Head ChefMathias Oberg
In this exclusive interview, Head chef Mathias Oberg shares his menu recommendations
You’re surrounded by astonishingly bountiful coast and countryside; which local ingredients do you especially rate?
In game season (mid August to the end of January) I always have Exmoor venison on the menu. It’s a deliciously soft and silky, gamey meat and I love the fact that serving it supports our local rural economy.
I serve it two ways on the plate, enabling me to use all of the animal which is much more sustainable. I’ll cook a beautiful piece of loin as the star of the show and accompany it with a slow-cooked cut such as shin or shoulder which is braised until it's unctuous. And, of course, we’ll choose the perfect garnish to go with them.
Which dish or ingredient should everyone order when they visit?
Everyone who visits Saunton should taste the lobster: it’s amazing. It’s Lundy lobster, caught from the waters near the island seen from our windows. It’s so good that I don’t like to do too much to it – I simply grill it and serve in the classic style with thermidor butter and new potatoes.
Of course, we always have chicken and steaks and other meat dishes on the menu too, and in winter we go heavier with ingredients such as venison, pigeon and partridge. We have a wide range of vegan and vegetarian dishes too.
In The Dining Room guests look out over the ocean. Does it put them in the mood to eat seafood?
I know when I visit the seaside I enjoy eating fish, so I keep a number of fish dishes on the menu, especially in summer. There’s always something new in season so the menu changes all the time.
I feel that in our surroundings we ought to serve British fish only, so we don’t have tuna on the menu. All of our fish is sourced from Devon and Cornwall – other than scallops which come from Scotland.
How do you design your dishes?
I get all the team involved; many of them have worked in great kitchens elsewhere so they bring something interesting. The key thing is for the dishes to be consistently good, regardless of how many people we have in the restaurant. I always say to the team: ‘Sure, we could make this dish amazing for 30 covers, but can we keep it consistently good in the middle of summer when we might be serving 200 people in an evening?’.
There’s always the potential for younger chefs to overcomplicate, so I say to them: ‘Think about the dish, make it how you want it, sit down and eat it, and then decide if it needs half of the stuff on the plate.’ Focus on simplicity and get it on point. That’s what matters.
What couldn’t you take off the menu without there being a riot?
There are certain dishes on the menu all year round and one of those is a Devon crab and avocado dish which is a bestseller.
How would you describe your ethos when it comes to cooking and designing dishes? I’ve worked in London and other cities and done all that pretentious stuff; now I simply look for good quality produce and make that the star. I don’t overcomplicate.