From the Far East to South Yorkshire chef Russ lifts menu with flavour and technique
Cairns, Bangkok, Rotherham.
Perhaps not everyone’s travel bucket list.
But that’s the route chef Russ Mountford took to get to Hellaby Hall Hotel’s Carnelly restaurant - named after the last individual owner of the hall, one Cliff Carnelly - just off the M18.
Russ worked in kitchens in Australia and Thailand to learn new techniques, dishes and cultures including a stint at the highly rated Silky Oaks lodge in the Daintree Rain Forest in Queensland.
Which is a long way from Hellaby Hall, South Yorkshire, in every respect.
“I have been here 14 months now,” says 26-year-old Russ, originally from Wolverhampton.
“I was working in a farm restaurant in Huddersfield before this but learned a lot in Thailand and Australia where I was for a few months five years ago.”
Russ’s signature dish is his pan fried sea bass which I happened to have as main course.
He’s got that nailed, that’s for sure.
“We cooked a lot of seafood in Australia and fish is my favourite thing to cook, especially sea bass.”
The secret of a crispy skin?
“Cook it slowly on a low heat, skin side down in the pan and let the skin crisp as the fish cooks through, takes around 10 minutes.”
The one he cooked when we visited was excellent. Crispy skin, soft moist flesh with a rich and deep seafood broth made from prawns, mussels and fennel. Top class.
It came with confit potatoes which are peeled, fried until golden brown then roasted in butter - sounds glorious and tasted likewise.
Roast green beans were crisp and shiny and the sun-dried tomato salad tart and fruity in contrast.
If there’s a criticism the prawns were a little overcooked but the smoky mussels - Russ gives them a blast with his smoke gun before cooking - were excellent.
We’d gone for the three courses for £26.95 deal and for starter I’d had the oxtail ravioli which looked a treat and came with crisp pancetta, celeriac puree, crisp capers with a tomato reduction. The capers are dried and deep fried which is a new and very tasty one for me. The oxtail meat was melt in the mouth and subtly flavoured and the tomato reduction gave it an acidic kick.
My son Joe had the Game and leek terrine, pickled baby vegetables with hunters sauce – ‘home-made brown sauce’ in his opinion
“Pate’s good and meaty and the pickled veg crunchy – all fine,” he adds, not wanting to waste any breath.
For his main course he had the rib-eye steak that came with fat chips, onion rings and a spinach fricassee.
The steak looked great and was flavoursome but not quite as tender as it might have been - a factor not helped by the fact that his steak knife was so blunt it took three attempts to cut each mouthful.
The restaurant’s moderately lively with lone businessmen, guests at the hotel, busying themselves with ipads and smartphones while they eat.
According to Wikipedia and local historians the current Hellaby Hall was built by Ralph Fretwell on the site of a former medieval village and finished in 1692 with money made largely from the sugar trade in the West Indies.
Anyone who has seen the excellent BBC TV series Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners may be wondering if the hall was built on the backs of slave labour but Fretwell became a Quaker in 1671 and was prosecuted on numerous occasions for allowing black people to attend religious meetings in his house, not paying church dues and not carrying out his militia duties. Doesn’t sound much like slave master.
The current incarnation of the hall is radically changed since Ralph had it built in the ‘Dutch colonial’ style but old detail remains in beams, doors and the scale of some of the rooms.
We got a good look at the place when we used the toilet, a decent march away from the restaurant that gave a quick tour of the house.
The dessert course offered among other delights: ‘warm carrot cake, edible soil, sweet fennel sand, toffee baby carrots and caramel sauce’ and ‘Iced lime parfait, flamed cherries, honeycomb tuile’.
The carrot cake was the best I’ve had anywhere – though we did have to wait a long time for it.
Warm, moist and light with a real candied carrot on top - slow cooking is again Russ’s secret, perhaps that ‘s why we had to wait.
The chocolate soil or chocolate crumb and fennel sand - an aniseedy crunchy crumb - is meant to give the dish a ‘round the garden’ feel.
It was delicious, though I would have liked a little more of the delightful toffee sauce.
Joe’s parfait had a lime kick with a smooth texture and given a twist with flamed cherries with a good hit of booze and a honeycomb tuile to add a layer of meringue-like sweetness and Crunchie crunch.
All round a good meal.
The Trip Advisor reviews consulted beforehand had not been the best but this was decent grub well worth the trip. Slightly pricey, perhaps a little ambitious with its ‘fine dining’ tag, but good food with a hint of class you’d might expect to find in places like Cairns, Bangkok or Rotherham...
With a Staropramen lager, a Coca Cola, glass of sauvignon blanc and an Americano our bill came to £70.60.
Star ratings out of five:
Hellaby Hall Hotel, Old Hellaby Lane, Hellaby, Rotherham S66 8SN, Tel: 01709 702 701