The name ‘Chipping Campden' has intrigued people for years.
Many see (or think they see) the word ‘sheep’ in ‘chip’ and, indeed it was wool money that made the grand architecture of this delightful town so special. A 4 star (Simon Jenkins - Best English Churches) church and many stunning secular buildings are surrounded by land that was dry and hilly, perfect for raising ‘Cotswold lions’ - a name for the local breed of sheep.
Wool was England’s major export in the 14th and 15th centuries and the Cotswold breed was renowned for its heavy fleece and long length ‘staple.
Campden - as it is called locally - was therefore a prosperous place and ‘Chipping’ or ‘ceping' was in fact the old English word for ‘market.’ The wide main street would have been perfect for pens of sheep at these markets, but today the broad-way helps to instantly orientate and introduce the charm of this delightful honey-coloured stone built town.
Life in Campden chugged along with the seasons for centuries. At the turn of the last century in an extraordinary social experiment, the Guild of Craftsmen relocated from London - with 70 guildsmen and their families. The remnants of the Guild are still to be found at Hart’s Silversmiths and names such as to C.R Ashbee, Norman Jewson (no relation to builders merchants) and F. L. Griggs are still revered. For design enthusiasts, a visit to the Robert Welch studios are a ‘must’.
That’s the history lesson over, now the serious business....
Cotswold House is right in the very centre of town. Built in Regency1820, it has been a successful town house hotel for many years, each owner seeming to add to its greatness. The hotel is very stylish and our dinner achieved an excellence that we always expect on many visits to all kinds of places, but sometimes don’t find. Tonight was perfect.
The skill sets shown by the chefs and front of house team were superb, demonstrating the ability to work under pressure whilst never compromising on quality.
Our evening commenced with the cheeriest of welcomes by Petra who showed us to our room and, in the bar, there was another smiling face. Anna looked after us so well on another of our gastronomic jaunts. She is a bit of a local cheese specialist, with great knowledge and charm.
The short menu in the dining room consisted of 4 first courses, 4 mains and 4 puds, a format which we like for simplicity of ordering. Sandie, my wife, if there is too large a choice, has been known to dither…
Our splendid meal started with a celeriac velouté, hard to fault. Diver-caught scallops with really early Jersey Royal potatoes and spicy Morteau sausage offered a good contrast of textures and flavours. My beef carpaccio (thinly sliced raw cotswold beef) with lychee and wasabi was generous and just my kind of dish.
The quietish start now exploded into main courses that were so intriguing and sensationally flavoured that we were nearly speechless with the excitement.
Guinea fowl, pan fried breast and confit of leg in a delicate pastry case, Madeira sauce and truffled parsnips (just superb) and slow cooked shoulder and roasted rump of local lamb, apricots and harissa, again notable and skilled. But it was the flavours which most impressed us.
Puds were good. We liked the Paul Smith design on the chocolate fondant, but the evening’s star main courses overshadowed everything, even nearly outdoing a wonderful Nobilo 2012 New Zealand pinot noir and a Balma Venitia, Muscat Beaumes de Venise dessert wine.
Cotswold House is on the up, with new head chef Mini Patel making small, and obviously soon to be very big waves, with his own unique take on delicious food. On our evening there was a good showing of guests in the grill room and the whole place is very sybaritic and fun, not stuffy at all with a team who, it is quite obvious are there to make you, the guest, number one priority. This enthusiasm was again present at a very well served breakfast supervised by Chris and his team.
One small comment… not our choice of music...but in the whole context of such a great evening it’s a feeble complaint.
I’m told (as I have never been in one) that the spa is superb and the terraced garden with clever planting and good sculptures is worth investigating. There are 28 good rooms.
Chipping Campden is a destination which is, in the words of the Michelin Guides, ‘worth a detour’. Do go, there is so much to enjoy.
Cotswold House Hotel,
Gloucestershire. GL55 6AN