The long driveway into Ettington Park could be straight out of a movie. The road slowly bends around as the trees begin to disperse and the mansion looms majestically at the back. The side profile, being the first full look, is impressive enough, though the gothic turrets and dramatic arched windows really come into their own from face-on. It’s a handsome building within beautiful grounds, the ideal romantic getaway. Oh, and it’s allegedly the country’s most haunted hotel. Given how the weekend would pan out, a ghost would be the only thing going bump in the night in our room.
The proportions here are of those built a long time ago with little care for budget. Staircases unwind into large receptions, drinks are enjoyed in drawing rooms larger than some homes. Our room is functional without being flash, spacious without the excess the rest of the building has. It has the benefit of a view across the sprawling grounds that succeeds in making me want to leave it and explore. The bed is deep and provides a good night sleep before breakfast the following morning.
The restaurant here is The Oak Room, a beautifully appointed space of dark woods and low light. It is exceptionally romantic, an ideal space for two people to relax and enjoy the two AA rosette food. Except I am here alone. My girlfriend is in bed, laid low with the finest that the Indian water sanitation system could send her back with, just 24 hours from landing. It’s not an ideal situation, though a bottle of good red from a top-heavy wine list proves to be an adequate companion. My mood does not improve with the amouse bouche, a goats cheese mousse with crouton and cherry. The first mouthful is great; the crouton is buttery and light, the sharp sweetness of the cherry an ideal counterfoil, but once they go it is just three more spoonful’s of goats cheese on its own. It needs a rethink in how it is plated.
A pork cheek starter is sat on a dice of celery and apple that gives a subtle nod toward Waldorf. There is a smear of cauliflower purée and a charred floret from the same brassica. It eats well, but once again we have issues with proportion; not enough of that tender cheek to go with all that veg.
And then fireworks happen. Monkfish loin rolled in spices, with picked carrots and cauliflower, and a bowl of dhaal full of smokiness and gentle heat. Yes, the dish is very obviously inspired by Purnell’s winning fish course on GBM, but frankly who cares when it is this good. I’ve eaten both and this probably pips it on the basis that the flavour is more pronounced. I love the additional tangle of fried onion that they call bhaji and I am calling paradise, and the yogurt dressing which tempers the heat when liberally applied. It’s a super bit of cooking.
The same applies for dessert, a beautifully worked homage to the apple. At the base is a silky smooth set cream, blanketed in a sharp jelly and balls of macerated fruit. On the side are two perfectly made cinnamon donuts. It’s apple pie without the scalded mouth. The flavour is fantastic, each layer pronounced and overall cleansing rather than too sweet.
The meal may have improved with every course but the service was polished to a high gleam throughout. They have a smart operation here that is seamless in delivery; wine is effortlessly topped up, dishes nudged in and out of place from acute angles. It works as a restaurant on its own, not just as a facility for a hotel. I want to return when we can enjoy for what it is, not when I am sat bullseye in the room, with a room full of couples wondering who the weirdo on his own taking pictures of his food is. But that’s fine with me. I return to the room, where I find the TV on and madam fast asleep. Ettington Park is a beautiful place to spend a night or three, she too will understand this one day soon.
Our stay at Ettington Park Hotel was complimentary, and they subsidised a proportion of the dinner bill. The stay was arranged by Shakespeare’s England. Www.shakespeares-england.co.uk