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Jennie Clark discovers a distincively unhidden gem in the heart of the Cotswolds…
The Lords of the Manor is a 17th-century rectory, originally purchased from Henry VIII. Evidence of its heritage is all around the house, in original portraits of past residents, narrow stone passages and antique furniture. Collections of cosy chairs fill nooks and crannies beside chessboards and magazines, and the elegant lounge and bar are crowned with enormous open fireplaces and towering ceilings.
The 26 individually-styled bedrooms range from the smaller with country cottage beams, to vast and grand depending on which part of the house you’re in. They’re adorned with beautiful views onto the sprawling Cotswold fields, or the pear trees and lawns of the hotel’s garden.
The hotel’s reputation in wine had preceded it, with vast cellars and a selection ranging from coveted vintage champagnes to the wines of some of Italy and Sicily’s smallest boutique vineyards. Far from daunting for a diner though, we were presented with a lovingly compiled, wooden clad ‘cellar book’ – with everything from recommendations for each dish on the menu, to a list of ‘laying down’ wines ready to drink on your future visit. I would have been happy browsing for hours in front of the crackling log fire.
The restaurant gained its first Michelin star in 2009-only one year after executive chef Matt Weedon joined. His classic repertoire is more than evident even with its modern styling – the canapés of ‘fish and chips with mushy peas’ had all the cheeky ingenuity of current star chefs like Glyn Purnell and Mr Blumenthal himself.
For starter I couldn’t resist the egg yolk ravioli, from Burford Brown hens and served with artichoke purée, wild mushrooms and winter truffle. The culinary theatre of a perfectly cooked yolk is always a pleasure, and these earthy vegetables were doused in gold as soon as I put my knife to the pasta. My dining partner opted for the ‘mosaic’ of great farm chicken, foie gras, veal sweetbreads and smoky Morteau sausage, a many- textured terrine ingeniously accompanied by smoked sweetcorn, fragrant tarragon jelly and shallot rings.
For the main course I chose the line- caught Cornish seabass, which more than met its match among the other palate- filling flavours of langoustine, truffle macaroni, shellfish essence and truffle foam – but was beautifully executed all the same.
My partner chose the rib of Cotswold Longhorn rare breed beef, bold and rare beside melting braised ox cheek, and served with Hereford snails, parsley, cep confit, Pomme Anna and red wine sauce. The fricassee of snails was so much more than an affectation of a classical style – simultaneously showcasing a forward- thinking local producer, and expertly blending bold flavours.
On first seeing the dessert menu, I already had a suspicion the modestly named ‘Rhubarb and Custard’ might not be exactly how my mother made it. Even in our waiter’s recommendation it defied description, so I won’t spoil it for you – it must suffice to say it was complex, magical and delicious.
The Lords of the Manor experience is not understated, but completely untroubled. From the first glimpse the guest is swept up in the passion of its historic ownership and wildly picturesque setting. The expert touch is evident in every detail, though the delight is that the focus is not on perfection – just the simplest kind of real pleasure in the best things in life.