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.
Chef Niall Keating used to work at Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, but since taking over the reins here has proved himself very much his own man, beefing up the tasting menu to 12-plus courses and garnering two Michelin stars in the process.
Global influences abound, although there’s a fondness for Asian twists – as in turbot with pear and yuzukosho 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 – while there are separate menus for vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians.
Simpler pleasures, such as crisp-crusted mini sourdough loaves and post-dessert ‘treats’ also demonstrate a slick kitchen, while terse menu descriptions – tempura smoked eel, perilla; salmon, aloe vera, yeast beurre blanc; anjou pigeon, kohlrabi, date, ssamjang – means that the creativity lavished on ingredients in the kitchen ensures that what arrives on the plate often comes as a total surprise.
Equally dynamic wine pairings are a worthwhile investment, not least if you go down the wine flight route, while the sight of the chefs out front is a nice touch. If you want to get even closer to the chef action, there are a few tables within the kitchen at lunchtime.
For big-event dining in a sumptuous, pastoral setting, Whatley Manor’s still a winner, but there’s more to do than eat here – the spa is one of the best in southern England and the gardens a relaxing spot to while away an hour or two with the weekend papers and a gin and tonic.