Brian Baker

May 19, 2011

I’ve enthused here before about The Marquess of Exeter in Lyddington, near Rutland. Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of a long chat with chef patron Brian Baker.  He’s had a fascinating career, a whiststlestop tour of which might start with being butcher’s delivery boy and go on to being the youngest ever chef to receive a Michelin star and several years spent buzzing around the world on private jets and 200ft yachts cooking for plutocrats and their A list guests. A later move involved running parties for 12,000 Vodafone staff with a budget of £6 million.

Running a gorgeous old inn in a smart but out of the way Rutland village might seem an odd move, but it’s fortunate for the region.  Baker does straightforward classics here that bear the imprint of all that he has learned – incredibly smooth parfait, perfect steak frites, and top notch creme brulee, with good service in a lovely enviornment. What more do you want?

If you want to read more, check out the forthcoming July issue of Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland.

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Bank Holiday Monday saw five of us leap in the car and travel out to Rutland. We were in the mood for a superior lunch and had settled on the the Marquess of Exeter in the lovely, orange stone village of Lyddington.  I first came across chef patron Brian Baker around three years back at the Fox and Hounds in Knossington.  He had previously had a high-flying career including being the then youngest chef to receive a Michelin star, spells as private chef to Elton John, Valentino and a clutch of Mexican billionaires, and as a consultant to top London venues. The Knossington pub was a return to his native Rutland to run a simple, down to earth gastro pub.

The Marquess is still a pub, all be it a little grander, but still has the virtues of keeping it simple but  keeping it good. There’s nothing too modish about the menu here, it has the solid virtues of good ingredients and classic dishes done with intelligence.  Our starters included a technically excellent chicken liver parfait which was maybe slightly overpowered by an extraordinary, remarkably tangy fig chutney.  A deeply savoury, twice baked Lincolnshire Poacher souffle bubbled invitingly, while  squid – often ruined with flabby batter and the finest sweet chilli sauce Blue Dragon can manage – came simply grilled with a rocket salad and freshly-made spicy salsa.  A simple, well-prepared asparagus starter showed seasonality is important here too.

It’s the main courses that exemplify Baker’s approach.  Two of us shared a huge rib of Derbyshire beef, and another two a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb. Both were served on boards to carve at table and both were extremely good. The beef  was beautifully seasoned, tender, and cooked perfectly – darkly caramelised on the outside, dramatically red inside. It came with a boat of bearnaise and a big dish of perfect pommes frites.  Apologies for not having my camera with me – look on the gallery section of the website and you’ll get an idea though.  The lamb barely needed carving it was so tender and had enough lovely fat to keep it moist. There were also classic mint and redcurrant sauces, another large terrine of boluangere potatoes (braised in stock – a dauphinoise without the cream) and hispi cabbage. Our final main was a hefty pork steak, kaffir lime rice and butternut squash curry with a seriosuly spicy side of butternut squash chutney.   This was generous, tasty, food-lovers food.  

Somehow we forced  down some deserts  – my homemade kesar manago sorbet was delightful, and was given a big lift with the simple addition of a few flakes of toasted coconut, the semolina and vanilla mousse outperformed expectations as a light summer desert while a creme brulee was also exemplary.

So we ate very well. Shame our young waiter seemed to resent working bank holidays and offered neither a smile nor a sense that he was particularly interested in what we had ordered or what we might want next.  Other staff were  fine.  The room is light and airy, somehow smart but informal and cosy too – it’s a classy operation.

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