If a box of choccies and some last-minute flowers won’t quite cut it this year (when did it ever?), why not board the love train to one of our 100 Best UK Restaurants? Make a weekend out of celebrating your everlasting love, with a romantic countryside stroll, followed by a romantic dinner, and finished with a, err, romantic hotel stay. You’ll get brownie points, and probably much more…
Gidleigh Park, Devon
There’s nothing quite like this dreamy woodland oasis, which continues to enchant visitors with its disarmingly serene outlook, luxurious accoutrements and ever-so-English demeanour. Gidleigh Park’s lush natural beauty (including a stream meandering through the front garden) provides the perfect backdrop for a romantic stroll, before sampling the delights of the kitchen – where Michael Wignall has this year taken over the reins from Michael Caines. Anticipate tasting menus of exquisite, complex cooking.
Where: Chagford, TQ13 8HH
Hambleton Hall, Leicestershire
It may look like a petite French château, but Hambleton Hall is quintessentially English – from its superbly landscaped grounds and terraced gardens to its magnificent antiques-filled interiors. The restaurant occupies an appropriately stately room, where picture-perfect food is delivered by well-tutored staff. Chef Aaron Patterson has been at the stoves for more than two decades and has mastered the art of producing top-class cuisine in the modern classic style. Whose heart could fail to melt at this “absolute treasure”?
Where: Hambleton, Oakham, LE15 8TH
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire (above)
The ultimate dream ticket for lovers who crave out-of-town indulgence and a restorative taste of la belle vie, Raymond Blanc’s fine-tuned take on country-house luxe is sheer class. Gorgeous grounds surround the old honey-stone manor house, where silkily orchestrated staff bring near-faultless French-inspired food. You’ll pay handsomely for the velvety escape of a lifetime, but we agree with readers who proclaim Le Manoir “quite simply, unsurpassable”.
Where: Church Road, Great Milton, OX44 7PD
Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Cornwall
Chef Paul Ainsworth took a risk when he pitched up in Rick Stein’s Padstow, but the move has paid off handsomely and he’s now a serious contender to the local foodie throne. The Georgian terraced house certainly ticks all the right Valentine’s Day boxes, with its composed, elegant interior. In the restaurant, the highly dedicated staff more than match it, as does the fashionable Michelin-starred cooking – a succession of inspired dishes promising a carnival of flavours and textures.
Where: 6 Middle Street, Padstow, PL28 8AP
The Bourne Valley Inn, Hampshire (above)
Part country pub, part restaurant, part boutique B&B, the beautifully decorated and seriously revamped Bourne Valley Inn is going from strength to strength with an energetic young couple at the helm. They’ve teamed up with Bombay Sapphire for Valentine’s Day, with head chef Ryan Stacey serving a menu boasting the likes of Bombay Sapphire-infused venison carpaccio. Couples are invited to embark on ‘The Self-Discovery Experience’ (oo-er), with a visit to the nearby Bombay Sapphire Distillery.
Where: St Mary Bourne, Nr Andover, SP11 6BT
The Kingham Plough, Oxfordshire
Set up by chef Emily Watkins and her husband in 2007, this rambling old Cotswold hostelry attracts an affluent country crowd with its good-looking interiors, fine food and equally fine booze. The bar offers local ales in a bucolic setting of beams, exposed stone and open fires, but the main action is in the rustic-chic dining room where locally sourced modern British cooking holds sway. Upstairs, six contemporary bedrooms are kitted out in style – sure to impress any Valentine.
Where: The Green, Kingham, Chipping Norton, OX7 6YD
The Samling, Cumbria (above)
A striking modern interior and vivid displays of contemporary art signal the ambitions of The Samling, a boutique hotel set in an 18th-century property with its own 67-acre estate overlooking Windermere. In the restaurant, the cooking is fiercely on-trend, featuring new Nordic nuances and a larder of seasonal ingredients – yet the mood is discreet and intimate, with ultra-professional staff who can tend to your (and your sweetheart’s) every need.
Where: Ambleside Road, Windermere, LA23 1LR
The Swan at Lavenham, Suffolk
With a forest of centuries-old beams, standing timbers and inglenook fireplaces, this elegant hotel and spa has charm aplenty. Yet despite the traditional setting, the cooking is refreshingly sharp and modern in the Gallery Restaurant – where confit pork cheek might precede seared halibut with razor clams. Lunchtimes are relaxed, but in the evening The Swan preens its feathers to accommodate fine dining, and perhaps some Valentine’s wooing.
Where: High Street, Lavenham CO10 9QA
The Three Chimneys and the House Over-By, Highlands (above)
For a spot of splendid isolation, whisk your Valentine over the sea to Skye, where food-lovers congregate at Eddie and Shirley Spear’s converted crofter’s cottage overlooking Loch Dunvegan. The Three Chimneys promises matchless Highland hospitality, a lovingly curated wine cellar and food of tingling freshness in the refurbished dining room. Here, seafood is presented with disarming simplicity, and meat has a pronounced local accent. You’ll be transfixed by the scenery, so book a room in the House Over-By next door.
Where: Colbost, Isle of Skye, IV55 8ZT
Ynyshir Hall, Wales
Surrounded by green acres planted with horticultural rarities, Joan and Rob Reen’s manicured country retreat is more beautiful than ever thanks to new garden suites and vibrantly replenished interiors (including paintings by Rob himself in the azure-walled dining room). Ynyshir Hall has been on the culinary map for years, but it’s now scaling new Michelin-starred heights with Gareth Ward (former sous chef at Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms) at the stoves. Expect peerless local ingredients and foraged foods – and expect to win the heart of your invited guest.
Where: Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 8TA
Nothing stealing your attention from this lot? Then take a look at our full UK top 100 restaurants listor our dedicated Valentine’s Day page.
This article was published 3 February 2016