Friday, June 18, 2010

Fine Dining in the U.K.

A recent trip to the U.K. saw three bloggers from this site enjoying ten days of incredible meals at Michelin starred restaurants. For those of you who may be planning summer travel to the U.K. (or just wish to live vicariously and calorie-free through our experiences), I thought I'd share a few highlights.

Prior to the start of every meal (regardless of venue), we were ushered to a lovely outdoor patio or settled in a plush indoor lounge for drinks and appetizers.

While enjoying this leisurely start, the waiter would bring the menu for us to peruse and make our choices. By the time we were seen to our table, everything was in place to begin. Really a relaxing and elegant way to dine. Also, in general, the service in the UK was more solicitous (sometimes even too much so) than anywhere else I've ever eaten.

The Waterside Inn, Bray, England
Located just outside London in the tiny (and I do mean tiny) village of Bray, the Waterside Inn has a lovely setting (situated right along the banks of the Thames, complete with swans).

I believe the Waterside is a Michelin 3-star. And, while the food here is very well-prepared and beautifully presented, it definitely did not exceed my expectations. Some of the menu choices were a little bit too aggressive to suit my tastes (for instance, a shellfish soup that tasted over-poweringly of oysters). The winning dish here was the spring lamb, which was perfectly in season, and incredibly tender and delicate.

The Whatley Manor, Costwolds, England
I probably couldn't find enough time in the day to sing the praises of the Whatley Manor, which is situated in the countryside of England's Cotswolds.

This was most likely one of the most beautiful manor-house hotels we visited during our trip. The grounds were exquisite, the manor gorgeously restored and luxurious, and the Michelin 1-star restaurant was clearly striving for its next star (and likely very soon to get it). The food here was among the very best we had (the only other contender for the crown was Andrew Fairlie in Gleneages, Scotland). Pretty much ever single course (and there were looooots of them) was amazing. A favorite: smoked scallops with pureed almond and sea beans.

The smoking gave the scallop a depth like nothing I've tasted and paired incredibly well with the nut flavors. Really something special. Another winner here was the salad. Often one of the duller courses, Whately Manor prepared theirs with fresh herbs and greens grown on the grounds, baby artichokes, and black truffle viniagrette. It was irresistible.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England
The grounds of Chatsworth House (the seat of the Earl of Devonshire) are worth an entire day's visit all by themselves. I'll include a few shots here, just to give you an idea:

While the grounds here are amazing, the reason I mention Chatsworth here on the blog is because of the unexpectedly lovely tea room. Despite the large, tour-bus atmosphere of Chatsworth (it is a huge tourist destination) they nevertheless had a calming, charming, subdued tea room where they served a very good afternoon tea.

If you visit Chatsworth, this is not to be missed.

Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles, Scotland

The final restaurant I'll mention here (though we ate at several other lovely spots) is the amazing Andrew Fairlie, located in the Gleneagles Resort in Scotland. This is reputed to be the best restaurant in Scotland, and I can well-believe it. Andrew Fairlie is everything lux, fabulous, and elegant. From the incredible bonsai sculptures and chandeliers, to the top-notch service and impeccably prepared food, there is nothing to dislike here.

The other restaurants we tried and would recommend are:
English Lake Country: The Samling (on Lake Windermere)
Edinburgh, Scotland: Ondine Restaurant (sleek and modern, not far from the castle)

Happy Travels, and Bon Appetit!