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Lavishly turned out as a country-chic hotel, this ivy-clad Wiltshire grandee is now one of the UK’s great escapes – an epicurean package crowned by the immaculately appointed Dining Room. The departure of chef Martin Burge left new boy Niall Keating (ex-Restaurant Sat Bains) with big shoes to fill, but he’s risen to the challenge by beefing up the tasting menu to 12-plus courses and garnering a Michelin star in the process. Global influences abound, although there’s a fondness for Asian twists – as in turbot with pear and yuzukoshō seasoning or a pairing of dried tuna, miso soup and turnip. Such zesty experimentation occasionally teeters off-course, but the gastronomically curious will have a field day and there's much to enjoy – from silken tofu with Exmoor caviar and chicken broth to a dessert involving clementines, black truffle and miso. Simpler pleasures, such as crisp-crusted mini sourdough loaves and post-dessert ‘treats’ also demonstrate a slick kitchen. Equally dynamic wine pairings are a worthwhile investment, while the sight of the chefs out front is a nice touch. For big-event dining in a sumptuous, pastoral setting, Whatley Manor’s still a winner.
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Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
The way the tasting menu started off we had great hopes that this could be one of those restaurants you just have to come back to. The first three courses listed were served together: a lobster custard with cod roe, lobster chunks and gold leaf topping, the roe popping in the mouth and a broth backing up the custard to bring out both the main tastes; followed by a really light lobster bun with some contrasting lime; and a crunchy lobster tempura very well balanced by the sweet and sour sauce. All three sensational. However, the great impression made by these plates was very much tempered by our reflection that it appears that the number of courses claimed to make up tasting menus is becoming more and more questionable and we are not ready to accept that what used to be called amuse-bouches or come presented in pairs may be counted as “courses”. There are times, as well, when it seems that liberties are really being taken, and serving a chunk of admittedly very good bread with equally tasty butter as an actual course amounts to having a laugh at the expense, and we do mean expense when you look at the price of the menu, of the diners. For two-star Whatley Manor to resort to such things is disappointing, particularly when there were so many excellent, proper, courses served. I was less taken than my wife by the “risotto” that followed, the rice being sushi rice which I found too soft to be authentic and outshone by the super chorizo vinaigrette which worked so well with the Scottish scallop and its accompaniment of fried kale and dehydrated scallop roe. Things started to look up again with squid-ink tortellini matched against divine pork belly, spring onion rings, cabbage and a well-judged pork jus, and equally appealing was the combination of salmon topped with Iberico ham and green grapes supported by a roll of turnip shaving, caviar and oyster leaf, all this blended together by a turnip emulsion reminiscent of parsley sauce. Then came excellent pigeon, inevitably from Anjou, as tasty and tender as could be, ably attended by crispy fried mushroom, radicchio, quince, and properly zesty horseradish. We were not sure whether the next dish was designed to be a palate cleanser or a dessert, but not to worry, it was a delightful baked yoghurt, presumably Greek, with a matcha crisp, olive oil jelly, lemon curd and a sharp and sweet custard, which satisfied all the taste demands made at this stage of the meal. A rather nondescript caramel custard tart with a seaweed crisp followed and then finally there was the “treat trolley”, which was basically for diners to be served with petits fours but brazenly included as a course on the menu. In conclusion, with the best will in the world, there was no way that we had two-star service from the willing but clearly under pressure and, in some cases, underschooled waiting staff and the seemingly overloaded wine waiters; this definitely needs tightening up.
We tried for a table in The Dining Room as visits 12+ mths ago to Le Mazot brasserie hadn’t met expectations. Assured that the same kitchen served both, we booked a brasserie lunch again, since 2M* Dining Room is closed at lunchtimes.
We took the cross country approach and came in near the river and this time saw the south side of this idyllic Cotswold Manor house. Being shown to the terrace for drinks, it was obvious why this would be an ideal venue for Weddings. Immaculate gardens are matched by a carefully maintained, tasteful interior, but as you walk from the skilful marriage of old and contemporary to Le Mazot decked in heavy pine and bright florals flanked by more pine, you wonder why Swiss chalet meets Cotswold? Who knows? Oddly we move continents to find African influence in the form of small ornaments on windowsills. Eclectic, eccentric, even aberration sprang to mind. Le Mazot looks and feels incongruous uncomfortably sitting in a loving restored English Country House and we felt a slight unease perched centrally in a fully populated room amidst curious décor….best to be in a group as we had been before.
About 4 choices per course on Sunday lunch menu. £21/head/2 courses (no wine) was excellent value for what turned out to be top notch nosh. I savoured a roundly balanced starter of delicate goat’s cheese soufflé with de-constructed Waldorf salad (minus mayo). In contrast my partner’s gutsy hunks of ham hock, ideally married with fine stranded pickle, like a mildly acidic sauerkraut: equally good. My mushroom tagliatelle had a luscious coat of creamy yet light truffle scented sauce with a side of proper melba toast and pot of parmesan & pine nut puree – pine nuts dominated and partnered my main v.v.well. Pork roast was pretty high calibre too and near flawless. Chef has certainly shifted cuisine into a classier division.
Service : By no means slick, waiting 20 mins for the wrong drinks to arrive didn’t bode well, though staff were obliging. Matters improved as meal was served efficiently but paced leisurely, just what you want on a busy bank holiday weekend.
We’d return, probably for evening meal in DR and stay.
My husband & I ate in the more informal Le Mazot; which as it promises recreates the warmth of a Swiss chalet and serves delicious high quality food. Service was friendly and attentive throughout and we felt it was excellent value for money. Whether you opt for the Dining Room with its two Michelin Stars or Le Mazot my best advice would be to stay; Whatley Manor is one of the finest hotels in the country and is worthy of its reputation. The bedrooms are beautiful and the gardens magnificent. Those of you that do stay overnight must have the ‘black pudding’ for breakfast on my husbands recommendation. We are already looking forward to our return visit!
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