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Alfredo Villanueva at Mallory Court review

Alfredo Villanueva at Mallory Court review

by Ella Timney 27 October 2015

As part of The Year of Mexico in the UK, chef Paul Foster opened the kitchen doors of Mallory Court to Alfredo Villanueva from Monterrey, Mexico. Ella went along to try the specially devised menu. To learn more, read the full interview with the chefs.

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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.

Alfredo Villanueva's Chicharron en salsa verde
Paul Foster's Scallop with charred leek, onion ketchup and black garlic

This is where I may branch into hyperbole of the most well-meaning kind, because next came a dish that I’ve thought about at least once a week since I ate it. It’s a dish I want to eat again, that I have an intense yearning for and happily re-live eating while dreaming of visiting Mexico with a pleading look on my face – ‘Alfredo, please cook me that dish’. It was also quite baffling, because on paper it didn’t sound like anything I’d want to eat – ‘Mar y cacao’, i.e. ‘Cured mackerel, adobo pepper ash, mashed beans in cacao butter, radish, fermented turnip’. It was just incredible – the lightly cured, beautifully firm mackerel with just the right level of salty cure taste, the creamy and intense cacao-infused beans that kind of swaddled the fish with velvety sensuousness with every chew. That, combined with the tang of adobo pepper ash and little bursts of piquancy from the turnip created the most creative and flat-out delicious forkful I have ever enjoyed. I mean this wholeheartedly, I would go to Monterrey for this dish. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve slipped into reverie-filled flashbacks at the beautiful flavours that were once in my mouth that I can’t have again because the chef is far, far away. I’m gutted.

Luckily, the next dish from Paul was of such beauty that I did not come crashing down from that fantastic moment of culinary euphoria. The heady, tender grouse was paired with a grouse ragu, rich grouse sauce, perfectly tender parsnips and a hit of zesty texture from the crumb infused with citrus. The elderberries popped magnificently with the rich game flavours, and the whole effect was of sinking into a reverie of autumnal wonder that lingers on the memory.

Alfredo Villanueva's Mar y cacao
Paul Foster's Grouse with parsnips and elderberries

But onto desserts we did go, bringing with them that all too familiar sinking feeling that things were coming to an end (I’m sure it can’t just be me that gets a little melancholic when dessert gets brought out, marking the passing of time and the end, the end). Alfredo’s dessert of ‘Campechana de dulce de leche’ was a rich and intense affair of sublimely bitter, spiced dark chocolate and caramelised goat’s milk, with the undertones of rich goatiness matching up sublimely with these rich bitter notes of the chocolate. I polished off these glorious riches, matched with flaky puff pastry and mescal mousse in a moment, such was its alluringly unctuous nature.

Alfredo Villanueva's Campechana de dulce de leche
Paul Foster's Whipped pumpkin, vanilla-poached chicory and muscovado ice cream

Paul’s dessert was a similarly decadent dish, with unusual whipped pumpkin proving not only decadently creamy and sweet with slight roasty notes, but fantastically light and whipped to perfection to quell any overly-rich feelings. The muscovado ice cream would have ramped this combination way overboard were it not for the tiny strip of vanilla-poached chicory snaking its way between the quenelles.

Judging by my interview with the chefs earlier, they clearly get along. Both seem to possess a thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit which turned out to be perfectly relayed through their joyfully synergistic menu. Despite being full of big, powerful flavours from both sides of the pond, the dishes didn’t battle each other. Instead, they highlighted both sets of flavours from their creators’ native lands to perfection, while also demonstrating that no matter the flavour profiles, perfectly executed and balanced dishes can take diners to another realm of culinary happiness.

Photography credit

© Joe Baily (MDB Photography)

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