Chef Colin McGurran is undoubtedly a brave man, as his buying of the two-star Michelin restaurant and rooms Winteringham Fields in 2005 and other daring moves prove.
Despite the setting of the restaurant on the south bank of the Humber, Winteringham Fields boasted the most accomplished cooking and hospitality in the UK when under the ownership of chef Germain Schwab and his wife Annie. The stars and the head chef Robert Thompson stayed after the sale but eventually Robert was poached by Waldo’s at the Cliveden, and one by one the stars disappeared.
Did that deter Colin? No. A talented chef in his own right, he put his apron back on, took over the kitchen and forged ahead. In 2010 Colin hit the headlines after standing up to the notorious Gordon Ramsay in the semi-finals of Ramsay’s Best Restaurant on Channel 4, after Gordon wanted him to make changes to Winteringham. Did this harm Colin’s reputation? Not a jot. He was applauded for sticking to his beliefs in his restaurant.
More recently, Colin had me and the nation squealing in disbelief at his antics when he took part in BBC2’s Great British Menu. Despite changing dishes on a whim for ones he had never even tried before, he still went on to win both his heat and make it to the final banquet for his starter dish of Quail in the Woods.
And, for his latest escapade, he has chucked out all the evening menus at Winteringham and replaced them with a 10-course menu surprise. There’s no choice for the diner, you simply inform staff of any dislikes, allergies, and the menu is adapted for your enjoyment.
Why? Colin has for years – by his own admission – been busy trying to figure what it is that Michelin wants in the hope those elusive stars would come back to him. But no longer. Now, he simply wants to cook for himself and his customers and this is best expressed through the new menu.
The flexibility of this menu comes from Colin and his wife Bex’s desire to grow produce for the kitchen. Where many chefs claim to growing vegetables and herbs – but in reality have a few plant pots outside – what has developed at Winteringham can only be described as a proper farm thanks to help from local farmers and willing staff. The wine list may boast bottles of eye-watering sums (£4,900 for a 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, if you must know) but rest assured, there are far more accessible wines across all styles, colours, continents and ages than not. Or choose a preselected set of six glasses of wine to match the menu.
Dinner started in the sitting room with a glass of fizz and a delicate parfait of duck liver and apple and once at the table, we nibbled on straws of black squid bread and rock salt before we set sail on our adventure. We moved effortlessly from South Ferriby whitebait, served on a bed of pebbles, oyster shells and seaweed, towards a tomato gazpacho salad.
This turned out to be a tomato-shaped jelly filled with a gazpacho mousse, dressed with fresh peas, shoots and flowers. Everything on this plate came from poly tunnels at Winteringham. There was so much flavour, tastes and texture in this dish that it literally danced across my taste buds, and had me gasping with delight. This was my favourite of the evening.
Next came pork and smoked eel fricassee and sweetcorn velouté sitting in a deep rust-red coloured bowl.
Then, a beef tartare and corned beef hash with a wasabi salad followed by a neat chunk of haddock with a wash of chowder and accompanied by a stunning poached egg wrapped in deep fried crisp potato.
And the final fish: a paper fried mackerel, mackerel tartarte, dashi cannelloni and compressed cucumber which was my least favourite of the courses – I found the mackerel a little too strong after so many delicate flavours.
Absolutely no complaints with the roast duck breast, panko coated leg, tiny kebab of the wing and gizzard, homegrown beetroot and a little fresh pear.
By the cheese course I slowed down a touch but it didn’t take me too long to rally, which is just as well as the trolley at Winteringham is renowned with about 40 varieties served by the Fromager.
A quick palette cleanser of watermelon in cocoa butter and lime, then dessert of an unctuous, unbelievably light and moreish, warm egg custard tart.
We had been at the table for three hours, without boredom or any real struggle to eat 10 courses and all we had talked about was the food before us. A wonderful way to spend an evening.
Is this approach a risk? You bet. And, this food does not come cheap at £79, but it is stunning in its execution, delivery and taste, as not only we, but the appreciative diners around us will bear testament.
Colin may have turned his back on the Michelin stars, but I for one am surprised they are not throwing them at him. Oh and by the way, there are some lovely rooms if it is too far to drive home.
Winteringham Fields, 1 Silver Street, Winteringham, Scunthorpe DN15 9ND. 01724 733096. Tuesday to Saturday, lunch: noon-2pm; dinner: 7pm-9pm.