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Square Meal has consulted the opinions of our 25 regional reviewers as well as readers in our annual search for the best UK restaurants outside London. Here’s our top 50 selection
KEY TO REVIEWS
££££ Above £85
£ Under £45
Prices are based on a two-course dinner (starter and main) for one, including half a bottle of house wine, coffee, cover charge, service and vegetables. The aim is to give an indication of the amount you can expect to pay if you are choosing from the à la carte dinner menu.
1 L’Enclume £££
Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ; 015395 36362
Pure flavours and subtle artistry on the edge of the Lakes
After the nostalgic air of yesteryear sentimentality purveyed by many a Lake District dining room, L’Enclume comes as a breath of fresh air. The dark beams and whitewashed stone walls of the former blacksmith’s workshop provide an unfussy, neutral backdrop for cuisine that shows true passion and a commitment
to excellence in every respect.
In the past year chef Simon Rogan has become more focused on the raw materials available in this lush corner of Cumbria, acquiring an organic farm to grow the herbs, vegetables and fruits that now feature on his two tasting menus – one of eight courses (£60), the other of 13 (£80). He has also been working with a forager to explore the culinary possibilities presented by coastal and hedgerow finds.
Combinations of ingredients reveal a lively intelligence, and Rogan’s beautifully controlled artistry is seldom less than note perfect – even the most seemingly outlandish creations show subtle precision. Focused, well-balanced dishes such as his sea scallops with watercress purée, pickled apple and coastal herbs or skate ‘belly’ with spring greens, bay cockles and shallots are nothing short of a triumph. A visually stunning dish of sugarsnax and Paris Market carrots, presented with slivers of ham fat and playfully sprinkled with nasturtium flowers, demonstrates Rogan’s talent for drawing pure undiluted flavours out of his ingredients, while his Goosnargh duck breast and sweetbreads, well matched to chenopodiums (similar to spinach), reveals an equally deft touch with meat. Two superb confections, one of ice cream made from Cumbrian stout teamed with malt crumble and blackberry, and another of buttermilk, gingerbread, rhubarb and sweet cicely make a light and clever finale.
This is subtle cooking with a real sense of fun – strikingly paired ingredients linger in the memory long after eating – and it’s all matched by service that strikes just the right balance: friendly, professional and attentive.
All in all, L’Enclume offers destination dining at its very best from a brilliant chef still on his way up. As such, it’s a worthy winner of our BMW Square Meal Award for Best UK Restaurant, and more than merits the journey to its out-of-the-way location.
Variety is the watchword for this list, which offers a commendable choice of wine styles, grape varieties, regions, countries, prices and formats. Grand vins, such as a 1983 Pétrus for £1,200, sit
happily alongside crowd pleasers such as the Pewsey Vale Riesling from Australia’s Eden Valley for a reasonable £24, with plenty in between.
Best buy White 2006 Château d’Ampuis, Côtes du Rhône, E Guigal, Rhône, France, £28 Red 2004 Alpha Domus Merlot, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, £38.
2 Restaurant Nathan
St Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA; 01208 863394
First-class cooking from a prodigious young talent
His restaurant may have moved from Fowey to Rock, but that hasn’t prevented Nathan Outlaw from cooking some of the most engaging food outside London. An instinctive chef most at home with seafood, his cooking is as understated and elegant as the new location. The menu – hailed by one reader for its use of ‘fantastic seasonal produce’ – is made up almost exclusively of fish (and from Cornwall only, at that). Lemon sole with caper-potato dumplings, and sea bass with curried crab and leek and potato have earned special praise. The whole show is underpinned by staff for whom nothing is too much trouble.
3 Fat Duck ££££
1 High Street, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AQ; 01628 580333
Culinary alchemy in an unpretentious setting
Standards continue to soar at Heston Blumenthal’s three-Michelin-starred Bray restaurant. Tables are notoriously hard to come by but worth pursuing, as nothing compares to the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the tasting menu. Worth every bit of the £150, it is a rare combination of superb food served in a light-hearted way. And every one of the 18 dishes – from the first palate-cleansing mouthful of nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse to the last bite of a wafer-thin carrot and orange lollipop – is fascinating. ‘Pure theatre’ is just one of the many comments we’ve received about this world-famous restaurant.
4 Whatley Manor ££££
Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 0RB; 01666 822888
Stellar cooking at a luxurious weekend retreat
One of the best dining experiences to be had in the UK, last year’s winner of Square Meal’s Best UK Restaurant award has maintained its stride during the past year. Chef Martin Burge continues to bring together premium ingredients with a culinary wow factor. He brings deft handling to dishes such as parmesan cheese ravioli with iced truffle, Madeira gel and almond purée, and squab pigeon served with coffee and sherry gel, roasted foie gras and young turnips. Chicory mousse layered with bitter coffee and mascarpone cream is among the desserts that make a flawless finale.
5 The Waterside Inn ££££
Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AT; 01628 620691
The Roux family continues its quest for perfection
This year marks a quarter of a century that The Waterside Inn has held three Michelin stars. But the enduring success of this Bray institution owes as much to its easy mix of high standards and unaffected charm as to any guidebook recognition. Dishes such as roasted Challandais duck served with potato and garlic mousseline and cut through by a lemon and thyme jus ably demonstrate the standards associated with the Roux family (including executive chef Alain Roux, pictured right). A remarkable wine list, idyllic Thames-side location and first-class service also explain its enduring popularity.
6 Le Manoir aux
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, OX44 7PD; 01844 278881
Raymond Blanc’s culinary bastion in Oxfordshire
After celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009, it’s hard to imagine a restaurant scene without Raymond Blanc and his Oxfordshire institution. Le Manoir’s longevity owes much to Blanc’s enduring passion and the near-perfect pitch of his country-house hotel and restaurant. Everything exudes an air of quality, from the meticulously well-kept gardens to the individually themed bedrooms and Blanc’s sublime French cooking, which, says one satisfied diner, offers ‘options everyone would like’. Think cannelloni of sweet-fleshed langoustines served with a purée of cauliflower, garden herbs and topped with a roasted scallop and pearls of caviar. The picture is completed with a hefty Gallic wine list.
7 The Kitchin £££
78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6LX; 0131 555 1755
Husband-and-wife stars of the Edinburgh scene with a bright future
Taking a leaf out of mentor Pierre Koffmann’s book, Tom Kitchin’s cooking at his Leith restaurant draws on technical brilliance that brings the most out of every ingredient. Dishes such as seared hand-dived Orkney scallops with a velouté of spring peas and bacon might sound simple, but this is cooking that relies on real craft that thoroughly deserves the Michelin star it has picked up. Michaela, the other half of this impressive husband-and-wife team, seamlessly runs the front-of-house operation. One contented customer tells us: ‘The chef was so friendly and the seafood fantastic.’
8 Le Champignon Sauvage
24-28 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2AQ; 01242 573449
Gutsy two-Michelin-starred stalwart
Now open for 23 years, David and Helen Everitt-Matthias’s Cheltenham restaurant Le Champignon Sauvage more than lives up to its two-Michelin-star billing. The restaurant’s long-standing success is down to David’s dedication to his craft. His technically accomplished cooking combines bold, punchy flavours with contrasting textures and foraged UK ingredients – think of dishes such as pan-fried cock’s kidneys with a langoustine tortelloni, langoustine sauce, and a garnish of cress-like pennywort. His wife, Helen, ensures warm service that runs with aplomb.
9 Restaurant Sat Bains with
Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA; 0115 986 6566
Home to inventive modern cuisine
Try to ignore the less-than-salubrious setting on the edge of an industrial estate; Sat Bains is a chef who pushed culinary boundaries as far as any cook in Britain. Three tasting menus – five, seven or 10 courses – offer dishes that mix the classic with the very contemporary. In a mouth-watering line-up you’ll find crab croquette, butternut squash soup, and chicken-liver parfait served with tea jelly and topped with popcorn. Meanwhile, front of house is overseen by Sat’s wife, Amanda, who ensures personable, sweet-natured service.
10 The Crown at Whitebrook
Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, NP25 4TX; 01600 860254
Flying the flag for Wales with accomplished cuisine
Now one of Wales’s top dining destinations, it’s been three years since James Sommerin won the Crown its first Michelin star and in that time the talented young chef has continued to drive standards forward. Dishes such as Cornish mackerel with white chocolate, horseradish and beetroot are clever without being over-complicated, and the cooking is nicely balanced by top-notch service, a knowledgeable sommelier and an unstuffy interior with a superb display of original artwork.
11 The Walnut Tree Inn ££
Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 8AW; 01873 852797
Perfect marriage of inspiring chef and iconic restaurant
Gastro hero Shaun Hill is hitting his stride at this Welsh icon that’s had its ups and downs in recent years. He has turned what was briefly a sinking ship into a standard bearer for skilful, down-to-earth cooking built on terrific ingredients – most of them local. The result is a highly distinctive menu that showcases just about everything Hill has learned in his long career, dishes such as steamed brill and tempura of oyster.
12 Restaurant Andrew
The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF; 01764 694267
Still flying high as one of Scotland’s premier dining destinations
The reputation of Andrew Fairlie’s two-Michelin-starred cuisine was enhanced in 2005 when the Scottish-born chef cooked for world leaders at the G8 summit, and since then it has maintained the same impeccable standards. Trained in the French tradition, Fairlie is unafraid of putting masculine, meaty food on the table, sourced from French and Scottish suppliers. A thoroughly grown-up and elegant gastronomic experience.
13 The Hand and Flowers ££
126 West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2BP; 01628 482277
A gastropub at its very finest
A short trip west from London, Tom and Beth Kerridge have successfully fashioned this workaday Marlow pub into a Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms. Front of house, Beth is warm and charming while, behind the scenes, Tom combines gutsy flavours with British ingredients to create first-class cuisine. Sit down for a formal meal – slow-poached leg of rabbit, cauliflower risotto, diced turnip, herb sauce and a toasted caraway pastry perhaps – or pop along at lunch for a real ale and a bite from the bar menu.
14 Purnell’s ££
55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham, B3 2DH; 0121 212 9799
Dazzling cooking in Birmingham
The face of a burgeoning Birmingham restaurant scene, chef Glynn Purnell’s first solo venture has gone from strength to strength since it opened three years ago. Clever, playful touches and nods to the city’s curry-heavy culinary heritage are the hallmarks of his cooking – his signature dish is poached egg yolk, smoked haddock milk foam, cornflakes and curry oil. Smart, unpretentious decor and well-defined service make this city-centre restaurant a destination for clued-up diners.
15 Northcote £££
Northcote Road, Langho, Lancashire, BB6 8BE; 01254 240555
Expert Brit cooking with Lancashire roots
Chef Nigel Haworth has built up a formidable reputation for his honest, Lancastrian cooking; his restaurant is very much the hub of the business he runs with Craig Bancroft. The menu embraces classic recipes, such as Lancashire hotpot for two, as well as more refined dishes, including west coast scallops with new season’s asparagus, morels and cappuccino sauce. All the ingredients are fastidiously sourced from local suppliers.
16 Gidleigh Park ££££
Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH; 01647 432367
Refined and elegant cuisine on the edge of Dartmoor
Set in the beautiful surrounds of a mock Tudor mansion, complete with manicured lawns and secluded woodland, Michael Caines’s restaurant at Gidleigh Park deals in refined, contemporary French cooking at its best. Dishes such as pan-fried langoustine with St Enodoc asparagus, crisp belly pork, sweet pea
and mint purée, and smoked bacon and shallot velouté showcase Caines’s continued finesse in the kitchen. A stellar wine list and slick, attentive service make this a knock-out operation.
17 Midsummer House
Midsummer Common, Cambridge, CB4 1HA; 01223 369299
Culinary wizardry by the river in Cambridge
Chef Daniel Clifford’s modern French cooking remains the premier culinary draw in Cambridgeshire, his scientific approach and top-quality sourcing continually wowing readers. Dishes such as a pot-roast guinea fowl, creamed leeks and truffle crisps with foie gras Wellington are impeccably executed, though one can encounter the odd overly ambitious effort. All in all, Clifford’s deft hand with taste and texture combine with flawless service to make this a must-visit.
18 Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House £££
Henley Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2EY; 01628 891010
Original cooking in elegant surrounds
Set in the magnificent Danesfield House Hotel and Spa, this understated, elegant restaurant is undoubtedly among the region’s finest. Simmonds is a chef with a bright future, handling his well-sourced ingredients in ever-more ingenious ways. From starters such as seared scallops with truffle jelly and globe artichoke purée, through to desserts of milk chocolate, banana and rum millefeuille with banana parfait, Simmonds never loses his ability to mix classic French cooking with imaginative modern touches. Make sure you don’t miss out on the superb cheese trolley.
19 Tyddyn Llan NEW entry
Llandrillo, Corwen, Clwyd, LL21 0ST; 01490 440264
A Welsh treasure surrounded by stunning countryside
Brian and Susan Webb make a formidable double act at their restaurant-with-rooms on the edge of a snoozy village in the lovely Dee Valley. Brian’s dedication to sourcing fine seasonal and often local ingredients is obvious. These form the cornerstone of a confident yet sensible cooking style, producing dishes such as local spring lamb with artichokes, peas, broad beans and mint, that have won a Michelin star in 2010. Susan’s chatty, personable front-of-house style ensures that all runs smoothly.
20 Bohemia ££
Green Street, St Helier, Jersey, JE2 4UH; 01534 876500
Island cooking in Jersey
That Bohemia attracts foodie tourists to its hard-to-reach Jersey location speaks volumes. Shaun Rankin’s menu of locally caught, picked and reared ingredients blows away any cobwebs from the formal hotel dining room setting. Dishes such as confit of belly pork alongside quince and apple jelly, with a roast foie gras and scallop brochette, or fillets of John Dory with confit of frog legs, minted peas and summer truffle are both beautiful and hearty. The menu is completed by a superb Anglo-French cheeseboard.
21 21212 NEW entry £££
3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh, EH7 5AB; 0131 523 1030
The sum of Scottish creativity in the capital city
Launched in 2008 by Paul Kitching and Katie O’Brien, the numerical name refers to chef Kitching’s menu – a choice of two starters, one interim course, a choice of two mains, one interim course and a choice of two desserts. Imaginative dishes include a starter of white asparagus, caviar, dried cherries, cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms, and a main of lamb with dates, walnut, pasta, cucumber and rosemary. Creativity, flavour, fun, excellent service and interesting wines – 21212 has it all.
22 Michael Wignall at The
Pennyhill Park Hotel, London Road, Bagshot, Surrey, GU19 5EU; 01276 471774
Skilfully executed food against a bucolic backdrop
Upstaging the Pennyhill Park country house hotel’s 123 acres of Surrey parkland, golf course and spa is a hard task, but chef Michael Wignall has managed to do it at his Latymer restaurant. Exquisitely crafted dishes such as plaice with scallop, oyster beignets, creamed polenta, palm hearts and edamame beans thoroughly deserve the Michelin star Wignall now holds.
23 Fraiche ££
11 Rose Mount, Oxton, Wirral, CH43 5SG; 0151 652 2914
French progress on Merseyside
Set behind a low-key frosted shopfront, Oxton restaurant Fraiche may look unassuming, but it’s quietly concentrating on getting all the details just right. Marc Wilkinson’s forward-thinking French cooking produces dishes that can feel almost futuristic – think sweetbread with smoked olive and apple textures, and slow-cooked pork belly flavoured with raisin and Earl Grey, and fondant potato.
24 The Royal Oak £
Paley Street, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 3JN; 01628 620541
Parky’s popular Paley Street pub
The Royal Oak is owned by TV legend Michael Parkinson and his son Nick, who chose well when they appointed former Hinds Head chef Dominic Chapman to run the kitchen at their Berkshire hostelry. His hearty and creative cooking delivers dishes such as roast grouse partnered with apple jelly, bread sauce, gravy and potato crisps fried in game fat, along with comfort food desserts such as bread and butter pudding and rhubarb trifle.
It all ensures you leave with a warm glow.
25 The Hambrough ££
Hambrough Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1SQ; 01983 856333
Island gem led by a talented young chef
This smart, minimalist restaurant in a rather wonderful boutique hotel is under the steady hand of talented young chef Robert Thompson. His proud use of Isle of Wight ingredients is showcased in dishes such as an elaborately contrived smoked trout terrine with foie gras and Granny Smith apple and a nage of lemon sole partnered with lobster and rocket pasta. Service is both assured and slick.
26 The Sportsman £
Faversham Road, Seasalter, Kent, CT5 4BP; 01227 273370
Foodie haven on the Kentish coast
In the 10 years since Stephen Harris took over The Sportsman he has taken the site from run-of-the-mill pub to secret foodie destination to Michelin-starred institution. Guests can either choose from the daily dishes on the chalkboard or opt for the full tasting menu but, either way, Harris’s inventive and meticulous approach to cooking means that ingredients – many of which, such as butter and sea salt, are homemade – are treated with the utmost respect.
27 The Harrow at Little
Little Bedwyn, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 3JP; 01672 870871
Destination restaurant in a peaceful rural location
Located in a secluded village on the Kennet and Avon Canal, this country restaurant is a classy affair, despite its sleepy setting. Inside, muted modern shades, high-backed leather chairs and crisp white linen make for a formal but unstuffy dining room. Meanwhile, the kitchen shows an ambition that has been rightly rewarded with a Michelin star, turning out dishes such as scallops with chicken, and a morel and wild garlic broth.
28 The Peat Inn ££
Near St Andrews, Fife, KY15 5LH; 01334 840206
Revamped institution set in rural Fife
Retaining the commitment to seasonal produce that made The Peat Inn a foodie haven during its former incarnation under David Wilson, chef Geoffrey Smeddle has raised the bar in terms of cooking since taking the reins in 2006. Dishes such as field-reared veal with pot-roast root vegetables, quince, chestnuts and juniper sauce, and langoustines with crisp pork belly and butternut squash pannacotta demonstrate the kitchen’s high standards. This is complemented by service out front that is formal, expert but never stuffy.
29 The Montagu Arms
Palace Lane, Beaulieu, Hampshire, SO42 7ZL; 01590 612324
Simple and elegant cuisine in the New Forest
This Beaulieu hotel managed something of a coup when it secured Matthew Tomkinson in 2008; the talented young chef gained a Michelin star just six months later. The menu delivers simply executed and gently sauced dishes, among them scallops with glazed pork belly, toasted peanuts, pea shoots, apple and radish salad, and herb-crusted cod with confit tomatoes, mussels and spring onion gnocchi. Meals end on a high note with a delectable dessert ensemble including banana soufflé with banana ice cream, butterscotch sauce and honeycomb.
30 The Vineyard at
Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8JU; 01635 528770
A new chapter begins for the five-star Berkshire hotel
Gone is the molecular trickery that was previous incumbent John Campbell’s trademark; in comes the contemporary-classic style of Daniel Galmiche. Menu highlights include a verdant pea velouté punctured by a brilliant hit of smoked bacon foam, and a ruby-red medallion of Balmoral Estate venison teamed with dainty celeriac-packed cannelloni and puréed carrot. To finish, think a picture-perfect assembly of Lilliputian shortbread with baked slivers and fresh pearls of Granny Smith, fromage blanc and a heady Calvados sorbet. Staff are polite yet personable and a dip into the imaginatively stocked cellars is a must.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2010