Heaven on a plate at Le Champignon Sauvage
A radio blurts out the latest chart hits in a corner. There's a faint sound of chopping. And the sweet smell of caramelised meat hangs in the air.
I'm confused. Why isn't there shouting? Why can't I see test tubes at every turn suggesting the latest in molecular gastronomy?
Surely that's the atmosphere which invades the kitchen of every modern-day two Michelin star restaurant in a quest to maintain perfection?
Dressed in chef whites and an apron, I'm taking a behind-the-scenes look at arguably Cheltenham's finest gastronomic treasure, Le Champignon Sauvage.
Dyson DC50i - Bagless upright vacuum cleaner - BALL Technology -...View details
Thisi is Dyson's smallest upright vacuum cleaner with the performance of a full size upright machine. The DC50i has Dyson's most advanced cleaner head technology and 2 Tier RadialTM cyclones.
Terms: LIMITED STOCK OFFER. FREE delivery to most UK postcodes - Next working day dispatch.
Contact: 01664 491439
Valid until: Monday, May 27 2013
And thankfully, there's not a pretentious foam or token splodge of non-descript jus in sight.
The food is gutsy and flavoursome. The type of food that picks you up and gives you a great big bear hug. The type of food you really want to eat.
I can't help feeling like Loyd Grossman as he takes a sneaky peak through the keyhole of a regal property. My eyes are everywhere. The kitchen is immaculately clean, surprisingly small, yet unapologetically relaxed.
Chefs are beavering away. Everyone knows what they're doing and like a highly-skilled surgeon they get to work with unwavering intensity.
The mastermind of this remarkable operation is head chef, David Everitt-Matthias, who has kindly drawn back the curtain to allow WEEKEND an exclusive and mind-boggling insight into the secrets of fine dining.
My first culinary port of call is alongside sous chef Mark Stinchcombe who's cooking gayette of pig's trotter and whelks, one of an array of exciting new culinary creations in Beyond Essence, head chef David's latest cookbook.
The protagonist of our dish is a fillet of mackerel, cured with lemon verbena, orange, coriander and mustard seeds. Seared in a pan, it rests upon the naturally fat-laden gayette made from poached trotter, whelks and breadcrumbs.
A pickled mooli – thin strips of radish in a orange juice, white wine vinegar and sugar marinade – cuts through the richness of the fish beautifully and a cardamon-infused yoghurt strewn artfully on the plate provides a light, creamy touch. A sprinkle of gozmasio, made up of toasted peanuts, sesame seeds and salt, completes the dish with a welcome crunch.
It's a tough act to follow. But David's fillet of hogget, sweetbreads, cockles, scarlet cup mushrooms and silky chervil puree creation has me hooked.
With three pans cooking furiously on the hob he talks me through the dish whilst adding a dash of maple syrup here, a sprinkle of almond-like green herb woodruff there. Next up he adds a handful of vibrant wild garlic leaves and carves the beautifully pink hogget before constructing the dish.
It's Leonardo da Vinci-like in its beauty and at first I'm reluctant to spoil the masterpieces. But for research purposes, I dig in. It's a refined version of comfort food that smacks of spring.
"Flavour is paramount, second is texture," David says as I tuck into more.
"There's nothing worse than having a whole plate of food that is the same texture. It doesn't excite your brain.
"Third comes presentation. A lot people put it first but that's obviously not good."
It's not to say the third cornerstone of fine dining is neglected. Far from it. And right on cue a bergamot parfait – think essence of Earl Grey tea – arrives with quenelles of liquorice cream and orange jelly in all its multi-coloured splendour.
It's the creation of Sue Ellis, who appeared on Great British Menu.
Incredibly vibrant, zingy and refreshing it proves an instant hit with my sweet tooth. Just when I think my culinary journey is over I'm handed a glass plate of petit fours with an array of sugar-filled goodies.
Among the selection includes a finger-sized rum baba, raspberry and almond frangipane, a strip of passion fruit jelly and a green anise and chocolate fudge.
I could have nibbled my way through the entire lot.
David says the new book, which follows his last recipe collection which became the second best-selling cookbook in the world, has a new direction.
"There's a bit more finesse but with the same gutsy flavours," he says. "There are about 16 dishes on the menu from the book. Or they have been on the menu, are on the menu now or will be very soon.
"I get bored of cooking the same thing and I never want to sit stagnant. Some people reach a point and become complacent but I always want to push further."
His quest to push the boundaries but maintain his style – a love for offal, shellfish and seasonal local ingredients – could earn him a third coveted Michelin star.
"It would be lovely to have three stars and I'm sure if they think we deserve it they will give it to us. Our aim is to work hard and if it comes it comes."
Introduced to cooking at the age of seven by his aunt – a forager – David trained at the Four Seasons Hotel in London before he was sent to gain inspiration alongside legendary chef Pierre Koffman.
"I grew up with great food with my aunt but my mum was a rubbish cook. Her idea of a dessert was a bought flan, a tin of fruit, a packet jelly and some squirty cream."
Since then he has built up a reputation and avoided dabbling in the supposedly trendy side of cooking, molecular gastronomy.
"It's about getting away from the chemicals and foams," he says. "Our butcher scouts around for the best ingredients and we ask vegetable suppliers if they are willing to grow for us."
Firmly established as one of the most exciting chefs in the country, David has turned down the chance to appear on Great British Menu on three occasions, seeking to avoid the limelight.
But with the restaurant celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, he will finally appear on our screens in the coming weeks.
"In March I'll be on The Hairy Bikers and then I'm going down to do Saturday Kitchen Live with James Martin," he says.
"There's more exposure of chefs in the media these days and I think there is a real cafe culture that is evolving which is the biggest change since I started out."
His recipes however, remain as exciting as ever. The new book contains creations such as salted chicory mousse, parsley panna cotta, anise hyssopy sorbet and his signature dish, Dexter beef.
After two hours of demonstrations and sampling, my time in the kitchen has come to an end as staff gear up for a busy lunch service. It's been a truly memorable experience. There's no great secret. Modest surroundings, a humble chef and outstanding creative food.
Clear your diary. Book yourself a table. I've seen how they cook. I know exactly how it tastes. And I know you'd be a fool to miss out.
Beyond Essence by David Everitt-Matthias is published by Absolute Press and costs £30