Set in the grounds of the historic Howfield Manor, the former chapel of St Gregory’s Priory is now a restaurant serving a mixture of French and English cuisine.
The 1181 Restaurant, named after the year it was built, features beautiful open brickwork and a glass-covered well gaping beneath diners’ feet… a historian’s dream.
It’s always a little strange to go through a hotel reception to get to the dining room but even more quirky to be mistakenly registered for the business-networking event being held on the same night. After a nervous laugh we were shown to our seats in a restaurant inhabitated by a handful of guests but with room for many more.
The impressive menu and wine list offered an evening set menu of three courses for £25, a modest price for what was available.
We were handed a platter of bread rolls, butter and assortment of snack pieces as appetisers, including Parma ham, cucumber, olives and a gherkin. It was on the house, which is always a nice touch, even if the cost is incorporated in the final bill elsewhere. It’s clever.
I started with seared scallops accompanied by a square of baby spinach and Parmesan risotto with a balsamic glaze drizzled down the centre of the plate like a halfway line. The scallops were cooked excellently, with no rubber texture, although they could have had a little more flavour added to them. The risotto was light and creamy.
My guest went for the pork terrine served with baby leaves, a red-onion-and-cumin marmalade and toast. It was also delicious – the terrine was rich and melted in your mouth.
The friendly staff, still apologising for almost sending me to business school, were very attentive and brought along my main course of lamb marinated in garlic and rosemary with sauté potatoes and glazed Vichy carrots. The saltiness of the potatoes, with crisp skin but soft inners, was delicious and complemented the lamb. The meat was cooked well, with no hint of dryness, but could have benefited from a slightly stronger flavour from the marinade.
My guest went for the grill menu and the ribeye steak, having to add only a £4 supplement to the bill. Again it was cooked perfectly. There was no fat on the moderate piece of beef and it was served with sauté potatoes, salad and a rich and spicy peppercorn sauce.
The desserts topped off a very good meal and I opted for the chocolate fondant with cream. It was warm and rich but not too filling.
My guest went for a trio of small crème brûlées, each with its own flavour – vanilla, lavender and orginal – which was a real personal touch.
There was no service charge and the total price, including drinks, came out at an excellent £62. OK, there was no music and the atmosphere was a little underwhelming, but I really liked this quaint eatery. It has an individual style and the food is good. I’m sure with a little push, 1181 will make history of its own.