Following in the footsteps of the most infamous King of England, this month flavour editor Holly Aurelius-Haddock dines in one of the region’s most historic locations…
It’s next to impossible to talk about Thornbury Castle in anything other than superlatives, so I won’t try. This breathtaking venue offers everything you’d expect from England’s only Tudor castle hotel: history, grandeur and elegance; all topped off with an overriding sense of pride in service. This is no doubt thanks in part to General Manager Brian Jarvis who has held his post for 17 years and bustles around as if Henry VIII were planning his return visit any day now.
As you might expect, a castle of this kind boasts picture perfect gardens that provide the ideal pre-dinner warm up. Rather uniquely, a working vineyard can also be found on the estate and during the grape harvest of late September, visitors are even invited to participate in the grape picking.
The only caution with which I approached the dining room at Thornbury Castle was that of potential complacency – surely people would be drawn to such a place regardless of what was on the menu?
Upon meeting Head Chef Mark Veale however, my apprehension dissolved quicker than an aspirin. Utterly charming and endlessly passionate where food is concerned, it came as little surprise that he’s served his apprenticeship in London under some well-known figures. These include Gordon Ramsay (and Chef Patron Stuart Gilles) at The Boxwood Café in Knightsbridge and Julian O’Niell at The Wolseley.
Mark’s mantra of the finest ingredients with the simplest of intervention is one that he shares with many leading lights from the classical school of thought, though Mark perhaps underestimates how dynamically he works within these parameters.
Take for example my starter of marinated English tomato and goats’cheese tart. A straightforward medley on the surface of things, yet à la tarte tatin, it had been glazed to the point that sweet brittle formed around the edges. This time of year sees British tomatoes at their best, and in this exquisite dish they could just as easily have arrived from Pomodorino the day before.
In the interest of trying something new, I then opted for the poached Devon cod cheeks, cocotte potato, samphire, razor clam and white wine velouté. Just as the most tender cuts of an animal are those that do the least work during the animal’s life, so it is with our amphibious friends. These delicate balls of sweetness fell apart with very little persuasion and were only rendered more delicious by the salty samphire and velvety sauce that accompanied them.
Chef proved himself to be right on trend with his roasted peaches, thyme ice cream, vanilla tuille and pastis foam, too. Not only did this dessert deliver visually but the savoury ice cream was the crowning glory here – no mean feat in such a regal setting.
If the mood takes you, you can end the evening by sinking into of the castle’s luxury four-poster beds and, surrounded by stone walls, tapestries, roaring fires and ornate carved ceilings, dream of times gone by.
Go to Thornbury Castle and you’ll get everything you expect. Thanks to the dedication of its team however, this jewel nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds firmly embraces the past while offering a most progressive dining experience.