Restaurant review: Court of appeal
PUBLISHED: 11:03 16 June 2014 | UPDATED: 11:24 16 June 2014
James Graham is cooking food to wax lyrical about at Bibury Court, but sadly not every aspect of country life is quite so satisfying
“Look!” Ed says, gently gesticulating at the half-moon flowerbed by our front door, where polite plants have forsaken their wildness to grow in crowd-pleasing fashion.
I see nothing, but I have faith. Ed is a rural wizard, whose pointing finger can make distant barren hillsides come alive. As you follow his stare, clumps of grass become youthful grazing rabbits, this summer’s scions who have yet to learn to be watchful and wary. A gnarly fencepost with a nobble atop, disappearing into a dusky sky, will transmogrify into a patiently petrified owl, awaiting some impulsive prey. The woody limbs of a fragile bush turn velvet and cloven, twigs antlering, as a deer, lost in disparate thought, turns its head carelessly away. “Actually,” Ed will whisper, “it’s intently watching every single move we make.”
So I look again at this flowerbed, between the genteel vegetation, and see tawny soil, ochred bark, bronzed leaves fallen. And then I click: these are feathers – fallow and field-drab – that I’m seeing, not soil at all. This isn’t a flowerbed but a duck bower, where a mother is coddling a clutch of camouflaged eggs.
I should have realised. Only a couple of days earlier, I walked out of the front door straight into a pair of unconcerned ducks – this very mother along with a magnificent muscled mallard. Even my looming presence didn’t hurry them: they were busy peering into flowerpots, exploring the turf, examining the shingle. Had there been a third duck, I’d have identified him as an estate agent. Maybe a surveyor. But they’d clearly decided this place would do nicely for a nursery. Hidden crannies? Check - the lush flowerbed. Privacy? Check – not yet a fashionable duck location. Waterside property? Check – directly above the flowerbed is the outside tap.
I instantly worry – I’m a mother, too. How will she get ducklings down to the river, some 200 yards away? What about the road – not a busy one, but a road nonetheless – outside our forecourt? And what about the prowling black cat, feline and malign, that harbours vituperative thoughts towards anything feathered and fowl?
I read up about duck preferences and lay out bowls of cooked potato and water at a respectful distance. But she’s determined to be self-sufficient: a very modern duck. Once, during her many unexplained absences, Ed counts 11 eggs, Farrow & Ball Great White, (he’s careful; he knows the way of the wild), eiderdowned in weightless brown feathers. And then – just when you think she’s gone for good – she’s back, warming and soft.
So we go to Bibury Court where the posh ducks must feast, for the menu indeed features pennywort but garnished with goat’s cheese and onion broth. James Graham is there now – hurray! – so you know the food will complement the gorgeous grounds (a very pleasant place to be, especially in summer) and the fire-warmed interior. (Odd ceiling, though. It’s either expensively distressed or decorated with the plumes of a thousand Tony Benn-type pipes.) The menu is just lovely – courses interspersed with interesting extras – delicate and thoughtful: we have the fricassee of wild mushrooms with white sprouting broccoli and hop shoots; and Wye Valley asparagus with scotched pheasant egg and brown butter; before our main courses of Tamworth pork with wild radish and burdock root, and a fillet of brill with crushed jersey royals and wild garlic pesto. The service is leisurely, though attentive when it arrives; the food is (this is a waxing-lyrical review, you understand) like a country path with a gentle surprise round every corner. Very, very nice. We finish with a buttermilk and lavender panna cotta, served with quince and wild honey, and a cheeseboard of which the waiter can tell me little. And then we play a game of Jenga in the sitting room, as we relax with our coffees. We’d expect all this to be a little more expensive than even your gastropub, and it is; but you can see what you’re paying for.
At home, later that week, the absences continue until, one day, it seems we haven’t seen our mother-duck time-out-of-mind. Plus, the slinking malevolent-black panther is in evidence. I try not to look into the bower – even glances seem intrusive and polluting; but I feel an affinity with this care-giver; a personal responsibility to the 11 soon-to-be-chicks.
So, finally, I can resist no more: I peer into the motherless nest. There, instead of smooth shells swaddled, there are broken cases, distressed with the bright yellow of yolks.
And above them all is draped a lone white feather, like a flag of surrender, wafting heartbreakingly in the breeze.
Value for money: 8
Bibury Court Hotel, Bibury GL7 5NT, 01285 740337; www.biburycourt.com
This article by Katie Jarvis is from the June 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Katie, follow her on Twitter: @katiejarvis
Our restaurant reviews are completely independent. Katie arrives unannounced and pays for her meal.