Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Great Milton
“I couldn’t take any risks for my wife’s 50th birthday weekend… so I placed my trust in Raymond’s impeccable hotel and restaurant… result: perfection!” M Blanc’s “magnificent”converted Elizabethan manor boasts a “dream location” in a picture-book village south of Oxford and, “if you want to spoil someone with luxury”, an overnight stay here is “the ultimate ‘because-you’re-worth-it’ experience”. “Any visit must include a walk through the gardens”, which not not only cap off “the perfect setting”, but also help supply the restaurant and “would make any kitchen gardener green with envy”. “Special praise also goes to the service: that all-too-rare combination of humanity, wonderful politeness and efficiency” that “sets a standard others only aspire to”. Last but not least, when it comes to the cooking – “essentially French haute cuisine, but not so rich” – it is occasionally said to be a tad “safe”, but more commonly it is described as “exquisite, with supreme attention for detail”(and – unusually for such a high profile restaurant – provokes vanishingly few ‘contrarian’ negative reports). One unavoidable downside: “a visit is unfortunately hugely expensive”; but on most accounts “this is not just a meal, but a spa for the soul and the senses, generating a deep sense of well-being, and – viewed as such – is a good-value prescription!”
A leading light in the UK’s gastronomic constellation since it first opened in 1972 – this famous Thames-sider (a favourite of the Royal Family) is run nowadays by Alain Roux (with father, Michel, still sometimes popping up in the dining room). “Swans are usually in view” in its “glorious” and “peaceful”riverside location, and in particular the location is “unsurpassable on a warm evening in summer”, when a meal typically starts off with a glass of champagne on the terrace, or even a jaunt in the restaurant’s private launch. The meal itself at any time of year takes place in a plush conservatory overlooking the river. Stylewise, you could be in rural France, and to some tastes this classic temple of Gallic gastronomy “feels a bit of a time warp”with perennial calls in some quarters for “a bit more risk and creativity” in the cuisine. For the vast majority of reporters however, the overriding impression is that “attention to detail is a way of life here”, with the kitchen’s “classical French perfection” judged “absolutely outstanding in every way”, and service likewise – overseen by long-term general manager Diego Masciaga is “unmatched”.
“It’s so romantic” eating in this historic venue, complete with peacocks, ruined ramparts and working portcullis! Inevitably it’s not the best option for a cheap date and opinions are mixed as to the value it delivers – for critics the cuisine is “not special enough” and the dining room “lacks ambience despite its evident history”, but more typical is a reviewer who feels “it’s a bit overpriced”but still finds it “a lovely experience”.
The Great House & Hotel & Restaurant, Lavenham
“People will drive many many miles to eat at the Great House – one of the finest French Restaurants in Britain, in a stylish 14th Century old inn on the market square of the perfectly preserved half-timbered medieval village of Lavenham”. “Classically French by cuisine, it’s also classically French-run by owners the Crepy family (Regis and Martine) complete with old fashioned heavy eating irons, and pure white tablecloths”and “flexible and charming staff”. “Much of the food is locally sourced, all ingredients of the highest quality” and results are “impeccable”down to “the most extravagantly rich cheese trolley anywhere!”
“A mind-blowing experience!” – Simon Rogan’s converted smithy in a gorgeous Lakeland village remains the north’s pre-eminent foodie Mecca. A degree of “art and theatre” add to its appeal, but despite the potential to seem “show-off-y”, the dominant theme running through most reports is the “exceptional” combination of “hard-to-beat innovation” – producing “light, clean dishes, packing huge flavours” – juxtaposed with a style that’s “natural, and not at all pretentious for a restaurant of such high calibre”. Enthusiasm too for a “delightfully simple and clean-lined setting that puts you instantly at ease, along with staff who were knowledgeable but approachable”.
“A jewel ’up north!” The North West’s best-known country house hotel “bears comparison with the Gavroches and Watersides of the world (certainly when it comes to the bill!”) – and “even if it’s not yet reached the effortless heights of some of its most famous competitors, the whole approach is so polished, it’s nonetheless a remarkable experience”. Set on the edge of the Ribble Valley, in a much-converted and extended old manor house, the management’s high ambitions inspired a major upgrade a few years ago (“since, usefully toned down somewhat”) and its combination of “sublime cooking” (led by executive head chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen), “passion for wine” (“reflected by MD Craig Bancroft and all his team”) with “true, warm, friendly and totally unstuffy Lancastrian hospitality” means “they truly deserve the many awards they receive”. But are they “pushing too hard for a second Michelin Star”? – there’s the odd gripe about “weird combinations” (“nice to see new ideas, but not a huge success”), or the view that “aiming for technical perfection doesn’t always make for a fun meal”. (In October 2017, after 30 years, Chef/Patron Nigel Haworth announced he is to step back somewhat, taking on a new role as Northcote ‘Ambassador’, with a 50-day per annum commitment to the business).
Yorke Arms, Ramsgill-in-Nidderdale
Frances Atkins established herself as one of the UK’s most accomplished chefs at this old coaching house and shooting lodge, which she and husband Bill made famous, and which enjoys a “beautiful location”, “overlooking the village green, out in the Dales”. Its scores were as all-round impressive as ever this year thanks to her “inspirational”cooking (much of it from the kitchen garden) and “wonderfully relaxed” service, but post-survey in June 2017 she put the property on the market to allow Bill to retire, and so that she can potentially move onto a less all-consuming venture. (No announcement of a sale had been made by October 2017 however, and Michelin this year maintained their star for the property).
“One of the nicest pubs in one of the nicest villages, with some of the best pub food in England!” – Andrew Pern’s famous “olde worlde”14th-century thatched inn “was in the vanguard of the gastropub revolution” despite its “in-the-middle-of-nowhere” location north east of York. Nowadays the cooking remains “fabulous without being overly pretentious” – “very seasonal and local (with lots of game)”.
“Just the perfect place for romance”; way out in the Trossachs National Park, and “looking out on snow-capped mountains”, this “small farmstead”-turned “pleasant, relaxing country hotel” is a “simply magical” spot for “locally sourced”, “quite classically cooked” grub. “Exquisite. Not much more to say… just go there”.
Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder
“Stratospheric prices are justified” at Andrew Fairlie’s “cocoon-like” dining room, whose position deep within this famous Scottish bastion creates “an intimate bubble” which “adds to the lovely experience”. “If you would like to have a once-in-a-lifetime gastronomic blow-out this is an excellent place to do so”. The cuisine is “Scotland’s best” – “a truly remarkable adventure in fine dining” from tasting menus with “outstanding”wine pairings that provide a series of “incomparable and memorable dishes”. One former fan who has accused it of “resting on its laurels” in recent surveys, found it “back to its best” this year. Top Menu Tip – “the lobster infused with whisky – if I was on death row, this would be my final meal!”