The Dining Room at Whatley Manor
- When: November 2016
- Michelin Stars: 2
- Male DINK Rating: 12/15
- Female DINK Rating: 13/15
- Total Cost: $355; Food Cost: $290
Staying in Burton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, driving to dinner at Whatley Manor – located within the Relais & Chateaux property of the same name outside the small town of Malmesbury – was a bit much, especially since it gets dark so early this time of year. Still, we were excited to try this highly-acclaimed restaurant and compare it to the other Michelin-starred restaurants on this trip (The Hinds Head, Lords of the Manor, 5 North Street, The Wild Rabbit, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay).
As the restaurant admitted and cautioned in our reservation confirmation email, due to their “rural location,” it can be difficult to find. While the location is rural and it was pitch black outside by the time of our 7:30pm reservation, we didn’t have any problem finding the property.
The stately entrance was well-lit and marked (there’s nothing else around), and, upon turning in, we drove down a long lighted driveway as we approached the manor. Signs directed us to a large parking lot, but there wasn’t a sign pointing us in the direction of the restaurant. So, we just walked through the closest doorway, which led to a courtyard, which then led us to the actual entrance of the manor. Here, we were greeted and shown to our table in the restaurant, a short walk down the hall. The dining room was elegant and about half full with around 20 people.
After being seated and given the menus, we were quickly asked if we would like a drink, with champagne being offered as an aperitif. Male DINK actually opted for an interesting beer, and Female DINK took the waiter up on the champagne offer. The beer arrived quickly, but the champagne never arrived (keep reading for more on this) – and we did not inquire further, as Female DINK had already made up her mind regarding other wines.
There were three menus – Seasonal, Signature, and Vegetarian – all priced the same. We actually placed our order with the head waiter (or manager?), who informed us that they were very flexible in terms of switching out courses between each of the menus to suit our preference and taste. We didn’t take him up on the substitutions, but it’s a welcome option that isn’t always offered. Male DINK decided on the Seasonal menu, and Female DINK chose the Signature menu.
Shortly after we ordered, a selection of three canapés arrived – salmon, foie gras mousse with honey and pepper, and parmesan crisps with a goat cheese cream. All were very good; however, we both thought the salmon was the standout of the three. Male DINK thought the honey was a little overpowering in the foie gras canapé, although Female DINK enjoyed it as it was. The parmesan crisp was tasty without the goat cheese being too strong. These were a great start to the meal.
After an appropriate wait, the amuse bouche arrived, which was the same for both menus. Admittedly, we should have taken better notes as we cannot remember exactly what this course was, however, we do remember enjoying it.
The first courses arrived next. Female DINK had Pan fried scallop dressed with caramelized eel, confit leek and pickled cockles. The scallop was cooked to perfection – cooked enough without being rubbery. The eel was also very well prepared, and Female DINK enjoyed the eel much more than she was expecting. The leek and cockles were good; however, the leek was a little difficult to cut politely. All in all, a very good course.
Male DINK’s first course was Foie gras and truffle press served with Madeira jelly and compressed apple, accompanied by some toast. This was a generous portion of foie gras, with the surrounding dots being a potent (and delicious) truffle sauce. All of the flavors went together very well, and this was one of the better foie gras courses we’ve had (Female DINK had a bite). A very delicious starter.
For the second course, Female DINK had Fillet of red mullet dressed with onions, mussel mouse and fresh turmeric sauce. This was the one course Female DINK was unsure about when ordering, as she isn’t the biggest fan of mussels. However, to her pleasant surprise, this was a very good course. The red mullet was cooked very well and was quite tasty, but the biggest surprise was how non-chewy the mussels were! The mussels were very good, and the accompanying mussel sauce was great as well. This was a fantastic dish with a unique combination of flavors and showcased excellent cooking skills.
Male DINK’s second course was Pan fried fillet of turbot served with a confit chicken wing, glazed shrimps, and a lightly creamed chicken and rosemary jus. Another course enjoyed more than expected – the turbot was prepared well, even it wasn’t that flavorful. The real standout (oddly) was the glazed baby shrimp and creamed chicken and rosemary jus. They went together really well, and Male DINK was surprised at how much he liked this flavor combination. The confit chicken wing seemed out of place and unnecessary; however, it had a good flavor and was tender.
For the third course, Female DINK had Roasted loin of venison dressed with game sausage, onion, brussel sprout leaves, confit chestnuts and peppered brandy sauce. The venison was surprisingly tender, and the peppered brandy sauce was a great accompaniment. The best part of this dish, though, was the slices of sausage sitting under the onion and chestnut. This was some of the best sausage we’ve had – a little sweet, but still savory. The chestnut confit was a nice addition, as well as the brussel sprout leaves. The more dense sausage link was also very good; however, not quite as wonderful as the sliced sausage. A delicious main course with obvious autumn influences, even though this was not the seasonal menu.
Male DINK’s third course was Pan fried fillet of Beef with braised oxtail, celeriac, and parsley puree. There were bits of bone marrow on top of both the oxtail and beef. The braised oxtail was presented in a hallowed-out bone, which sat on top of what appeared to be mashed potatoes. Male DINK wasn’t sure if he was supposed to eat the alleged mashed potatoes under the bone, so he didn’t. The oxtail was forgettable. The bone marrow was a rich addition to an already rich dish and was perhaps a little too much. The beef was well prepared and flavorful, with the jus pairing nicely. This was a good main course, but was nothing special.
The fourth course was the cheese course. Female DINK had Black truffle ice cream dressed with lightly creamed Roquefort, deep fried Crottin and candied walnuts. This was by far the most interesting cheese course to date. The creamed Roquefort was very good without being too strong – a good preparation. The deep fried Crottin was also very good, providing a change in texture in the dish. The very best part of this course, though, was the signature black truffle ice cream. It was very potent, yet a little sweet – a great flavor balance. This is probably the second best ice cream we’ve had, with the foie gras ice cream at Homann’s in Switzerland still being our favorite. Female DINK loved this dish and appreciated the creativity instead of choosing off the cheese cart…
Male DINK had a selection of English and French cheese from the cart. The waiter seemed very knowledgable about the cheese selection and encouraged trying several different kinds. The four cheeses selected were accompanied by a large selection of different crackers and a tray of jams and mustard. The serving size of each cheese was large and Male DINK did not finish them in order to save room for the next course. However, these cheeses and accompaniments were both excellent.
The fifth course was the same for both menus – Textures of clementine with lemon and juniper ice cream. It seemed like clementines must have been in season or something because we had some variation of them on several menus during this trip. The ice cream was served atop the clementine along with some crumbles. The dish was good and was a nice refreshing transition (especially from Male DINK’s cheese course). The clementine flavor held its own in the course, and the ice cream helped calm the intense flavor. Still, Female DINK would have preferred a dish without ice cream since her previous course already had it (and she would definitely choose the black truffle ice cream).
The final course was the main dessert. Female DINK had Apple and maple syrup cheesecake with caramelized pecan nuts and poached apple. Delicious. The cheesecake was very light and flavorful. This was a great balance of being light yet substantial. The accompanying ingredients and flavors all went together extremely well. A great finish to the menu.
Male DINK had Blackcurrant ravioli with poached blueberries, pear sorbet, and licorice cream. The ravioli was served warm, which kind of reminded Male DINK of eating a warm pie, as the ravioli was bread-y like a soft pie crust. Male DINK was undecided on whether he enjoyed this warm preparation or not. The flavors of the dish worked well, but this didn’t seem enough like a dessert for the final course. Even though Male DINK isn’t huge on sweets, even he was left wanting a bit more sugar at the end of the meal.
After we were finished with the last course, the waiter told us that they had a few more small treats for us and asked whether we would like to have them at the table or we would prefer he pack them up for us to take home. We opted to take them home, as we had a long drive ahead of us. At this time, we also asked for the bill. A few minutes later, the bill arrived and, upon review, unfortunately had the missing glass of champagne on it. I politely informed the waiter of the discrepancy, and, after a few minutes of conferring with his colleagues in the back of the restaurant, brought a revised bill and apologized profusely for the oversight.
Overall, we thought the meal was very good. The combinations of ingredients were innovative, while sticking to traditional preparations and platings. The service was professional, but descriptions were a little lacking due to English being a second (or third) language for most of the waitstaff. The manor and restaurant somewhat reminded us of Meadowood in California – it seemed just a bit stuffy, but welcomingly elegant. In our opinion, The Dining Room at Whatley Manor rightfully holds two Michelin stars, as we felt it was above one star restaurants we have dined at. As such, it was worth the late-night drive from our home base.
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