During our stay at the luxurious Whatley Manor, where we were carefree in the Cotswolds, Charlotte and I were lucky enough to be able to eat at the hotel’s two Michelin star restaurant, The Dining Room. Aside from our treatments at Whatley Manor’s Aquarias spa, we had spent the day on foot and on bicycles, imbibing lungfuls of country air, avoiding our laptops and, finally, admiring a rather stunning spring sunset. By the time we arrived in the drawing room for pre-dinner cocktails, we had truly worked up an appetite and were anxious for a glass of something bubbly.
We began with a glass of elegant Deutz Brut NV champagne to accompany a trio of canapés, including fois gras with teriyaki jelly – a hint of the exciting flavours to come. We were encouraged to peruse The Dining Room’s menu on the sofa in front of the blazing fire, were able to make our orders and ask any questions, as well as alert the kitchen to any dietary requirements before we were shown through to The Dining Room itself. Whatley Manor has only fifteen rooms and eight suites and, although diners regularly come from further afield, The Dining Room is an intimate and cosy space, especially in the evening. It has a very romantic ambiance, with soft lighting, chairs upholstered in chic stripes and muted cream table linens accented with fresh flowers – although the lack of music was somewhat unusual.
The Dining Room’s menu is French-influenced, as Head Chef Martin Burge, who also oversees Whatley Manor’s brasserie, Le Mazot, worked with Raymond Blanc and John Burton-Race prior to becoming Head Chef at Whatley Manor when it opened in 2003. Naturally, being lovers of French food, we were very excited to see snails on the menu and, after a short but heated debate, I managed to convince Charlotte that she should relinquish the snail starter to me. Presented in individual ramekins, the snails had been removed from their shells and set in a mousse-like garlic cream with a layer of red wine sauce infused with meaty veal kidney. I have never before eaten snails like this and it was absolutely amazing, especially when paired with the sommelier’s unusual choice of a dry Tokaji Furmint, Hanserelu 2012, from Chateau Dereszla.
Fortunately, Charlotte was very happy to order the ‘Tastes of Duck’ starter and was even happier when the duck arrived and tasted delicious. Beautifully presented, the duck was perfectly cooked accompanied by a flurry of fresh leaves and silky red cubes that provided concentrated bursts of sweetness. We had a long chat with Yann, the knowledgeable sommelier, about his approach to pairings and were impressed with the AOC Alsace Gewürztraminer 2014 from Domaine Truché Thomas he selected for the duck, which was surprisingly rich and sweet.
The main course followed. Charlotte raved about her venison with lean game sausage, which was so good as to cause her to speak highly of the sprouts (not her favourite vegetables!). Simply presented, the well seasoned meat was appropriately the star of the show, with subtle highlights created by luxurious, savoury sauce and a robust Bordeaux blend Haut Médoc Clos du Jaugueyron 2008, Michel Théron, Alsace. My wine was a spicy Italian Barbera d’Alba, Conca Tre Pile 2009, Poderi Aldo Conterno, Langhe, Piemonte, with a hint of tartness. It was an excellent accompaniment to my pigeon ballotine dish, which featured creamy foie gras and very (perfectly) rare pigeon breast that was so tender that it seemed to melt on my tongue! There was also a sumptuous pigeon ‘lollipop’ formed of the leg, which necessitated – in my opinion – a less than ladylike approach with fingers to ensure all the tasty flesh could be consumed.
Never has a cheese trolley passed us by, and this one was no exception. Highlights included a Campion goats cheese encrusted in crushed pink peppercorns and a creamy Langres, as well as the accompanying Gaillac Doux, Loin de L’Oeil 2010 from Domaine Rotier, Renaissance. We moved on through two pre-dessert courses, one consisting of a mango foam which was eagerly slurped (as noisily as good manners would allow) through a straw, and the other a smooth vanilla panna cotta with ginger tuile.
As wonderful waitress Elena arrived with our desserts, we were in the midst of discussing how perfectly spoilt we had been – and it was to continue! I had chosen chocolate fondant, which was dense and gooey, with artful scatterings of peanut brittle, caramelised banana and a swish of golden brown caramel. Although sweet, the flavours managed not to be sickly, so I finished the meal thoroughly contented. Charlotte’s dessert, however was a true showstopper, composed of three parts. First was a white chocolate and Frangelico cocktail, served in a martini glass at one end of her plate, then a light and deliciously moreish soufflé – with a hidden chocolate layer, and finally a refreshing lemongrass ice cream. Putting the glorious theatrics of a three part pud to one side, the separate elements were well executed and combined to create layer upon layer of complex taste sensations.
After coffee and petit fours, we were very glad to leave the restaurant and find only a flight of stairs between us and our accommodation. The Dining Room of this country house is worth a visit, whether you are a resident or a passer-by. Of course, we would expect nothing less of Whatley Manor – as part of the Relais & Châteaux family a guest or diner’s every need is catered for – and anyone who is, like us, lucky enough to visit is sure to find the experience a complete culinary delight from cocktails to coffee.
The Dining Room at Whatley Manor
Wiltshire SN16 0RB