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"Hambleton Hall is a venue that has been cited in reverential terms by foodies for decades and as such it had been on our to-visit list for some years. Now at last we had managed to arrange a trip to include it and another long-standing target, and our hopes were high. Everything about Hambleton Hall is classically traditional, and none the worse for that. Because of a wine dinner the same night we were seated in the "small" dining room, which was actually more than adequate and provided plenty of elbow room all round. One thing struck us as soon as we were shown to our table - all the glasses for the wine flight were already clustered on the table, which heralded wine poured at table and presentation of the bottles, but left little space for anything else. We had opted for the tasting menu, with one change we requested, rabbit from the daily specials instead of lamb, which presented no problem for the very accommodating and well-trained staff nor, of course, for the chef. We were amused at the announcement of our "complimentary" canapés, which comprised a pineapple bubble with chilli twist, a parmesan crisp on a flaky pastry biscuit and a very good bream beignet with a tartare dip. An amuse-bouche of hot cauliflower velouté with black pudding and apple set the tone for the evening - everything was packed with taste and every element perfectly balanced with all the rest. And this was certainly the case with the assiette of heritage tomatoes with a perfect goat's cheese croquette, a super tomato crisp, tomato essence foam, cheese disguised as a tomato and tomato jelly on a tapenade base, which really got the palate working. The presentation of the beautifully concentrated foie gras ice cream with its topping of apple jelly, apple purée, cinnamon biscuit and cinnamon powder tucked under the foie gras was picture perfect, and the combination of the sweet apple with the foie gras was absolutely terrific. It is no longer a surprise to find scallops served with belly pork, but this crispy version along with a very good madeira jus, radicchio, hispi cabbage and cured, salt baked turnip made this dish special. Then, the request dish, an assiette of rabbit, which we chose to an extent because we rarely have it at home, but also as a kind of test as we have found that rabbit can sometimes prove too problematic for some chefs to handle. Aaron Patterson came up trumps. Rabbit done three ways, excellent rack, leg and a Parma-wrapped tower of loin, served with a carrot purée, onion, pearl barley "risotto", strips of raw carrot, and a wonderful liquorice jus. A super autumnal feast. The pre-dessert of lemon posset with its raspberry topping made for a good palate cleanser, and our dessert of passion fruit soufflé and passion fruit and banana sorbet was a top-class finale to a top-class dinner in the modern classic style."
"Consistency of standard is extraordinary. We go year after year and it is always a joy. The passion fruit souffle is to die for. Perhaps a few too many dishes also appear on the menu year after year - some more new ones would be good; but Aaron Paterson is on the top form as ever. I don't get the criticisms of pomposity - we love it precisely because of its unstuffiness compared to some grander establishments. Still brill in 2014"
"Good solid food some dishes showed creativity others a bit basic but overall nice. Service is very good but a touch soulless at times except Dom the sommelier who was superb. Great wine list all the classics with some great value finds as well mostly new world. Interior is a touch tired but beautiful gardens."
"Classic, very game orientated which is in keeping with its rural location. Slightly dated deco and food now."
"The hotel side is as you would expect: everything is in order, staff manage to appear as if by magic whenever you need something, fires are lit, cushions are plumped. But it's more of a comfortable place, than a grand place. Outside there are a croquet lawn, small swimming pool, well kept gardens and, I think, a tennis court. You could easily imagine a Noël Coward play or a Poirot novel set here. Our bedrooms had the sloping ceilings of the eaves, such that in my room at least there was no way you could take a shower as there wasn't room to stand upright in the bath, which in real luxury style seemed big enough to hold half of Rutland Water: a bath designed for long soaks and total immersion. Bliss. Though it's worth noting that my room was a "standard" room up the back stairs (you could almost see where, on the ground floor corridor, the green baize door would have been): the bedrooms in the "family" half of the house may be grander. Beds have the really high quality sheets you would expect. Housekeeping is of the highest order. Downstairs there is just one lounge, plus some seating in the entrance hall and relatively cosy bar. The lounge tends a little too much to hushed conversation and I felt that the bar was more relaxing. Hambleton Hall's kitchens have been under the control of head chef Aaron Patterson since 1992 (I actually ate there in his first week as head chef!). The restaurant is classically and formally decorated with decent sized, well-spaced tables, with all the quality napery, cutlery and crockery you'd expect. Service is excellent, if formal. Lighting is a litle subdued. Aaron Patterson's food fits well in this setting: there's a solid classical foundation with a few modern twists. We ate over two nights and our overall impression was of a little inconsistency, with some dishes being truly excellent, while others just fell a little short. Dinner starts with drinks in the lounge or the bar, with canapés. On the first night, the canapés were a "fig bubble" topped with a little shaved ham, deep-fried goujons of bream with a saffron mayonnaise and some delightful gougères. On the second night, the real standout of the three canapés were the little beetroot macarons. As well as a £75 5/6 course tasting menu, there's a three course à la carte for £65, with a separate "gourmet corner" of a starter, main and dessert with supplements. There's also an absolutely fabulous wine list with prices that really aren't too gouge-y, especially for the class of establishment. We had a delicious, maturing 2008 Le Soula and an equally excellent JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from 2009. Once at the table, the meal starts with a demitasse of good but ultimately forgettable soup - forgettable in the sense that while I remember it was French onion soup one night and both had some good texture, I've completely forgotten what the other was. A bouillabaisse terrine was excellent. It looked picture perfect, had great flavours, reminiscent of a bouillabaisse, but with a much more elevated set of prime ingredients: lobster, tuna and hake, all of which were cooked perfectly. Really extremely impressive. Similarly, a lasagne of of black Perigord truffle, combining truffle, artichokes and a perfect chicken mousse, was a stunning starter and there were no regrets about the £6.50 supplement. Another excellent starter came from the tasting menu. No eyebrow was raised or anything when we asked if we could have the red mullet with blood orange and almond, a dish which appeared only on the tasting menu. Really excellent fish, perfectly cooked, and I adored the orange and almond accompaniments which almost lent it a slightly Moorish feel. A fillet of beef was decent enough, nicely cooked as requested and served with slow cooked Jacob's ladder and watercress and wasabi purée. But as a dish, it felt much safer and lacked impact both visually and on the palate. The wasabi in particular was much more muted than it needed to be. A roast duck breast was again perfectly cooked: beautifully tender and a good flavour, served with tamarillo that worked well with the duck. A cassoulet of duck, apparently flavoured with fresh turmeric, was served separately. The confit duck leg was excellent, and it was great to see the duck heart so prominent. But the cassoulet itself was a let down: I found the beans just too undercooked, to the point that I asked for it to be taken back to the kitchen so that the chef could check it was how he expected it. The answer came back that that was how Aaron Patterson wanted to serve the beans. Fair enough. I didn't like it though: the not-quite-crunch of the beans wasn't a texture I appreciated and, it seemed to me, detracted from what should be a quintessentially comforting dish. Fortunately an Assiette or Rabbit restored our faith in Aaron Patterson's abilities. This really was a stunning, complex dish, with a sauce lightly favoured with licorice, that also made the Prüm riesling really sing in my view. The loin was wrapped in (I think) a light rabbit mousse; the rack roasted with a herb crumb; a rich, braised leg, served with a pearly barley risotto and that excellent licorice sauce. Really beautiful dish, showing off the kitchen's skills. Perfectly seasoned in all elements too. A pre-dessert of a sort of granita comes in a shot glass. Fennel, orange and rhubarb one night; "taste of mojito" the next. Refreshing, and just a taste. For me the fennel, orange and rhubarb was very much the superior. Those shot glasses quickly reappear with dessert proper. The three desserts we had were all fine, with lots of technique, but if there were one area where Hambleton Hall might look to improve the menus, I would respectfully suggest that it would be desserts. There was nothing wrong with any of them, but (with the exception of the Brillat-Savarin tart) there just seemed to be a little too much effort and too much technique which rather minimised the impact of the named main ingredients. The other way to look at it is, I suppose, that the pastry section likes doing very refined desserts. This was particularly the case with a dish of "Tastes of Lemon & Violet" which just seemed to miss the point somehow. Terrine of Rhubarb was better, but for me there was just a bit too much going on on the plate, to the point that it was the lime leaf ice cream that really stood out for me. A Brillat-Savarin tart seemed to be in a different league: clean, and focused. A nice idea well executed, though even here the shot glass had to reappear (was it a celery granita & foam??). Breakfasts were very good, though curiously more generous on the second day. The breads were excellent, as you would expect given that the brilliant Hambleton Bakery is in the same ownership. The small muffins in particular merit particular mention (I bought lots from the Bakery to stock my freezer), and played no small part in having some jolly good Eggs Benedict on the second day. We enjoyed some excellent food at Hambleton Hall, as you would hope. It is after all, what one beer company once called reassuringly expensive. If you choose well, it's no doubt not merely worth it, but also good value, especially as portion size is far from skimpy. If that excellence could be transferred to all dishes, then Michelin's one star would start to seem a bit mean."
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