Mallory Court is a beautiful place. A short taxi ride from Leamington Spa, its grand main building is decked in a shawl of deep green ivy. Surrounded by sprawling gardens, including a kitchen garden where chef Paul Foster frequently plucks produce to put on the menu, it feels like a quintessentially English environment. It was in this beautiful country house that I would be sampling some of the most flavour-filled Mexican cuisine to grace UK shores this year, thanks to a visit from Monterrey chef Alfredo Villanueva, who was visiting as part of The Year of Mexico in the UK.
I’m a huge fan of wild juxtaposition, so couldn’t think of anything better than a beam of Mexican sunshine visiting this part of the Midlands. This isn’t to say that Mallory Court is a stranger to culinary thrills – Paul Foster’s team are renowned for serving dainty yet flavourful seasonal produce year-round within these walls, often offering diners surprising, yet always delicious, new combinations of flavour. As we sat in the anteroom and were fed with a selection of wild and wonderful snacks, washed down with some stonking Margaritas, the doors opened to reveal the dining room where we would be having dinner. Wood-lined walls, gently muffling deep red carpet and some rather glorious yet ghostly greyhound statues on each windowsill, we would be enjoying this experiment in menu-building in the most genteel of dining rooms.
The first dish to come was by visiting chef Alfredo Villanueva – a rambunctious and generous chef in person, and indeed in his food. This first course of ‘Chicharron en salsa verde’ was all I could have hoped for, that classic generous whack of bright green flavour so prevalent in Mexican cuisine, combined with a big, full-flavoured porky hit from the crispy cheeks and giving pork belly. The courgettes I had earlier witnessed Alfredo lovingly griddling himself were bursting with intense flavour – everything on the plate sang.
Next up was Paul’s first dish – the sweetest scallop I’ve tasted in aeons paired with charred leeks (perfectly sweet yet smoky from a pleasant char) with the sweet-yet-caramelised flavour of the onion ketchup making a great foil to the swish of black garlic on the plate – perfect.