Dining in the fast lane at Whittlebury Hall

whittlebury hall reader offer, chronicle & echo, May 2011
whittlebury hall reader offer, chronicle & echo, May 2011

THE shower in the room is extremely hot.

As in burn your skin off if you stand under there too long hot.

I mention this as I wouldn’t want this review to seem too glowing, but it is the only negative thing I can find to say about my stay at Whittlebury Hall

Because the rest of it has been magnificent. If I were a trendy web type creating a ‘tag’ cloud of the words surrounding my visit it might look something like this: caviar, sauna, sausages, comfort, swimming, beef, steam room, ice cream.

A pretty attractive selection of dictionary data I’m sure you’d agree.

And ones that describe a business which is still very much open despite the fact the company which owns it, Whittlebury Hall Limited, has gone into administration.

Hotel Manager David Munson is keen to stress this to me as Mrs Lewis and I enjoy drinks in the lounge before enjoying our main ‘task’ of the visit: sampling the wares of new head chef Damyan Stafanov at Murrays restaurant.

Murrays currently holds 2AA Rosettes and is looking to gain a third – something that would allow its sister eatery Astons to apply for its first Rosette. Mr Munson even goes a little misty eyed when mentioning the longer term possibility of Michelin stars.

Swapping Michelin stars for tyres, brings us to another Murrays talking point – motorsport.

Named after iconic Formula 1 commentator, Murray Walker, the restaurant is adorned with pictures and humorous quotes from the renowned race watcher. Whittlebury, with its close proximity to Silverstone, is a well known temporary home for race-goers and even for F1 drivers and their entourages.

Dining at Murrays is an intimate, relaxed experience – head chef Damian says his ambition is to build “on an already wonderful dining experience, using the finest carefully sourced quality seasonal and local ingredients.”

The menu he is currently using to do that is based on the theme of the Modern British Menu.

I give into an opulent desire to sample caviar and plump for Organic Salmon with lemon, jersey royal and caviar for my starter (£12). The tiny fish eggs are somewhat underwhelming for my common palate, but even I can recognise the high quality of the salmon.

Other starters are Tea Smoked Duck (£10) – as sampled by Mrs L – Goats Curd (£10) and Scallops and Pork (£12).

For the main course I opted for the 35 days dry aged beef, served with fillet, onions, mushroom and horseradish (£27), while my wife went for the Cotswold White Chicken with spatzle, pancetta, young leeks and morels (£20).

As with most fine dining experiences, less elegant foodies such as myself worry they will be starving after consuming these beautifully presented, but slight looking, courses but the food is more than filling and the flavours are unsurprisingly exquisite.

There is still room, however, for me to sample a delightfully tasty selection of British cheeses, complete with chutney, quince jelly, biscuits, figs and almonds cake (£15) washed down with a small glass of Port.

Mrs Lewis meanwhile opts for the Chocolate and Tonka Bean (£10) – a chocolate mouse with tonka bean ice cream that leaves her temporarily shocked when our waitress reveals the beans are poisonous.

But only in large quantities, far larger – she assures us – than those used in this delicious ice cream. I am, nevertheless, fleetingly reminded of the Simpsons episode in which Homer consumes a poisonous fugu fish at a sushi restaurant and is told he only has 21 hours to live.

I hasten to add that Mrs L remains fit and healthy after her tonka bean encounter.

Whittlebury Hall – home to 211 spacious bedrooms – was opened in 1999 as a hotel and management training centre (the National Audio Show is springing into life as we leave). The famous Spa was added in July 2005 and it also offers a popular Leisure Club.

After a good nights sleep the latter was something we were able to use to indulge in a spot of relaxation.

Offering a bubbling Jacuzzi, sweltering hot sauna and steam rooms and a welcoming swimming pool it proved the perfect start to our day. The Leisure Club also offers a modern and tiring looking gym boasting, I am told, 44 pieces of ‘the latest Cybex equipment and power plate technology’. Wow – far too much like hard work on a Saturday morning.

What wasn’t hard work at all was the delicious breakfast that rounded off our trip to Whittlebury Hall.

Served in Astons, diners can choose from a traditional English brekkie or the usual Continental alternative. Safe to say we left with full bellies to counter any benefits the sauna may have had.

I am guessing F1’s best drivers don’t eat so heartily before heading off to Silverstone, but if you want to enjoy a taste of the high life enjoyed by these racing heroes Whittlebury Hall is the place to be – and it’s definitely open for business.

Just watch out for those showers...