Picture a large manor, tranquil and set in a dreamy valley. The mellow, creepered limestone imparts a sense that the setting and the building have been here for centuries. Imagine 365 acres of Cotwold-y valleys and hills linked by a small trout river and that all of this is on the edge of a charming stone built village with the river running down the side of the high street, once voted the prettiest village in England.
A film set? Yes, many times; Dr. Doolittle with Rex Harrison; Robin Hood, Wolfman and Spielberg’s Warhorse.
Here we have the glorious manor house at Castle Combe.
In 1947 the whole village was sold piecemeal by the then Lord of the Manor. A clever hotelier spotted the potential of the building with its Italian gardens, spacious lawns, statuesque trees, gothic summerhouse and the fine sense of time standing still.
The hotel is now also run by clever hoteliers, but time is not standing still. Tweaking of the buildings, its bedrooms very syba-ritic, the wonderful food and wines, the gardens with such perfect acres of lawns.
Leisure amenities comprise a challenging and spectacular par 72 golf designed by Peter Allis and Clive Clarke (Including one of the world’s finest top 10 par 3 holes (the 17th). Tennis courts, croquet, trout fishing and a revamped swimming complex planned soon, complete this hotel’s outdoor facilities.
Our recent stay and dinner orchestrated by the long serving and genial general manager Stephen Browning, a true professional, was an exercise in the art of being made welcome, with the raison d’être of the charming staff seeming to be that the guest is the most important person in their lives at that moment.
This is a trick planned often, but here delivered in spades with charm and spontaneity. It can’t easy be taught this, but when natural is in no way smarmy but refreshingly genuine...
Now to dinner. From a menu of six first courses, six mains and six puds, there was an excellent range of ingredients that surely covers most people’s tastes. This is important, but the way they are handled is the key and The Manor’s particular key seemed to unlock some of the best food we have had for many a long day.
Richard Davies in the kitchen (you might have seen him on the telly) with 8 in his team, supported by Ben and his friends, front of house, worked miracles with great bread, a sweet pota-to veloute with coconut jelly and curried macadamia nuts. This, in fact was just an ‘amuse bouche’. We were amused..
Sandie, my wife’s, fresh crab with chilli, squid, truffles and seared pineapple sounded a jarring combination, but was a great success. Truffles again in my risotto (it is after all the season for them), with chicken oyster beignets was just as good, so we shared both together.
Fishy main courses followed: roast John Dory with roasted lan-goustine on a bed of crushed fresh peas; and turbot (or more ac-curately turbotin), had a braised little gem lettuce and finely diced pancetta and potatoes with a stunning sauce. Strangely it was served in a deep bowl, not easy to eat elegantly or safely. Both were exceptional, we were in a form of dining heaven.
There are more courses and an ‘amuse-pud’. Amuse-bouches are sometimes criticised as ‘pretentious’ or ‘uncalled for’ and so it is maybe worth explaining why these ‘amuses’, are, for the kitchen, an important part of the timing of a meal. They allow time for the next course to be prepared without the guest sitting twiddling his or her thumbs or eating too much bread!
There followed a fascinatingly flavoured mango mousse with lime caviar and 5 really well kept and correctly stored cheeses (that is to say NOT fridge-cold). The outstanding ones were Cherwell from Staffordshire and Blue Perlas organic from Wales.
Briefly, from an enormous list of 220 wines (the restaurant is AA ‘Exceptional List 2014’) the wines, much enjoyed, were a pinot nero (Italian pinot noir) Ca di Alte, Veneto, 2012;sauvignon blanc, Louis Edwards, Ledya Valley. 2013 (Chile) such a contrast. Another sauvignon blanc - late harvest, La Pla-ya, Colchagua Valley, 2011, (Chile again), this time a wonder-ful uncloying ‘pud wine’.
We do recommend the Manor House for really special occasions and we can see readily why the hotel has 5 AA stars and the dining room 3 AA rosettes, and why it has held a Michelin star for 5 years.
What a team! Working in superb coordination they ensure happy, comfortable, delicious and memorable moments in this ever in-creasingly bustling world. Congratulations to them all.
The Manor House Hotel and Golf Club,
Castle Combe, nr Bath,
Tel 01249 782206
E-mail: [email protected]