The journey to Stamford for the weekend began with Hambleton Hall. My daughter Nicola searched for a Michelin starred restaurant within about a two-hour drive for both of us – a birthday present to me. My birthday was in April but everything was booked and I was given details then and have spent the last couple of months looking forward to this weekend away.
We were well relaxed into our mini break by our lovely first day yesterday exploring Stamford and finding great places to eat and drink. Today, Hambleton Hall, a 13-mile drive away, was the main event. Unfortunately the weather was a bit grey and wet but nothing was going to spoil this wonderful treat.
Although Nicola booked the table months ago, only an early slot at 12.15 was available. We set off in good time, hoping the rain would ease and we could walk round the grounds before eating, but sadly the weather wasn’t keen to oblige, so after we’d parked the car, sheltering under umbrellas we went straight to the house and reception.
The entrance to the Hall from the road is impressive: a long driveway winds through to the car park and house.
Once inside the house, we’d barely entered before we were warmly welcomed, coats and umbrellas were taken and we were led through to a lovely drawing room.
This beautiful late-Victorian house is a hotel and restaurant that has been in the same ownership for 40 years. It sits on the peninsula above Rutland Water, one of Europe’s largest man-made lakes and the largest in England. The chef director, Aaron Patterson, has been there for 30 years and has had a Michelin star since 1982.
You could look across to Rutland Water through the windows and in better weather, it would be great to sit at the tables outside enjoying the fantastic setting.
However, there was the wonderful alternative of sitting in such a gorgeous room. A drinks menu came almost immediately and glasses of champagne were ordered. A mention was made between us of it being a celebration for my birthday and the waiter caught on, asked a few questions, including my name, and when the menus came, I had my own one.
It was such a lovely touch making the whole experience even more special.
Then amuse bouches came: gougères filled with Parmesan cream and some delicious prawns with avocado cream balls. The gougères were light puffs of gorgeousness and the prawns burst in the mouth, full of flavour.
It was all delightful. When our meal was ready, we were led through to the dining room.
It was a very elegant dining room but relaxed and comfortable too. We were near enough to a window to get a view outside. At this point the room was empty but gradually it filled up and more diners arrived.
A second amuse bouche came: a silky smooth and delicious pea velouté with goats’ cheese. Just as the first ones had been, these were exceptionally good and bursting with flavour. There’s was also excellent bread from their own bakery.
We had the lunchtime fixed price menu of £95 per head. Nicola chose Tartlet of Cornish crab, lemongrass & ginger, crab bisque purée to begin. It looked spectacular and she described it as ‘exquisite’.
My choice was Chicken liver & foie gras parfait, green tomato chutney, sourdough toast. I was a little surprised to see it come as a tomato.
But it also looked spectacular and when I cut it open the tomato case was filled with the parfait. It was fabulous, so full of flavour and gorgeously smooth.
We chose the same main: Loin of Launde Farm lamb, aubergine, chickpea & black garlic.
Again, the presentation was impressive, the lamb wonderfully tender and the bed of aubergine and chickpea on which it sat, hugely flavoursome and delicious.
We hadn’t wanted to drink too much at lunchtime so we carried our champagne over to the starter but ordered a glass of wine for the mains. Nicola doesn’t drink red wine and the sommelier recommended a good white – a French Chardonnay – for her main, while I had Pomerol. They use a special Coravin System for glasses of wine that keeps the cork in the bottle that allows them to pour a glass but prevent the wine from oxidising and spoiling.
We chose different desserts. Mine was Cherry & chocolate pavé, almonds, lemon verbena ice cream. Wow! It looked so amazing I was almost reluctant to break the spell and cut into it. Fortunately I don’t have that kind of resistance when it comes to great desserts and it tasted as wonderful as it looked. The fine, almost gold looking, wafer almost melted as it touched the tongue. The pavé was just as chocolatey as one hoped for and of course chocolate and cherries are a classic marriage of flavours.
Nicola has Tartlet of garden currant, white currant sorbet. It was so good, Nicola insisted I had to have a taste!
It had been a fabulous meal. I asked for an espresso to finish and it came with a special plate of petit fours, again celebrating my birthday. We also got talking to a friendly couple nearby who were back for their third visit this year because they love it so much.
What an incredible meal and in such a gorgeous setting. What made it even more special – apart from being with my daughter and the restaurant’s recognition of my birthday – was the impeccable service. At every step it was efficient and thoughtful but also friendly. This was no stuffy country house experience but full of fun, joy and friendliness.
It was still a little grey outside but the rain had – briefly – stopped, so we decided to walk round the grounds. We passed a croquet set at the front door and as we headed rounded a corner came to a croquet lawn. It wasn’t however a day for playing.
The back of the house has a lovely terrace where people can sit and perhaps eat on sunny, warm days.
It looks over Rutland Water in the distance – but an easy walk down on a good day – but also a beautiful garden. We liked the mix of the formal box hedge borders filled with freer growing shrubs and plants, which gave a wilder more relaxed look. The colours were harmonious blends of blue, purple and white – nice peaceful and relaxing colours.
Beyond the formal garden there’s a wild grass and flower meadow leading down to the water’s edge.
A little bit of rain was in the air again but we decided to still take a look at the Kitchen Garden.
This was fun to see and we enjoyed looking round to see what was growing.
Then it was time to head back to Stamford. What a wonderful lunch and experience it had been and I thanked my lovely daughter for such a fantastic and special gift.