We had a wonderful fine dining experience at the weekend, we returned to The Five Fields restaurant in Chelsea, and I must say that this Michelin starred restaurant, once again, did not disappoint. The Five Fields focuses on seasonal, British produce serving menus inspired by the seasons, in fact, a lot of the vegetables and herbs that they use are grown in their own kitchen garden in Sussex, something they are rightly proud of. Our waiters were particularly animated when describing our dishes, especially when the provenance of a certain ingredient, such as the celeriac we were eating, was from their own garden – it definitely made our dining experience more personal and it was encouraging to see the staff so engaged with the food that they were serving. The dining room is elegant and sophisticated, and most importantly small enough to retain a special, intimate atmosphere, which food of the calibre that they are serving, deserves.
Chef Taylor Bonnyman and his team are known for their beautiful, creative menus, and on the evening that we visited we could find no fault. The set tasting menu was perfectly executed (with gluten free options for me) – it was cooking at its best, creative yet not overly fussy, with superb flavour combinations. (Unfortunately my photos really do not do the food justice – I’m afraid I was more interested in enjoying the food than getting the right camera angle!!)
Our meal began with an array of canapes (salmon, leek, foie gras and oyster), they were the perfect amuse bouche before we moved onto the ‘Celeriac with Black Truffle & Pastrami’, it is difficult for me to describe the incredible flavour that this celeriac dish managed to deliver, it was sweet and meaty yet retained the lightness of the vegetable – I will never see celeriac in quite the same way! Our next course was ‘Turnip, Seaweed & Scallop’, an inspired combination, the turnip totally complimented the sweetness of the scallops, and the hint of saltiness from the seaweed was a fabulous finishing touch. Next up was ‘Brill with Velvet Crab and Monk’s Beard’ which was absolutely beautiful, the broth was exquisite. This was followed by ‘Fallow Deer with Jerusalem Artichoke & Pear’, I must say that the venison was one of the best I have tasted – it was extremely tender, cooked to perfection, and with the Jerusalem artichoke which was both puréed and lightly fried it was a luxurious dish. To prepare us for our dessert we were served ‘Honey, Milk and Marzipan’, a milk ice cream with delicate marzipan ‘flowers’, drizzled with their own rich and floral Sussex honey. Our main dessert, ‘Plum, Elderberry & Sake Lees’, was essentially a plum tart but one which would be difficult to match, the slightly sticky plum ‘flower’ was presented in a crisp tart with a delicious custard which was salted to perfection. Finally, with our coffee we were presented with petits fours – what a perfect end!
Throughout our meal the service was impeccable yet friendly and unpretentious, the staff seemed genuinely proud and invested in the food that they were serving. Our sommelier particularly deserves a mention, we had wine by the glass, he presented us with wine choices which complimented the courses wonderfully, yet were not ridiculously priced.
So what else can I add but ‘Wow’ …and that I think that this restaurant deserves more than one Michelin star!!…
I would recommend that you treat yourselves – a visit to The Five Fields would make a wonderful Christmas present!
If you live in South London, you will probably know or would have heard of the restaurant, Chez Bruce. Chez Bruce is a gem in South London’s restaurant scene, situated on Wandsworth Common it first opened its doors in 1995 with the intention of ‘serving the best food and drink but within a relaxed, informal yet professional environment’, it has certainly achieved its goal and 25 years later is still as successful as ever. I must admit, that as a South Londoner myself, I have been a customer for most of those 25 years, and have never been disappointed with the food – now that is an achievement!
A couple of weeks ago Nick and I enjoyed our first Sunday lunch there since before lockdown and I was so happy to see that little had changed. In fact we were planning to return at the weekend for dinner with friends, but unfortunately due to London entering tier two of Covid restrictions we had to cancel our reservation. However, I am happy to be able to share our fantastic Sunday lunch visit with you.
Chez Bruce serves a modern menu of food based loosely on classical and regional French/ Mediterranean cuisine. The price is fixed for 3 courses, depending on whether you are having lunch or dinner and on which day – the Sunday lunch option at £50 is a particularly good choice. The restaurant itself maintains a lovely neighbourhood feel, its simple dining room has a relaxed interior, with service which is on a par with any top Michelin starred restaurant in town.
On arrival for our Sunday lunch we were pleased to see that everything seemed to be as great as ever; it’s the little extras that Chez Bruce exceeds in, for instance, on receiving the menu you are also presented with their light, crisp parmesan biscuits (and for those who are gluten free, like me, toasted spiced nuts – very moreish!). After these and a cheeky lunchtime glass of champagne, we were more than ready to tuck into our starters, for me, ‘Loch Duart Salmon Rillettes with Horseradish, Smoked Salmon, Potato, Beetroot and Dill’, it was a winning combination of classic flavours and beautiful textures. Nick chose one of the restaurants classics, ‘Foie Gras and Chicken Parfait with Toasted Brioche’ – creamy and fantastic, as always! Moving on to our mains, I wanted something autumnal to suit the outside, blustery Sunday afternoon, so it had to be the ‘Venison Loin with Glazed Game Burger, Cabbage à l’ancienne and Celeriac Purèe’, it was exactly what I wanted, ‘a proper plate of food’! Nick couldn’t resist the ‘Roast Beef with Dripping Roasties, Crushed Squash, Stuffed Mushroom and Yorkshire Pudding’, with its refined flavours it was an elegant take on the traditional English roast. Finally, desserts, Nick opted for Chez Bruce’s classic ‘Hot Chocolate Pudding with Praline Parfait’, as always a winner, whilst I had the ‘Baked Cheesecake with Rum & Raisin Ice Cream and Candied Peel’ – honestly, I think that this was the real winner!
Eating at Chez Bruce is a win-win event and, is thus, money well spent, plus the complimentary chocolate truffles at the end of the meal are more than worth the visit!
This weekend, Nick and I went over to Columbia Road in Hackney, for a stroll and to browse around some of the independent, very ‘on trend ‘ shops. One of these shops included the pop up boutique, Studio Wylder, which belongs to my old friend, Tasha, in which she sells her own designs, including gorgeous one off sheep skin jackets, hand sewn bags and jewellery. It was really refreshing to be around this energetic area of London and, of course, it gave us the perfect excuse to revisit ‘Brawn’, Columbia Road’s neighbourhood restaurant. Situated on a corner plot in a converted warehouse, Brawn’s dining room, a light filled space with a casual interior, was perfect for our lunchtime jaunt. As on our previous, pre-lockdown visits, we found that the atmosphere was ‘buzzy’ and friendly, and most importantly, that the food was delicious.
The menu is seasonal, with lots of interesting flavours such as the starter of ‘Raw Scallop, Almond, Apple, Sorrel & Horseradish’, which was delicious with beautifully balanced flavours. We also shared a platter of Coppa which was really fresh and flavoursome, and ‘Gnocco Fritto, Schiena’, little pieces of lightly fried dough also wrapped in Coppa, these were very light and moreish. For my main course I chose the ‘Partridge, Rainbow Chard, Quince, Lentils & Pancetta’, it was good, the quince really held this dish together with its slight sweetness which complimented the saltiness of the lentils, however, I must admit to having ‘plate envy’ for Nick’s chosen course, ‘Onglet, Fried Violet Artichokes, Shallots, Anchovy & Chicory’, the flavours of this were divine; the deep fried artichokes particularly stood out. Finally desserts, an amazing ‘Chocolate Tart’ – the fondant was smooth whilst the pastry base was crisp and light, and a ‘Vanilla Rice Pudding, Figs, Walnuts & Boozy Prunes’ – need I say more?…it was a perfect autumn afternoon hug!
Although Brawn isn’t necessarily cheap, it is the type of place where you could pop in for just one course with a glass of wine to simply enjoy the casual, friendly dining room (they have an interesting wine list of mostly biodynamic wines). It definitely isn’t a bad place to while away an afternoon or an evening!…
Following the recommendation posted on the Instagram page of one of my favourite cookbook writers, Diana Henry, we tried a new restaurant last week, Daffodil Mulligan.
By its own admission Daffodil Mulligan ‘embodies the heart, soul and mischief of the Irish, but with international food influences’, I was intrigued to see what this meant exactly!…I must admit on entering the restaurant I was a little sceptical, as it was rather like a modern American bar with tables, not my preferred choice of interior, whilst the ambience was quite lively and rather noisy. When seated at our table we were hit by how cold it was, and looking around we noticed that most people were wearing their layers – the woman seated near to me was wearing her partner’s jacket! When I asked the waiter if it was possible to turn down the air conditioning he apologised, saying that it wasn’t possible and that it was something to do with Covid(?) – I must admit I didn’t actually catch the full explanation as it was muffled by his mask!…Anyway I ended up wearing my leather jacket throughout the evening.
So all in all not the best start to our night out! But, of course we were there for the food and that didn’t disappoint …
We started our meal with a couple of ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktails – they were really well made, properly with bourbon rather than whiskey (my pet hate), so this definitely warmed us up – a bit!
The menu has lots of small tasting plates as starters, in this way the restaurant is more suited to groups of friends rather than couples, as you really do want to share as many as possible – they all sounded delicious. Nick and I shared the Salt Chilli Chicken with Cucumber Pickles and Beef Tartare with Oyster Cream, they were generous portions; both were really unusual, delicious and moreish. For our main courses , I choose the ‘Hannan’s Sugar Spit Pork, Swiss Chard, Gochujang & Smoked Tomato’, the pork was seriously good, literally falling of the bone, it had a beautiful sweet, smoked flavour subtly spiced with the gochujang (the only regret I have is that my waiter didn’t advise me to order a side dish, which it needed, as it was literally just a piece of meat with a few leaves of rainbow chard). Nick chose the ‘Prawn Goan Curry with Ginger & Mango Salsa’, an unusual choice for him, one which the waiter had recommended as they had run out of the sirloin that he had wanted(!), it was good but not groundbreaking, probably not the best choice. Desserts were superb, I had ‘Wood Fire Fig, Brown Sugar Meringue, Mascarpone & Autumn Spice Ice Cream’ – the figs were unusually spiced and beautifully complimented by the brown sugar meringue, Nick had the fantastic ‘Caramel Crème with Tipsy Prunes & Sable’ – the prunes soaked in Armagnac were the winner here!.
So, would I recommend Daffodil Mulligan?…from a food perspective definitely – I’m pleased to say that, unsurprisingly, Diana Henry was right on this level! However, if you do visit I would recommend you do so with friends, it’s not really suited to couples both from the noise level and from the point of view that being in a group would allow you to share more of the delicious starters! Finally, make sure you wear a couple of layers as the air conditioning is a killer!…
A word of advice to anyone starting a new relationship – make note of the smallest of anniversaries as they will give you the excuse to celebrate in the future! Hence last week, Nick and I had the perfect excuse to treat ourselves to dinner at Clarke’s; we celebrated our ‘first meeting’ anniversary (28yrs!). Sally Clarke’s restaurant, Clarke’s, first opened its doors in 1984 and it has been a highly regarded resident of North Kensington since, winning much critical acclaim. Indeed, I remember that when I was a student living in Notting Hill, my bus route used to pass the restaurant and I always dreamed of eating there, but in those days it was way beyond the realms of my student budget. Fortunately I can now afford to treat myself! Clarke’s menu prides itself on using the best, seasonal ingredients and our meal last week was as fresh as ever; even though the plates seem simple, the flavours are very sophisticated, and I should point out that the photos I have taken do not do the food justice!
Entering the restaurant, you almost instantly feel like your worries are left at the door; the warm, classically designed room creates a welcoming ambience whilst the staff are very attentive, without being oppressive. The icing on the cake for me is the white tablecloths – as I’ve mentioned before, I do love a white clothed table – it gives that sense of occasion that I yearn for when eating out in a restaurant of a certain calibre.
On the evening of our visit, the menu had early autumn overtones, which was perfect as the weather had suddenly dropped 8 degrees! For my first course I chose a Salad of Burrata with Purple Figs, Sussex Leaves and Toasted Cobnuts, whilst Nick chose the Home Made Foie Gras with Onion Marmalade, Celery, Radishes and Baguette – both were beautifully seasonal with clean flavours, they were a great start to our meal. For his main course, Nick had the Grilled Correze Veal Chop with Padron Peppers and Baked Fennel, Baked Heritage Carrots and Bitter Leaves; the size of the chop was impressive, a T-bone cut, cooked to perfection whilst the baked fennel was particularly outstanding. My main course was the Rhug Estate Fallow Deer Loin Roasted with Purple Plums and Fresh Walnut, Rainbow Chard, Root Vegetables and Spelt, the venison was beautifully cooked and its gamey flavour (fallow deer can often be particularly gamey), was cut with the sweetness of the plums whilst the rainbow chard was really delicious – I made a personal note to myself to cook this vegetable more at home! Finally desserts, Soft Meringue with Chocolate Ice-Cream and Honeycomb – a seriously good meringue, very chewy, just how I like it, and a Cheesecake which was incredibly light.
Clarke’s is by no means a cheap restaurant but it is definitely money well spent, they also offer a great set lunch, £29.50 for two courses which would be a great introduction to their beautiful, seasonal food. You must find an excuse to treat yourselves!
We returned last week with friends to Lorne, a lovely restaurant that we discovered a few years back. Its location, on the backstreets near to Victoria station, gives this restaurant a ‘neighbourhood’ feel, which I really like. It has a lovely light, clean interior that lends itself to a casual atmosphere yet the food is very special. I was pleased to find that post lockdown, during our Friday evening visit, it seemed to be ‘busy’, and that the service was, as always, friendly and attentive. Most importantly their modern British menu was as pleasing as ever.
We started our meal with a couple of aperitifs, a Lorne Aperitif for me, which was a combination of white port, rosemary and Chartreuse, it was little like a fresh sherry but with a more elegant finish; it was an unusual choice for me but was a perfect beginning to our wonderful meal. Nick opted for a Negroni which was apparently one of the best he’s had in a long time – coming from the ‘Negroni connoisseur’, this was an excellent compliment!
Moving on to our first course we opted for a white Burgandy, which our waitress recommended, it was fabulous and complimented our food perfectly… For our first courses we chose Roast Quail, Celeriac, Pear, Hazelnut Pesto & Endive, I loved the sweetness of the pear which was cut by the hazelnut – a very light and fresh dish, whilst the Chanterelle, King Oyster Mushroom and Wakame Seaweed Tart, Leek Fondue & Crispy Kale, ticked all the boxes. For our main courses, the Guinea Fowl Breast, Pied de Mouton, Purple Sprouting Broccoli & Sweetcorn, was ‘stunning’. The Roast Sea Bass, Curried Cauliflower Purée, Rainbow Chard, Dukkah & Cornish Mids, was well presented; I felt that it could have benefited from a light ‘jus’ as it was a slightly dry, but I must admit the flavours, particularly the rainbow chard and the purée, were really delicious. Finally the desserts, these really were the winners of the meal; Roast Fig Tart, Honeycomb, Cream Cheese & Fig Leaf Ice Cream, ‘fabulous’, and Chocolate & Blackberry Mousse with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, an unusual but fantastic combination of flavours which truly hit the spot!
Lorne, with its unassuming exterior and location is a true ‘gem’, a restaurant which has the winning combination of an unpretentious atmosphere and a creative menu which is light but packed with lots of flavour.
I celebrated another friend’s big ‘5’ ‘0’ last weekend(!), we marked the occasion with a day out in the New Forest. My friend now lives in the area, so her London friends, myself included, took the train down to have a celebratory lunch at the Pig, Brockenhurst.
The Pig, Brockenhurst, describes itself as a restaurant with rooms, and since opening in 2011 it has opened other similar ‘Pig’ establishments in the south of England. Their ‘simple and honest’ philosophy is to serve food using only produce that they can grow in their own kitchen garden or source within 25 miles of the restaurant.
The train from London to Brockenhurst is direct, just under two hours. From there the Pig is a fifteen minute taxi drive, so it is a very ‘do-able’ day trip from the city. Fortunately, my friend could drive the five of us around (masked up!), so first of all, to whet our appetites and loosen our limbs after our train ride, we drove over to the nearby coastline to have a short, bracing beach walk before our lunch.
After that, we most definitely deserved a cocktail, so on arrival at the Georgian country house which is now home to the Pig, we took our aperitifs on their front lawn, enjoying the last of the summer sun. The grounds are lovely and include their impressive kitchen garden, I didn’t get the chance to see it on this occasion, but have seen it on a previous visit!
The restaurant itself, the Greenhouse Restaurant, so called for its shabby chic, conservatory setting, is in the heart of the house. It serves ‘British kitchen garden food’ focused on simple and fresh flavours, the ambiance is relaxed, and in my opinion, particularly suited to small groups of families and friends. To start our lunch, we all opted for the Pickled Mackerel salad, it was a good choice with fresh flavours. Moving on to our main course we enjoyed the Lamb Barnsley Chop with Chargrilled Courgette, which was served with a rich and flavoursome gravy, very British and very tasty – if I am absolutely honest I would have preferred it cooked a little more pink, however it was still delicious. Finally, for dessert, Baked Plums with Ewes Milk Curd – sweet and salty, it was a good end to a very satisfying lunch which had uncomplicated, fresh and honest flavours.
So, I am pleased to give you another recommendation- if you fancy a day out in the New Forest, The Pig, Brockenhurst would be a good spot for lunch with the possibility of walk in the woods nearby, alternatively you could choose to have a weekend break and stay overnight in one of their rooms!…
This week it was my son Felix’s birthday so naturally I had another excuse to dine out in style! The Wolseley Café & Restaurant, has been a family favourite of ours since it opened in 2003 (when Felix was just three!), over the years we have enjoyed either breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner there on various occasions, and so for Felix’s birthday we decided to return for the first time since lockdown.
The Wolseley has a fascinating history, originally built on Piccadilly in the 1920’s as a car showroom (for Wolseley Motors), the interior was designed to impress with marble pillars, archways and a high domed ceiling. Now transformed into the dining room of the Wolseley Restaurant, it is possible to appreciate this wonderful, unique architecture, indeed, it is for this reason that the dining room is one of my favourites in London. It is always buzzing whatever time of day, admittedly, being in the heart of London, it can be touristy, but in my opinion this adds to its cosmopolitan charm, whilst the chance of spotting a familiar famous face, always injects a little extra buzz; over the years I’ve spotted various celebs, and on this recent occasion Zoe Wanamaker was dining close by. The food has never let me down, it is not necessarily outstanding but always well done. It is a brasserie style menu with classic dishes such as ‘steak tartare’, ‘ coq au vin’ and ‘Chateaubriand’.
So on this, our first visit since Covid started, I was keen to see how the Wolseley was faring in a quieter central London. On entering, I was happy to see that the old buzz was surviving, although it was slightly quieter with more spaces between diners, it was as charming as ever with its beautifully laid tables and attentive service.
After cocktails (including my favourite espresso martini and Nick’s negroni), we moved on to first courses, ‘Dressed Dorset Crab’ and ‘Seared Scallops with Pommes Mousseline & Garlic Butter’; both very delicious, and a Cocktail of Prawns & Avocado, which was good but not quite matching the high standard of the one I had a few weeks ago at Foxhill Manor! Our second courses were Holstein Schnitzel (with anchovies, capers and a fried egg), Cannon of Salt Marsh Lamb and an Entrecote Steak, all were very well done. Finally desserts, an Apple Strudel which was particularly scrumptious and a Chocolate Pot du Crème which although was rather plain to look at was exceptionally good. In conclusion the food did not disappoint, our bill was on the expensive side as we did choose the most extravagant starters but then we were celebrating! I would undoubtedly recommend the Wolseley, you don’t necessarily need to go there for a full blown meal like we did, you could just do breakfast or a light lunch, it’s worth visiting for the combination of food, service and atmosphere – the Wolseley is a great treat, it is almost like stepping into a bygone era!
Over the next few weeks I will be celebrating a number of birthdays of friends and family…so I have the perfect excuse to eat out! This week it was my friend’s big ‘5’ ‘0’, so we decided to treat ourselves to a fine dining experience at Trinity, Adam Byatts restaurant which is local to us in Clapham. I have been fortunate to celebrate a number of special occasions in the past at Trinity and I was pleased to see that post lockdown, under the new Covid conditions, that it was still buzzing with energy. We ate in the Michelin starred restaurant downstairs, but there is also a more casual dining room upstairs which serves small plates designed to share (I haven’t tried this yet but it is on my ‘to eat out list’…watch this space!). Downstairs the dining room is a lovely, bright modern space with white tableclothed tables (I love a white tablecloth!), it is all very stylish but still manages to retain the charm of a neighbourhood restaurant.
I am pleased to say that the food was, once again, ‘show stopping’, not only well presented, but bursting with beautiful flavours. The dinner menu is a four course menu. For my first course I had Poached Salmon, Dressed Summer Beans, Cockles & Lovage, the salmon was beautifully cooked whilst the subtle flavour of the lovage and the bright, fresh flavours of the cockles and beans really lifted the plate. We also tried the Salad of Beetroots, Cherries and Graceburn, Rye Bread and White Soy – which was equally delicious. Second courses were Buttered Cornish Crab with Provençal Tomatoes, Gazpacho & Fig Oil – the light gazpacho was particularly memorable, and the Norfolk Quail with Scottish Girolles & Summer Squash was apparently ‘incredible’. Third course was Wild Turbot braised with Tomatoes & Fennel Lyonnaise; the aniseed flavours of the fennel took this dish to a superior level, we also chose Stuffed & Pot Roasted Sutton Hoo Chicken, Ceps, Leeks & Summer Truffle – exquisite. Finally the fourth course was Fig Leaf Soft Serve Ice Cream – a connoisseurs ‘Mr Whippy’ ice-cream, seriously smooth and creamy with a gorgeous fig syrup, and also a Savarin with Blood Peaches – ‘heavenly’. We enjoyed all of this wonderfully executed food with a beautifully, well balanced, White Burgundy wine. What a wonderful evening…it was one of those meals that you would like to return to and savour all over again!
So if you haven’t already tried Trinity, I definitely recommend that you put it on your ‘to visit’ list – either the main restaurant, where we dined, or ‘upstairs’ for a less formal menu – I am sure you won’t be disappointed!
We enjoyed a trip to Rye at the weekend, I must admit that we hadn’t been there for some years and had quite forgotten it’s wonderful charm and character. We had a lovely stroll around its streets, some of which are cobbled, and were enchanted by is crooked, half timbered medieval houses and it’s quaint Norman church. Staying the night with friends who live nearby, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the restaurant of Tillingham , a natural and biodynamic wine producer in nearby Peasmarsh.
Tillingham, first and foremost a vineyard and farm, opened a restaurant with rooms in their stylishly converted barn last September. Downstairs there is a wine bar serving their own wine and those of their favourite producers, and upstairs there is a restaurant; a wonderful, modern space with views across the vineyards. Outside, in the middle of their ‘farmyard’, they have converted a dutch barn into an outside kitchen and a terrace, where they serve pizzas.
The restaurant, where we dined, serves a set menu and is open Wednesday to Saturday night, but after speaking with the owner it seems they are contemplating also opening for Sunday lunch – which would be great for us London day trippers!…
We enjoyed a fantastic meal, starting with a Salad of Tomato, Goats Curd & Herbs – the flavours were beautifully lifted by the addition of the dill and mint. This was followed by Pappardelle with Courgette & Cora Linn (a salty sheep’s milk cheese). As I am gluten free I didn’t have this dish (although my fellow diners assured me it was delicious), instead I was served a Warm Salad of Lentils with Courgette, Beans and the aforementioned Cora Linn – it was extremely good, with salty overtones from the cheese. For our main course we enjoyed Roast Romney Lamb from Suffolk, with Green Beans, Dijon & Almonds; a simple dish but with beautiful, clean flavours. We opted for the additional cheese course, Brightwell Ash Goats Cheese with Sourdough Crisps and Pickled Cherries, I had never tasted pickled cherries before, and I discovered that they are a lovely, tangy accompaniment to a creamy cheese. Finally for dessert, we tucked into Baked Plums and Strawberries with a dollop of thick cream – a truly tasty, British pudding! Our meal was complimented by bottles of their Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, both bioganic wines, which although still very young and rather crisp, complimented the simple yet very tasty flavours of our food.
I would definitely recommend Tillingham for dinner and very much hope they decide to open for Sunday lunch, as not only would it be an easy day trip out of London but also, during the day, we would really be able to appreciate the views across its vineyards on to Romney Marsh and out to the sea. It is possible to stay the night, they have 11 rooms, I must admit that I did not personally see them, however, looking at their website, they seem to be stylishly designed.
So there you have it, a perfect excuse for a weekend getaway in which you can enjoy great food in-house and the beautiful countryside around this corner of East Sussex – I particularly recommend a stroll around Rye and Winchelsea, while there are some great coastal walks nearby!
This year like most of you, our summer holiday plans have been scuppered. Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions we decided to not venture abroad but stay closer to home. The Cotswolds is home to many boutique hotels and not too far from London, so we chose this area as our destination for our mini break. We wanted to be spoilt, and more than anything we wanted the food be top quality – we wanted a break in ‘Foodie Heaven’. After a lot of discussion we chose to stay in two hotels, one, Foxhill Manor for 3 nights and the other, Thyme Hotel, for two nights.
I thought that, as we have a common love for food, that I would share some of my experiences. I do not claim to be a food critic, this is just my personal experience of eating out and staying at these establishments; I will admit that reviewing is a learning curve, more than anything I found remembering to take photos of the food before tucking in the most difficult part!… You will see evidence of this in my photos – both the lack of photos of certain plates and the inclusion of half eaten ones!
We had, in fact, already had the pleasure of staying at Foxhill Manor for a weekend last year, pre-pandemic, and our decision to return for a second visit is testament to the success of our first visit. Foxhill Manor’s motto ‘whatever you fancy, wherever you fancy it’, is a true invitation to be spoilt. With only eight bedrooms this hotel offers tranquillity, yet as part of the Farncombe Estate it has plenty of private land to explore as well as two sister hotels, The Dormy House and The Fish which offer a change of scenery (and a spa) if needed. For us the main attraction of this hotel is the concept of their service and restaurant, all guests are invited to chat with the chef who will design a dinner based on what you fancy and the availability of the freshest, local and seasonal ingredients. When we visited the first time, we were not expecting such a personal approach to the food, we were very impressed with this concept and the incredible standard of the cooking. So returning under Covid conditions would be a little risky as obviously the atmosphere was bound to be different, but we were willing to take the chance…
Our Experience and the Food:
Before arriving at Foxhill Manor last week, Nick and I had already been discussing with great enthusiasm what we would be asking the chef to cook us. It had become a ‘last supper’ conversation and we were becoming rather confused about what we really wanted!…In the end we decided that at some point we would like a rack of lamb, and Nick also fancied a dover sole but apart from that we thought it best to allow the chef to guide us with his suggestions.
We were not disappointed by his recommendations. On our first evening we enjoyed foie gras which was subtly flavoured with ginger and pear, whilst our main course, the rack of lamb we had requested, was served with a light, summer white wine jus with some delicious dauphinoise potatoes. Dessert was a very elegant take on the flavours of Eton mess; cream was encased in meringue set beside a strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries combined with a mint and thyme syrup. Although thunderstorms were on the forecast, the sun continued to shine for us and we ate al fresco, enjoying a glass of champagne followed by a bottle of a Gevrey-Chambertin, which perfectly complimented the lamb – how perfect England can be when the sun shines!…Of course, in a very British way, the weather didn’t last for us and the following day the rain forced us inside to dine – not a bad thing in any case considering that the interior of Foxhill is so beautifully designed. The next two days we continued to be spoilt eating an array of dishes – all executed to a very high standard. As starters we enjoyed a light and refreshing crab salad with fennel, also mackerel with a wasabi cream and, on another occasion, an incredible prawn cocktail – I must admit that it was probably one of, if not the best, that I have eaten – with a mixture of shrimps, prawns and crayfish in a light marie rose sauce. As main courses, Nick had his pre-ordered dover sole simply grilled, but to perfection, whilst I enjoyed a sea bass with a tomato butter sauce, it’s vibrant colours along with fresh broad beans was a feast for the eyes and my taste buds confirmed that the flavours were just as vibrant. The following evening I chose pork loin with a confit of pork shoulder with black pudding (incredible!) served with an light apple jus whilst Nick chose a ribeye steak. Desserts included a chocolate fondant with white chocolate ‘aero’, a sticky toffee pudding, a cheesecake with apple and peacan nuts and a memorable peanut parfait.
It wasn’t difficult to relax into the ‘Foxhill” lifestyle, apart from having to wear our masks around the indoor public corridors, we were happy to see that little had changed since our last visit. Foxhill Manor is by no means cheap, however the price is all-inclusive, including champagne 24-7(!). Rooms are spectacular, each one is beautifully designed, huge and well appointed (we stayed in Chestnut). It’s not surprising that our days at Foxhill revolved around food and drink, so much so that we really did very little other than enjoy relaxing in our beautiful surroundings, we had originally planned to take a few walks but initially with the overbearing heat from the surprise heatwave it seemed silly to push ourselves and even when the weather turned to the normal damp English weather to which we’re accustomed, we chose to relax in our surroundings, after all, once you’re at Foxhill, why on earth would you want to leave?!…
After our three nights at Foxhill we were rather sad to be leaving, and a little apprehensive about how Thyme would compare. Once again our main attraction to Thyme was its reputation for its food. Their chef, Charlie Hibbert, is well respected and highly regarded for his farm-based and plant-inspired menu at the Ox Barn, Thyme’s main restaurant. Thyme describes itself as ‘a village within a village’, situated on the Southrop Estate they have a gastro pub, a cocktail bar named rather cleverly ‘Baa’(!), a shop, pool, spa, the aforementioned Ox Barn restaurant, and of course the hotel; all are surrounded by the greenery of its working farm.
Our Experience and the Food:
I must say that entering Thyme’s grounds, even in the summer drizzle was quite spectacular, the estate drive takes you from the picturesque village of Southrop through their fields of black sheep to their ‘village’ of stylishly renovated farm buildings. We were greeted by friendly staff and were initially very impressed as we were shown around the property – all beautifully designed with modern rustic flare. However, when we entered our room we were rather underwhelmed. We had been expecting that the room, in comparison to our Foxhill palatial suite, would be a simpler affair, but we were rather taken aback by how small and tired looking it was. There was no wardrobe, just a small rail in a cubby hole with four coat hangers, the bathroom was tiny and the rug was water stained (we were soon to discover why..). We were willing to ignore these ‘niggles’, but our disappointment was to turn to frustration when using the shower before dinner we discovered that it caused the bathroom to seriously flood – probably the reason for those water stains on the rug! On the way to dinner we mentioned to the hotel reception the problem and hoped they could remedy it – or at least remove the sopping wet towels we had used to mop up the floor. Returning to our room after dinner we were bemused to find that the wet towels were still on the floor; given that the price of the room was not that much cheaper than Foxhill Manor (particularly when you add on the extra charges for breakfast and dinner), we decided to cut our losses and check out early the next day! Certainly, our bedroom needed to be updated, but you get the feeling that staying guests are not Thyme’s priority. The problem is, that it seems to be a restaurant and a cookery school with rooms rather than vice versa, and thus you feel like you’re staying in a B&B on a stunning estate, but paying rates of a luxury hotel.
Our dining experience at Thyme was fortunately more positive. The Ox Barn is an impressive room with an incredible high, beamed ceiling. The atmosphere is energetic, the restaurant takes bookings from non-staying guests and it is obviously a popular local venue. I must admit that I was rather pleased that Covid restricted the number of guests, as I feel that it might have been a little too noisy under normal circumstances. The food was executed to a high standard – a fennel, blue cheese & apple salad and a porchetta tonnato, then as main courses, hogget (aged lamb) pea, anchovy & parsley sauce and roast pork with borlotti beans & sauce vierge, finally for dessert, gooseberry ice cream and an almond tart. However despite the presentation and the individual ingredients being impressive, the flavours were rather underwhelming, both Nick and I both agreed that there was ‘something’ missing, and that our lunch experience earlier that day at the ‘Wild Rabbit’ (review below) was much better. Perhaps if our dinner hadn’t been preceded by the ‘shame of the shower’ we would have been more forgiving – the flavours of food, in my opinion, are generally linked to an overall experience.
So our escape to ‘foodie heaven’ was generally a success, undoubtedly I would recommend Foxhill Manor, although to eat there you have to stay there – so it would be an expensive meal! You can, however, dine as a non-staying guest, at their sister hotel, The Dormy House; we had our first lunch here, and both enjoyed a beautiful piece of salmon; I would definitely dine there again. Obviously, I cannot recommend a stay at Thyme Hotel on the back of our experience – I’m truly gutted to say this, as the staff were genuinely welcoming and the grounds stunning. But if I was passing by again, I would definitely give it’s Ox Barn restaurant a second chance, it would be a good lunch option.
Situated in Kingham, Oxfordshire and owned by the Daylesford Estate, this restaurant was one of the highlights of our Cotswold food adventure. Kingham is a picturesque Cotswold village, which unlike some of the more well known villages in the neighbouring area is not as touristy so retains its original charm. The Wild Rabbit has a lovely, welcoming dining room with an open kitchen, we were made to feel very much at home by its friendly and professional staff, the service was extremely good and most importantly the food was first class and well presented. Unfortunately, on the day that we lunched, we had had a huge breakfast at Foxhill Manor(!), so we didn’t order starters but looking around the dining room I noticed that they all looked delicious. We did however enjoy the complimentary house crudité and bread; I was particularly impressed that they had a homemade gluten free option for me, these days it is still unusual for even the top restaurants to serve quality, homemade gluten free bread – something I find frustrating and disappointing seeing as it is not difficult to produce. For our main courses we ordered venison wellington and turbot with braised lettuce & peas, both were absolutely delicious – five star! We shared a dessert, a poached white peach with raspberries & vanilla cream, fresh and fragrant – a real joy.
I would without doubt recommend The Wild Rabbit. We have since discovered that the village of Kingham has a station which has direct links to London Paddington, so in fact it is quite possible to take a day trip to Kingham, have a country walk and finish off with a late lunch at the Wild Rabbit before returning home on the train – we will be browsing the train timetables soon!…