The Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe
PUBLISHED: 17:59 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 28 February 2013
Katie Jarvis is in need of some TLC and the Manor House Hotel generously delivers
Snapshot of my week (or part thereof):
Wednesday, first day back at school.
Ian clears off on Important Work Mission (can only do one job at a time and, whatever it is, is much more important than whatever I happen to be doing) and I'm off to London; so yours truly is left to work out conundrum of getting youngest child to school 12 miles away. Finally solve this via creative and impressive means and feel like V Good Mother. Am on train when youngest child rings to say he is successfully in school (V Good Mother) but that school doesn't start until the next day.
Dislike London intensely, where am permanently made to feel like Pollyanna. Make witty observation to passing postman; helpfully announce to a (hostile) road-side crowd that the crossing man is on green; and generally find things to be Glad about. Do not win Londoners over with cheery country ways. In fact, get similar reaction to drug carriers apprehended in Bangkok. Decide not to be rural and cheery in London in future.
Thursday, sleep problems
Have sleep-orientated row with both Ian and Ed. I can't sleep at night unless overhot; Ian prefers summer duvet and minimal cover. Problem solved by me laying extra duvet and warm dressing gown over my side. Ian furious when, unconsciously in middle of night, I toss all extra coverings over him and he awakes at 1,000 degrees centigrade.
Ed complains I wake him up snoring. Wouldn't mind except that he sleeps on a different floor. Explain that it's his father, not me, but Ed clearly sceptical.
Have not cleaned house for while - too busy sorting out childcare problems and my own V Important Work. Not unduly worried until, on entering dining room, find myself and slug eyeballing each other (though for once I have height advantage). Both deeply disturbed by experience. (Am glad if anyone thinks I've made any of this up for sake of magazine.)
People talk about destination restaurants. Today, I don't want a destination. I want somewhere I feel comfy and loved. Which is either my mum and dad's or the Manor House Hotel at Castle Combe.
The Manor House is very different from my mum and dad's. I wouldn't turn up in slippers, for example. It's grand, luxurious and dates back a jolly long way. One former Lord of the Manor (allegedly) was Sir John Falstaff, of the Henry IV/Desperately Merry Housewives fame. It also starred in one of my favourite films ever, Stardust which, frankly, is another departure from my mum and dad's.
What I particularly love about this hotel/restaurant is the staff. Every single decision you make is greeted as if every member of staff were desperately hoping that was what you were going to say and how wise you were to say it. "Would you like a drink before dinner?" "No thanks; we'll go straight in." There are audible gasps of approval and the staff shake their heads in admiration.
But the clincher lies in how genuinely and well it's done; the clever bit is the kindness. In terms of attention to detail and getting this absolutely spot on, this is it: they welcome you in, show you gracefully to table, clear the table perfectly, cater to your every need without being overbearing, and are considerate and relaxing, too. They didn't falter throughout - and I can think of maybe one or two other places of which I can say the same.
Corridors are fragranced with flowers and the satisfying smell of polish. Lounges are full of deep chairs and interesting magazines (one edited by my friend, Deri). (But why are there no curtains? Do feel this is one of the few oversights. I'm sure if I'd mentioned it, though, one of the waiters would have run some up while I dined.)
The food is courtesy of gifted chef Richard Davies. But again, what I rate is the determination to please the customer, whoever they might be, whatever their tastes. There's the Full Monty three-course dinner menu for 52 (46 for two courses) with its cappuccinos, emulsions and velouts. Or you can choose the 30 everyday menu, on offer Monday to Thursday, with its no-nonsense approach - more Gordon than Tony. The latter, while it might have less of a high days and holidays feel, is fantastically good value in the grand scheme of things, and full of clean flavours, well sourced produce and just-as-excellent cooking.
Ian chose the former menu; I picked the latter. He dined on tortellini of ham hock, baby capers and parsley with a pea velout. I had ham hock. He followed with slow-cooked cannon and belly of Westbrook spring lamb, crushed peas, onion soubise and minted pea emulsion; I had chicken. (I leave you to judge which of us looked camp.)
Actually, the extras - the amuse bouche of frothy celery with apple puree hiding at the bottom; and the pre-dessert of strawberries and Greek yogurt were among the highlights.
Both menus scored highly in their different ways. Maybe that choice was one reason why the guests were so surprisingly eclectic: ordinary, in the best sense of the word.
Most staff, from wine waiter to top show-er-in-er, seemed to be French, apart from the delightful John from Newcastle, who's as funny and idiosyncratic as he is polished and polite. Do the eyes of the portraits on the walls really follow him? Probably. Will he ever remember who the whiskered chap on the wall opposite reminds him of? Probably not; (but honestly, John, it's not Brunel).
Desserts were Valrhona chocolate fondant with crme fraiche ice cream for Ian, and something very chocolatey for me. Then we had coffee with yet more sweetmeats in the (curtainless) lounge by an open fire. Aaahh. Grand, rural and cheery.
Value for money 7.5
(NB not only the first '9' Cotswold Life has awarded - but this merited two of them.)
The Manor House Hotel and Golf Club are at Castle Combe, Chippenham SN14 7HR; 0845 34 66 399; www.manorhouse.co.uk