Veterans of Simpson’s chef-patron Andreas Antona’s production line of top-notch cooks are spread far and wide.
Over the years he’s helped to develop some great culinary talents such as Glynn Purnell, Adam Bennett, Andy Waters, Matt Cheal and many others.
Among Andreas’s oldest protégées is Matt Davies, who worked for him first at the Plough & Harrow, when it was Birmingham’s brightest restaurant, and later at Simpson’s, when it was based in Kenilworth.
Now’s he’s group chief executive at The Lewis Partnership, a small group of restaurants, hotels and pubs in Staffordshire.
But he remains busy in the kitchen, heading the operation at the award-winning Moat House hotel in Acton Trussell and about to take over as chairman of the British Culinary Federation.
He invited me to the hotel which is centred around a 14th century moated manor house and – on a day when the M6 is behaving – is a 40-minute drive from the centre of Birmingham.
Big bold flavours based on classical cooking techniques brought up to date with judiciously-used contemporary touches were hallmarks throughout a £60 tasting menu.
A shot glass of crab bisque, topped with a tarragon foam, was a fine opening, with its deep seafood flavours tempered by the herb’s aniseed notes.
Next came a hearty but refined terrine of pork cheek and and ham hock, studded with baby leeks and enclosed in confit potatoes, enlivened with precisely-soused vegetables and splashes of tangy, sweet quince.
Beautifully cooked scallops arrived with crisp Iberico ham, parsnip, fresh apple and apple jelly.
Then, for me, the star dish… and the simplest.
Mellow, soft goats’ curd came with smoked beets, beetroot panna cotta cut through with horseradish, wonderfully light and crunchy beetroot meringue and a scattering of pistachios.
Here was a course of fantastic contrasts of flavour and texture.
Loin of local red deer came next, cooked with enormous craft so that it was tender, pink and flavoursome.
Haggis had been freed from its skin, lightly fried and then loosened with rich, well-balanced venison stock.
Molasses cake added sweetness to the plate, pickled walnuts gave zip, wild garlic and nasturtium leaves offered peppery freshness and a deep jus brought everything together.
Pretty little lollipops reminiscent of the ice creams of my long-past childhood served as a pre-dessert.
The main, indulgent but grown-up, pudding was a skilfully done chocolate sphere with salted caramel, a banana sorbet and caramelised banana.
This was a menu that would leave, I think, even the hungriest and most fussy guest satisfied.
Service throughout was charming, efficient and informed.
The Moat House has 41 bedrooms that are well-appointed, well-equipped and set in charming land that includes a lake, stream and plenty of ducks.
A tranquil and picturesque stretch of canal forms one boundary.
There are facilities for weddings and conferences.
A bar occupies the original manor house and offers classy pub grub for those who wish a something less elevated than the restaurant menu.
Need to know
The tasting menu at the Orangery restaurant is £60.
The wine flight is £30.
Other menus, including an a la carte, are available.
Bed, dinner and breakfast deals are available.
Check out the bar menu for a cheaper exerience.
The Moat House
Lower Penkridge Road, Acton Trussell, Staffordshire ST17 0RJ.