The Chewton Glen makes a fine first impression, with first glimpses through the large and exceptional grounds and an impeccably manicured precinct. The walk through the hotel to the dining room is classy and raises expectations- it probably beats anything I've seen apart from Fera at Claridges and the Ritz at Christmas time. It was our first visit, accompanying friends and we were given a warm welcome and shown to a comfortable table in a restaurant that was possibly 80% empty at 1pm.
We all chose variations on their 3 course set lunch, and the only difficulty we had was for me trying to manage, read and digest a wine list of well over a thousand entries in a volume that made me think of choosing wallpaper. Its not really necessary to have a list so numerous, and indeed for me it was counter productive, for after ten minutes of ignoring our fellow guests we eventually settled for wines by the glass for the simple reason that the selection was manageable.
Our first course were delivered very quickly and were praised by all of us. The mains were a different story for me at least , though I should say that our colleague, never one to complain, was given a steak, ordered medium, which seemed to display no pink at all. My sea-trout , with a lobster bisque and seafood risotto, was an odd affair with the pink fish covered by an orange foam, all sitting on a risotto that I felt was stodgy. This dish was edible though not particularly tasty or pleasant. Both ladies enjoyed their pork belly and cheeks. At this point it had become clear that whilst this kitchen is able to produce good dishes, it also seems capable of sending out food that doesn't meet the highest standards. 75 minutes after the main courses were delivered, our desserts had not made an appearance and the restaurant was now busy with parties. There was an extended period before our mains were cleared and then nothing till I chased. The desserts were not complex- pretty much simple assembly tasks rather than complex cooking. In each of my three courses there was a flavour- maybe a herb- that seemed to jar with the essential flavours of the dish.
We had coffee in a sitting room and when the bill arrived it was clear that all our food had not been included, leaving the bill about £120 short. Naturally we had this put right.
There was much about Chewton Glen that we liked, though quite a lot of that was "hotel" things rather than "restaurant" things. The food I had today was not top class and I might feel tempted to stay there but, on this evidence, to eat somewhere else, and competition in this area is I'd say, as tough as anywhere outside central London. It's a pity that a restaurant that is capable of sending out 8/10 food fails to hit that level consistently and at the same time allowed service to fall from good to verging on unacceptable. Was it, I wondered whether they were simply unable to cope with a late influx of customers? And if so then why were they not suitably prepared? Its not like parties of a dozen or so walk in off the street.