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Cliveden House, Taplow, Maidenhead
Famed for its racy aristocratic shenanigans back in the day, Cliveden still lives and breathes unashamed extravagance – although it’s also an entrancing prospect for high-end gustatory satisfaction. André Garrett’s sumptuous, softly hued dining room sits well amid the hotel’s flamboyantly Italianate glamour with its billowing drapes, ostentatious crystal chandeliers, portraits and velvety fabrics, but for all its adornments, there’s a feeling of genuine intimacy about eating here – and the views are stunning. As befits such a setting, the chef’s gently stimulating contemporary French cuisine promises rich seasonal rewards: Orkney scallops are simply served with radish, lemon and herb oil; ‘locally stalked’ fallow deer might arrive with watercress, chestnuts and pickled blackberries; rack of Devon lamb is embellished with artichoke, sprouting broccoli and lavender. Mighty servings of beef Wellington please the old guard, while desserts include peanut butter parfait with toffee, chocolate and honeycomb. Service is suitably “gracious” and the spectacular wine list is tailor-made for living the high life, although diners who don’t belong to the National Trust may baulk at paying a surcharge for ‘admission’.
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Cliveden House, Taplow, Maidenhead
Cookham Station 2km
Bourne End Station 2km
The Lambourne Golf Club 1km
Mon-Sun 12.15-2.30pm 7-9.45pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 3
In my opinion if you're looking for the very best food, you may end up a bit disappointed here. If you want an experience that involves a tremendously opulent dining room ( I was going to say stylish, but its more true to say that its of a certain style), and the opportunity to have a wander round the outside of a quintessential British Stately home with attractive grounds then you might find the totality of the experience satisfying.
Food-wise there's a lot of competition locally, with a growing number of 1/2/3 star alternatives within an easy drive. This wasn't ( as I found to my surprise before I went) a starred restaurant . It is a fine dining restaurant serving small portions of fairly classical cuisine which isn't going to surprise you. The food we ate goes with the dining room- classical rather than innovative, slipping down easily enough but stopping somewhat short of delight. The cooking was competent, the dishes a little short of the flavour intensity you'd hope for. You'd be forgiven for forming a view that this is a non-starred restaurant charging about the same as many in London with a star.
We did both choose the set lunch, together with a pleasant bottle of Quincy. Given my marginally critical attitude to what we ate, I'm afraid I can't judge whether a la carte would have resulted in better dishes or somewhat larger portions (my wife's mackerel starter and my cod main were both extremely tiny). I really can't work out the mind-set of any restaurant that risks sending customers away hungry or feeling that their restaurant is being mean with them. The amount of money they'll save by being less than generous with relatively low cost ingredients is insignificant by comparison with the goodwill to be lost or gained.
On the other hand I do understand that I'm not likely to find beef fillet or turbot on a menu that works out at £33 for 3 courses. I am though getting mightily bored with restaurants with a reputation for interesting food presenting me with a set lunch menu of chicken, guinea fowl, salmon, roast cod- I can get all of those at home, and even from a set lunch I'm hoping for a bit more excitement than that!
Service was good in very much a "stately" manner. Overall we had a pleasant experience here, but rather too much of that was slanted towards the room and the half hour in the grounds afterwards. For food values alone, I can't see this getting another try soon, when the same drive time can get us to west London as well as a growing range of local competition.
Finally, the restaurants website does indicate that diners will be charged £7 each in essence as an entry fee to these premises. We resent this and had determined to let them know what we thought, in the context that other restaurants don't charge additionally for their premises. However they didn't make that charge so the debate never happened. But be warned!
Food + drink: 4
The glamour associated with Cliveden was in evidence in the atmospheric dining room, although our first impression was that the staff were not fully ready for us at opening time, and we had to request an aperitif since nobody thought to ask if we wanted one. Our doubts were dispelled pretty quickly by our attentive and genuinely interested waiter and by the classy canapés, light and tasty gougères and a chorizo, parmesan and red pepper mousse which we spread happily on some seed crisps. The amazing amuse-bouche produced layer upon layer of flavour with confit egg yolk sitting under mushroom purée which in turn was covered with potato foam and topped with garlic and tomato crunch. Tastebuds continued to be stimulated with chef's very pretty take on crab salad, the white meat shredded, the brown meat in the form of a sensational mousse, and the salad elements of avocado, kohlrabi, chickweed and pepper backed with a quinoa crisp and a delicate lemon purée to produce a splendid combination of tastes and textures. The next dish of salt-cured foie gras incorporating long pepper to great effect and using plum and sake as a fruity contrast was elevated to real heights by the truly memorable roast duck jelly, which had us enthusing even further about the quality of the cooking. However, we were slightly puzzled by the fish course. For us turbot as the main ingredient should be just that, and while the roast fillet Grenobloise was fine, it was rather a pity that it was overshadowed by the other elements on the plate comprising cockles tasting quite strongly of the sea, a hint of chicken jus, celery, chicory salt and melted butter. This was followed by good grilled mutton cutlet which was tender enough to have been lamb, excellent "bolognese" made from the shoulder and wrapped in sweet white onion, smoked aubergine purée, which was unfortunately overpowering for our tastes, and a curious and not very welcome touch of orange. The "Waldorf salad" was basically a rather strange cheese course based on a Fourme (it was not clear which one) imported to Oxfordshire and injected there with Maury (doux or rancio?) and put together with a few leaves, slices of apple and some grape gel, but little in the way of the obligatory walnuts, and it seemed to owe little to the talent of the chef. There was a decent enough strawberry pre-dessert, and then a chocoholic's dream of a dessert mounting a ganache shard, crumble and aero against delicious mint ice cream. The petits fours added to the sweet delight, in particular a wonderful coconut bomb. This began in a very promising way and it was a pity that the quality did not continue throughout the menu.
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