Whether it be ringing a door bell, looking through a menu on-line the day before, or booking three months prior, a meal starts way before the first plate is delivered. At Chateau Impney it begins when you first see the Louis XIII style chateau from the A38. The long drive leads up through the extensive grounds where the imposing red-brick building remains beautiful, albeit now with a less than beautiful rear extension.
The chateau was a labour of love, built almost 150 years ago by a salt magnet to satisfy his Parisian raised wife, who sadly did a runner before the building was finished. I wish that we had been able to make a similar dart for it when the food started to appear. The first issue is the location of the dining room, deep in the lower loins of the building. Whilst upstairs is a majestic ode to The Renaissance, the dining room in the basement is a faux art deco mass of monochrome. Sadly, its less Louis XIII chateau and more Fritzel’s Palace. The menu is an unapologetic collection of 70’s dinner party classics, which is fine, just as long they are done well. A goats cheese soufflé looked fine enough, but had the texture of a tennis ball and no flavour whatsoever. Around it was a mango and chilli salsa which lacked any heat. If ever a recipe needed re-approaching, this was it. On the flip of this was a ramekin filled with chopped bacon and button mushrooms, topped with smoked cheddar. Estate agents would describe it as “rustic” looking, though I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on its appearance. It tasted acceptable in the way that bacon, mushrooms, and melted cheese do, but a starter in a restaurant? Really? Not good enough.
Chicken with tarragon sauce had reasonably well cooked poultry in a cream sauce with no aniseed flavour present. We were the last sitting, so maybe they run out of tarragon, who knows. The potato fondant was very good, properly buttery and cooked through. A turkey roast faired slightly better with good roast spuds, fluffy Yorkshire pudding, and a proper gravy. Vegetables came served separately and varied from well cooked carrots to raw broccoli.
Desserts were a continuation of the frustrating previous courses. Apple and toffee pie was actually a decent apple pie, topped with a toffee sauce and a bowlful of a custard which I can pretty much guarantee was the powdered variety. Again, it was rustic looking, but I don’t mind that with dessert. A chocolate and caramel tart looked a lot better, even if there was little, if any, of the caramel flavour.
The service was led by a very polite restaurant manager and I felt sorry for her. She can only deal with what is placed in her hands – it is the kitchens job to ensure it is good enough to go out. All of this was charged at the very modest twenty-two pounds for three courses, which for some I imagine accounts for good value. Not I. A tenner a head extra could have got me a very good lunch elsewhere. Chateau Impney is a beautiful place, but it is best viewed from the road en route to somewhere else to eat.