Whenever it’s time to redevelop one of our menus, we take inspiration from everywhere we can find it: guests’ feedback, marketplace research, consultation with experts.
Adding the adventure
Back in February, we sat down and looked at our Dining In menu. It was popular – guests loved being able to order food to enjoy in their lodge and skip the hassle of cooking or going out. It was familiar – most people love Chinese, pizza and curry. But it wasn’t adventurous, it wasn’t unique and it wasn’t particularly family-friendly. That’s what I had to change.
We worked through all the existing dishes, deciding which to drop and which to keep. Everything that was kept would need to be improved, and we would need a raft of new dishes to inject some life into the offering. I wanted to bring in dishes that our guests would be so excited to order, and even more excited to tuck into once they arrive.
We started by going through all our guest feedback. You wanted a chip shop-style Anglo-Chinese curry, so we developed the best one you’ve ever eaten, with a powerful peppery kick. You wanted more heat in the Indian selection, so we’ve added a chili balti and a vindaloo recipe – be careful what you wish for!
Next we went out into the marketplace to see what the best restaurants and room service menus were offering. We consulted with the Good Earth Group, who run high-end Chinese restaurants around London. With their expertise in traditional oriental cooking, we were able to re-engineer all of our Chinese dishes, making small tweaks that have resulted in a big improvement across the board.
Perfecting our pizzas
Pizzas were my next project. Our pizza bases have been a labour of love for me as long as I can remember. The old pizzas were too thick. I knew that, but there was no way to change the recipe without compromising on the quality.
Have you ever noticed how a pizza in a restaurant is thin and crispy and authentic, but takeaway pizzas are thick and doughy? It’s down to the pizza boxed. Put a hot pizza in a cardboard box and the resulting steam will sit around the dough, making it soft. Not the end of the world if your base is thick, but a thin base will quickly become soggy and unpleasant. It’s a notoriously difficult dilemma and most takeaways give up and serve the thick chewy stuff.
But I wasn’t defeated. I finally found the perfect dough – a centuries-old traditional recipe originating in Naples, the home of pizza. Then, after copious amounts of research into packaging options, we found a simple fix to the box problem – using an extra piece of corrugated cardboard under the pizza to lift it and act like a vent.
Our new pizzas have the perfect authentic, thin and crisp base. The recipe is specifically designed to be cooked in a traditional wood-fired pizza oven, like the ones we use in the Dining In kitchen. I also upgraded the tomato sauce at the same time to use fresh tomatoes – the proper Italian way.
We also have a beautiful new gluten-free dough which I’m very excited about following my gluten-free experiment earlier this year.
Tapas from the top
The tapas selection is one of my favourite new additions and really marks our move away from the typical takeaway fare. The idea came right from the top – from Center Parcs CEO Martin Dalby. He had a vision of guests arriving for their break in the summer sunshine, ordering a selection of delicious Spanish tapas dishes and sitting on their private patio with a cold glass of wine.
To make that dream a reality, we set about sourcing the best tapas products to create a bespoke selection, especially for our guests. It includes beautiful Manchego cheese with quince jelly, perfect olives and some superb chorizo we import from Spain, sauté with wine and rep peppers and serve warm with soft bread.
Developing dishes that our younger guests will love is an ongoing goal of mine. Dining In should be about the whole family coming together over great food, and a lot of younger palates don’t enjoy the spicy flavours of Indian and Chinese cooking. We’ve added the fajitas from Huck’s American Bar and Grill to the Dining In menu – you can enjoy the same interactive, build-your-own element you get with crispy duck pancakes.
I’ve also introduced a lasagne and the Huck’s mac ‘n’ cheese, available in single portions and family-sized trays. They arrive hot and bubbling at your door – the ultimate convenience in family dining.
But if I had to recommend just one dish on the new menu, it would be our first foray into Japanese food. A beautiful fillet of fresh, tender salmon sits on gently stir-fried udon noodles and green vegetables. It’s everything that’s great about Japanese cuisine – simple, clean flavours and a healthy, no-fuss dish. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and it went down brilliantly in testing, so make sure you try it!
Try it yourself
Take a look at the full Dining In menu and see what happened behind the scenes at our menu photo shoot. What are you looking forward to trying from the new menu? Let us know in the comments.