and coconut dessert – that only appeared on some menus.

Coconut and Pineapple Dessert at Stovells, Chobham @ Tolfalas.com

Coconut and Pineapple Dessert

Karen also received a subtle chocolate mousse ‘Happy Birthday’, no Roman candles here.

Our meals were accompanied by a delightful, light and mellow Malbec and some sparkling water.

As we left, at about nine, the restaurant was crowded, and noisy, those low ceilings accentuating the hubbub.

Overall, it was one of the nicest meals I’ve enjoyed for a very, very long time.

If I were to offer the restaurant some constructive criticisms, our waiter, like the Maitre’d had a thick accent that we all struggled to understand. He described each dish and amuse bouche at length when serving it, but for the most part we were none the wiser.

That lack of comprehension appeared to be mutual because a few minor requests – such as leaving the chilli sauce from the first amuse bouche – were overlooked. Are there no suitably skilled Surrey waiters?

My second suggestion is simpler to address and somewhat more prosaic – they should put a sign ‘To the bar’ on the back of the appropriate door from the toilets, there are too many doors to choose from.

And finally, in an age,when supermarket and specialty stores are flooded with mediocre chilli sauces, Fernando Stovell’s take on chilli sauce – as served with the first amuse bouche – would be a surefire winner.

Rating: ★★★★★

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