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Square Meal has trawled the length and breadth of the land in search of Britain’s 50 top regional restaurants – and here is our pick, kicking off with the winner of our award for the best out-of-London eatery.
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.
Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 0RB; 01666 822888
‘No expense spared’ is an understatement when it comes to describing the dramatic renovation of this 1920s
hunting lodge – now a favoured weekend chill-out for City execs & food-lovers alike. Formal evening meals are served in The Dining Room (two Michelin stars), where Martin Burge delivers a supreme, all-round gastronomic experience highlighted by a succession of sublime dishes. Langoustine tails & bacon glazed in soy alongside cauliflower purée topped with Thai foam is a refreshingly light way to begin, before an earthy but sophisticated combo of venison loin, served with its own sausage, cabbage purée, grated chocolate & reduced Shiraz. In contrast, steamed sea bass with cucumber gel, mussel mousse & lightly curried infusion is a fine-tuned symphony of summer. Desserts might feature an assembly of flawless black truffle ice cream with creamed Roquefort, deep-fried goats’ cheese & candied walnut. For something more casual, try Le Mazot – Whatley Manor’s Alpine chalet-style brasserie.
1 High Street, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AQ; 01628 580333
Since winning his third Michelin star in 2004, Heston Blumenthal has become one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. His brilliant, awe-inspiring and scientifically based cooking has gathered a legion of followers, and you have your work cut out to secure a table at his surprisingly unpretentious restaurant in the village of Bray. Persevere as a meal at The Fat Duck is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, well worth the money (the tasting menu costs £130) for extraordinary flavours such as sardines-on-toast sorbet and salmon poached in liquorice gel.
Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AT; 01628 620691
Holding three Michelin stars for almost a quarter of a century is no mean feat, but The Waterside Inn continues with aplomb, maintaining its eminently high standards without airs and graces. Pitch-perfect service, a remarkable wine list and an idyllic Thames-side setting back up the exceptional food – decadent concoctions such as lobster medallion with a white Port sauce and ginger-flavoured vegetable julienne or the tenderest saddle of milk lamb stuffed with earthy morel mushrooms. ‘Quite simply the best’ is the verdict of an array of fans – and we’d certainly concur with that judgement.
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, OX44 7PD; 01844 278881
‘It can’t be beaten on any level’ declare Square Meal readers about Raymond Blanc’s fine-tuned country-house hotel. From the moment your car tyres crunch over
the gravel driveway, everything is deeply impressive – from the meticulously well-kept grounds and beautiful bedrooms in the manor house to Blanc’s near-faultless cooking.
You get plenty of luxury ingredients for your money: think main courses of seared Cornish lobster with warm Jersey Royal potatoes and red pepper jus, topped with pearls of oscietra caviar. Inventive desserts such as rhubarb and gariguette strawberry crumble with cream cheese crème glacée provide a thrilling finish, and the hefty wine list is an education in the French classics.
Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 8AW; 01873 852797
For 35 years The Walnut Tree was one of the most famous restaurants in the UK but, when the original owners sold up, it fell from grace and eventually closed in February 2007. Happily, its demise was short-lived, thanks to gastro-hero Shaun Hill, who has restored it to its former glory. There’s nothing fancy about the new incarnation (undressed tables, unobtrusive art) and the food has an artful simplicity about it. Sweet, nutty scallops with lentil and coriander sauce might be followed by a hearty rabbit pie served alongside roasted saddle, liver and kidney. For £16.50/22 you can also enjoy a terrific two/three-course set lunch.
24-28 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2AQ; 01242 573449
The 2006 winner of the BMW Square Meal Award for Best UK Restaurant, Le Champignon Sauvage has been open for some 22 years and has won a strong foodie following – not to mention two Michelin stars – thanks to the innovative cooking of chef/proprietor David Everitt-Matthias, who, to his credit, never misses a service. He produces thrilling cuisine, characterised by punchy flavours and contrasting textures, recent highlights including seared scallops with cauliflower purée, cumin velouté and ras-el-hanout caramel.
78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6LX; 0131 555 1755
Launched in summer 2006 and winning a Michelin star in early 2007, Tom and Michaela Kitchin’s Edinburgh restaurant richly deserves the many plaudits it has received. Michaela runs front of house seamlessly and Tom shakes the pans, demonstrating a strong allegiance to fresh, seasonal ingredients. Dishes may sound simple – Dover sole à la française, say – but Tom’s cooking displays an underlying complexity and real craft. The wine list is far from intimidating with more than half priced at £25 or under.
Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA; 0115 986 6566
The worthy holder of a Michelin star, Sat Bains’s much-talked-about restaurant offers three tasting menus – of five, seven or 10 courses – each melding classical techniques with contemporary ideas, with oriental influences sneaking through. The kitchen’s prowess is on full show in flavour-packed crab with pickled turnip and brown butter, while Goosnargh duck is teamed with melon, feta, mint, chocolate and pumpkin as a sensational high point to the 10-course menu. Sweet-natured service is offered by Sat’s wife, Amanda, and her team.
The Marina Villa Hotel, Esplanade, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1HY; 01726 833315
A prodigious talent, Nathan Outlaw draws diners from far and wide to his acclaimed eatery, which is set against the stunning backdrop of the Fowey estuary. A short menu plays with classic combinations, but while concepts are simple, dishes are beautifully timed and readers praise ‘consistently great flavours’. Lobster risotto tastes as fresh as a sea breeze, while rose veal is deliciously succulent, cleverly paired with cauliflower, sage, onion and mushrooms. Service is polished.
The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF; 01764 694267
Home-smoked lobster with lime and herb butter, wild mushroom risotto flecked with freshly shaved black Périgord truffle – meals at this Scottish foodie Mecca are littered with luxe ingredients. Occupying a quiet corner of the Gleneagles resort, Andrew Fairlie’s calm, sophisticated restaurant offers a decidedly grown-up dining experience that successfully merges careful service, elegant decor, artful and accomplished cooking and a wine list as long as a school register – put yourself in the hands of the sommelier for the evening.
Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8JU; 01635 528770
A rare find, The Vineyard goes against snooty stereotypes to offer exceptional food served in a clean, contemporary atmosphere. Head chef John Campbell has two Michelin stars to his name – a remarkable accomplishment since he is largely self-taught, though it may explain his pioneering spirit and dazzlingly original food. Outstanding dishes include salmon ‘mi-cuit’ with spiced lentils and foie gras and perfectly cooked turbot with crisp pork belly, langoustine and lemongrass. The globetrotting wine list is commendable, too, with a fantastic by-the-glass section and a separate 600-strong Californian selection.
55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham, B3 2DH; 0121 212 9799
The first solo venture from chef Glynn Purnell, who made it to the final of BBC’s Great British Menu with his strawberries and cream dessert last year, has come as a delight to Birmingham residents since opening in summer 2007. His cooking sparkles with unusual combinations, but everything packs an impressively coherent punch. Dishes range from a rich but delicate medley of poached egg yolk, smoked haddock milk foam, cornflakes and curry oil to accomplished desserts including creamy vanilla parfait gently spiked with sweet confit rhubarb, hazelnuts and tarragon syrup.
126 West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2BP; 01628 482277
It may look and feel like a pub, but the Hand and Flowers is a cleverly reworked, classy restaurant-with-rooms. Genuine flavours and respect for British ingredients characterise chef-proprietor Tom Kerridge’s cooking – creamy potted crab comes with dill-spiked cucumber chutney, while slow-poached leg of rabbit is enhanced by earthy cauliflower risotto, diced turnip, herb sauce and a toasted caraway pastry. Desserts are equally dazzling. At lunchtime order real ale and something simple from the bar menu.
Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn, Lancashire, BB6 8BE; 01254 240555
Honest, Lancastrian cooking has won chef Nigel Haworth great acclaim – his classic recipes include the best Lancashire hotpot in the country, while his use of prime local produce lifts simple dishes such as Ribble Valley beef fillet with ox cheeks and braising juices to another level. Desserts are accomplished, homely creations like ginger pudding with iced double cream and caramel custard. Fourteen rooms are appreciated by those wishing to explore the upbeat selection of wines and Sunday lunch (£30 for four courses) is not to be missed.
Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH; 01647 432367
It’s hard to decide whether it’s the location – a mock Tudor house in a secluded woodland spot with a stream running right through its front garden – or Michael Caines’ stellar cooking that is the star of the show at Gidleigh Park. Either way they’re a winning combination with Caines demonstrating natural flair in the kitchen (witness Brixham scallops teamed with celeriac and truffle purée and a soy and truffle vinaigrette). It’s all bolstered by a professional front-of-house team and a blockbuster wine list to provide the perfect liquid match.
Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, NP25 4TX; 01600 860254
Chef James Sommerin’s imaginative and unfailingly interesting cooking has really hit its stride in the last couple of years. He manages to deconstruct and re-interpret classic dishes without losing the point of the meal (which is, after all, to enjoy eating it). Teaming this with impeccable service, an enormous wine list presided over by a knowledgeable sommelier and an unstuffy atmosphere, he has turned The Crown at Whitebrook into one of Wales’s premier dining spots.
Cobb Road, Lyme Regis, Dorset, DT7 3JP; 01297 446910
Perched high above the seaside town of Lyme Regis in Mark Hix’s native Dorset, this oyster and fish house from the ex-chef director of Caprice Holdings is a simple-but-chic venue with stripped floors, undressed tables and spectacular views of the Cobb and the Jurassic Coast. Blessedly simple fish dishes are the stars: think crab on toast, succulent skate wing scattered with shrimps and capers, and buttermilk drop scones with cherries and honeycomb ice cream to round things off. It’s all washed down with interesting wines or beers, ciders and perry.
Midsummer Common, Cambridge, CB4 1HA; 01223 369299
Having earned two Michelin stars back in 2005, Daniel Clifford’s winning and bold interpretation of classic French cooking remains at the forefront of Cambridge’s gastro-scene. He has a keen eye for quality ingredients and a penchant for the science of cooking à la Heston Blumenthal, with much made of unexpected contrasts, foams and jellies in his menus. Factor in perfectly timed execution, indulgent desserts and spot-on service and it’s no wonder readers consider this to be ‘just about perfect’.
38 High Street, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, BS9 3DZ; 0117 959 2884
Family-run Casamia has been turning out classic dishes since 1998, but with the ‘children’ now in charge the cooking has taken a more ambitious turn. An appealing menu of contemporary Italian food pays close attention to the seasons as well as top-quality produce. Classy meals start with the likes of lobster tortellini with crushed peas and carrot and ginger emulsion, followed by sea bass with chicken wings, and finishing with dark chocolate cake with beetroot ice cream.
Harome, near Helmsley, Yorkshire,YO62 5JE; 01439 770397
This pub (with shop and B&B) is an absolute model of its kind. The interior is warm and welcoming, the beer is beautiful, the service is immensely cheery and the food, listed on daily changing blackboards, absolutely top notch. It’s inventive stuff, but keeps within sensible limits – risottos, breast of local wood pigeon with home-cured corned beef hash and posh fish pie. Cracking wine list and great alfresco, too.
Green Street, St Helier, Jersey, JE2 4UH; 01534 880588
The formal dining room might betray its hotel location, but the cooking has made Bohemia a destination in its own right. Showcasing ingredients that are often grown, reared or caught for the kitchen, chef Shaun Rankin delivers an array of picture-perfect dishes without gilding the lily. Royal Bay oysters are laid atop noodles with beads of black caviar and a rich lemon butter, while slices of Jersey lobster tail are furnished with crab, shards of fennel and a pot of creamy macaroni.
Pennyhill Park Hotel, London Road, Bagshot, Surrey, GU19 5EU; 01276 471774
This stunning country-house hotel has got just about everything going for it: set in 123 acres of Surrey parkland with its own golf course, spa and beautifully decorated rooms. The kitchen is on top form, too, with chef Michael Wignall crafting exhilarating dishes such as slow-cooked goat with Moroccan spices, lemon couscous and wild asparagus or red mullet with a cassoulet of razor clams, baby squid and soft herbs – both displaying a perfect balancing act with ingredients.
Henley Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2EY; 01628 891010
The Anouska Hempel-designed interior of luxurious upholstery and oak-panelled walls provides an elegant setting in which to explore Adam Simmonds’s exceptional cooking. Intricate flavours, textures and aromas all work in harmony, from a beautifully presented opener of scallops with creamy artichoke purée, mustard jelly and avocado ice cream to succulent fillet of beef paired with ox tongue, chervil gnocchi, shallot and horseradish purée. The cheese trolley is a sight to behold – accompany it with apple and celery sorbets.
11 Rose Mount, Oxton, Merseyside, CH43 5SG; 0151 652 2914
From the outside it’s not immediately clear what lies behind the frosted shopfront of Fraiche. Only the sign in the window proclaiming ‘Future French’ hints at what lies within: a small, perfectly formed restaurant serving forward-thinking Gallic cuisine to high acclaim. Dishes such as a velouté of cauliflower and coconut with mussels, mains of brill with shellfish cream, and desserts like sweet and sour pineapple with poppy-seed parfait are skilful and subtly rendered rather than showy.
Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 4BP; 01227 273370
Although it’s not far from trendy Whitstable, Seasalter seems a hundred miles from the bustling Kent town. Tucked away at the far end of the village The Sportsman may not look so very special from the outside, but inside it’s a glorious light-filled space featuring wooden tables, freshly picked flowers and some of the freshest seafood found in the UK. Dishes chalked up on the blackboard include braised brill fillet with mussel tartare – best washed down with a crisp New World white.
Paley Street, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 3JN; 01628 620541
Telly legend Michael Parkinson and son Nick own this village pub that has been pinned on the culinary map since the arrival of ex-Hinds Head chef Dominic Chapman. His full-flavoured cooking brings robust Jerusalem artichoke soup with anchovy toast, slow-cooked pork belly with Scotch broth and wild garlic and the slightly more delicate flavours of roast halibut with samphire, cockles and mussels. Puds play it safe but are well rendered, while decor of stone tiles, exposed brick walls and wooden tables is delightfully rustic.
Little Bedwyn, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 3JP; 01672 870871
Despite its bucolic name, The Harrow isn’t some timeless local pub, but a full-blown country restaurant in a secluded village on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The interior affirms its classy credentials with muted modern shades, high-backed leather chairs and crisp white linen, while the accomplished modern cooking is driven by high-quality seasonal ingredients – with day-boat catches from Brixham showing up strongly. The wine list is an oenophile’s delight, with bottles from serious growers at exceptionally fair prices.
Hambrough Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1SQ; 01983 856333
Overlooking the sea and gardens above the harbour at the south end of Ventnor Bay, Hambrough Hotel’s kitchen, led by Robert Thompson, proudly goes down the local produce route. So fragrant Isle of Wight garlic and plump tomatoes might be paired with crispy bacon and aged balsamic; pearly white sea bass keeps company with Bembridge crab; while blackberry soufflé gets a side order of Ventnor stout ice cream. As befits this gem of a destination, service is assured, confident and slick.
69 High Street, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9NS; 0121 426 4440
Turners has received constant praise since it opened in July 2007, culminating in the award of a Michelin star early this year. Still, there’s a feeling of casual refinement about the place, and the food is anything but pretentious. Richard Turner’s dishes are inspired and show real finesse, whether a terrine of rabbit and ham hock with Agen prunes, mustard vinaigrette and tarragon salad or a delightful main course of roast saddle of Balmoral venison with spiced red cabbage, celeriac fondant, pear and bitter chocolate sauce.
Eglwysfach, Powys, SY20 8TA; 01654 781209
A visit to Ynyshir Hall is pure enchantment, whether you’re staying over or merely spending an evening dining. In the kitchen, chef Shane Hughes clearly means business with meals that could kick off with thrillingly intense scallop and langoustine carpaccio with caviar, micro herbs and a transparent tomato jelly and follow with Welsh Black fillet steak on shredded cabbage with braised shin ravioli, peppercorn sauce and cauliflower purée. Show-stopping vanilla soufflé lavished with passion fruit sauce rounds things up on a high note.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2009