Category Archives: Restaurant reviews

The Crown and Castle Orford – it’s a Suffolk spot of food heaven

The Suffolk village of Orford might be tiny but it packs in pretty much everything you’d expect from a classic English location. It’s got a medieval church – the massive 14th century St Bartholomew’s – a handful of shops (including an honesty box newsagents), a couple of pubs, a restaurant, a cafe and even its very own castle.

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14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

Halfway through our meal at The Vineyard hotel and spa, Newbury, I was beginning to wonder if I knew as much about wine as I thought I did. Not only could I not guess what grape variety I was drinking or what country it came from, I couldn’t even work out what colour it was, this particular wine being served in a black glass which made the wine inside completely invisible. Was it rosé…? Or maybe it was red? No, it was definitely rosé.

The answer was white. This was worrying. If my judgement was all over the place now, what on earth would it be like after I’d tried all 14 wines scheduled for the evening? Thankfully by the end of the meal I was so replete and content that my success or otherwise in identifying the wines no longer seemed important – the evening had been so interesting and memorable that my lack of wine knowledge could be safely overlooked.

Vineyard hotel Newbury Judgement of Paris
The Vineyard, Newbury, site of a nightly recreation of the Judgement of Paris wine-tasting

The Vineyard – which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary – is a hotel serious about its wine. Privately owned by the Michael family, which also owns the highly-regarded Peter Michael Winery in California – it has an award-winning cellar (with a mere 30,000 bottles), offer 100 wines by the glass in its restaurant, hosts wine-tastings and wine courses and even wine-themed treatments at its spa (including its Red Grape pampering body wrap).

However it really stands out for its epic ‘Judgement of Paris’ wine-tasting dinner which aims to replicate the notorious (for wine buffs) event in 1974 when Californian wines went up against French wines in a blind tasting. To the shock of the French, and indeed much of the wine world, the Californian wines won the day, and oenophile Sir Peter Michael has recreated the experience at his hotel. Continue reading 14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a welcome addition to memory lane

It is hard not to start off a review of Noble Rot restaurant – as practically every other reviewer has done – with a nostalgic look back at days gone by, spent in the various pubs and wine bars of Lamb’s Conduit Street.

It seems that every journalist used to work or live just round the corner (I did both). In spite of being stuck in the no-man’s land between Holborn and King’s Cross, Lamb’s Conduit Street still retains a quirky feel – with cafes, independent book shops, the Lamb pub still there after roughly a gazillion years – and a trip back there does feel like going back in time.

Noble Rot London
Noble Rot’s restaurant is cosy and dark even on a sunny day – but it’ll bring back fond memories for anyone who used to live or work nearby

However I shall skip all that – mentioning only in passing that Noble Rot is where Vats wine bar used to be, prompting a massive flash-back feeling when I edged my way down the terrifying spiral staircase to the loos – ‘I remember this!’ I thought, trying not to fall – and will focus on Noble Rot, Noble Rot, and nothing but Noble Rot. Continue reading Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a welcome addition to memory lane

Hampton Manor: top-class food and a step back in time

It might be just a few miles from the M42 and Birmingham Airport but Hampton Manor feels a hundred years from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Within a couple of hours of arriving at the 19th century gothic building – built by Sir Frederick Peel, son of Prime Minster and police force founder Robert Peel – I  had unpacked, explored the hotel and some of its 45 acres of parkland, found the gate leading to the pretty parish church, walked around the village of Hampton and was sitting in the traditional White Lion pub with half a pint of local ale. It all felt very relaxing.

hampton manor review
Hampton Manor is set in 45 acres of parkland – ideal for a country walk
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The traditional village of Hampton-in-Arden, just a short walk away

When I finally headed back to our room – the spacious De Mountford room with a very smart bathroom, including a walk-in shower with a fixed wave-like shower curtain – I felt as if I’d been away for a week.

hampton manor review
Our smart bedroom, which was kitted out with a massive flat-screen TV, Bose radio, kettle, homemade cookies. It also had a large bathroom with separate bath and walk-in shower

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Turning up to lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal with a copy of the menu from The Fat Duck at Bray (also by Heston Blumenthal, where my dining companion Simon had eaten just the week before) is some serious fanboy behaviour. It is also guaranteed to provoke comparison between the two, which could have been an unfair contest.

Now I haven’t yet been to The Fat Duck, but judging by Simon’s description and Exhibit A – said menu – it sounded like a magical journey into another world, where Alice in Wonderland meets your very own childhood memories and you lose touch with reality for the day. Whereas Dinner, after all, is just a restaurant.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review
Not your average menu…

Thankfully, Heston is more than capable of standing up to the competition, even when it is himself. Thus while Dinner, Heston’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, could have looked terribly prosaic for having a menu with – yawn – starters, mains and desserts listed on it (while The Fat Duck had a map, and a reverse timeline, and illustrations, and needed a magnifying glass in parts) the dishes listed on it are so far from ordinary that you can forget about the other place down the M4 altogether. Continue reading Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Hambleton Hall, Rutland: warm, welcoming and wonderful food

Some hotels just get it completely right – and Hambleton Hall is one of them. From the traditional and immaculate bedroom, to the excellent food, lovely gardens, cosy bar and superb attention to detail, I can’t think of a single negative comment to make about my recent stay. Except that it’s not just round the corner from where I live – but I can hardly blame Hambleton Hall for that.

Hambleton Hall Rutland
Hambleton Hall is surrounded by Rutland Water and its grounds go right down the shore

If this all sounds too gushing, then I defy anyone to not come away from a night’s stay without feeling incredibly content.

Part of Hambleton Hall’s charm must come from the fact that it is rather small compared to some other country house hotels, with just 15 bedrooms in the main house, so it all feels rather luxurious and exclusive.  There is still ample room for you to find a little corner all to yourself, either in the downstairs living room, bar and reception area – all beautifully furnished – or in the gardens where little seats and tables are dotted around to make your own.

Hambleton Hall Rutland
Hambleton Hall has beautiful formal gardens, beyond which is an open-air swimming pool and a field you wander across to get to the lake

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The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)

If you are one of those people who love nothing more than to sit in a country pub in front of a roaring fire, working your way through the weekend papers while you also work your way through the selection of well-kept ales at the bar, then the Crab and Boar is the place for you.

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The Crab and Boar is a lovely country pub just across the fields from the M4 in Berkshire

Located in – well, the middle of nowhere really, being within sight (but not sound) of the M4 in Berkshire and a few miles from the nearest village, Chieveley – the Crab and Boar is a classic country pub; thatched roof, comfy sofas, good food, a massive beer garden, but with unexpected treats – such as hot tubs in most of the rooms.

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The pub is cosy, with low beams and a roaring fire and prides itself on excellent. locally-sourced food

When we stayed there the weather was a classically British wintery day – howling gales, pouring rain, grey skies – but that didn’t stop other guests spending the afternoon in their personal outdoor jacuzzis as the covering umbrellas flapped in the wind, while the barstaff were kept busy with room service deliveries of champagne and ice buckets (it has been called one of the most romantic pubs in the country). Continue reading The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)