First post of 2010 for Johnny or for this blog ‘first past the post’. We had an invite from John & Mo to join them on a visit to top race horse trainer Charlie Mann’s training stable in Lambourn, Berkshire. With an early start required we decided to travel down and stay overnight close by at The Bear Hotel in Hungerford. The Bear is one of England’s oldest coaching inns dating back to 1464 with connections to Henry VIII, James I and William III and now offers a 39 room hotel with an award winning restaurant and bar. We had a mid afternoon start from Manchester and arrived early evening, after a quick change we settled in the bar for a much needed drink and chill after our 200 mile drive. The menu covers both bar and brasserie with an extensive selection of dishes. The brasserie manager came and took our order in the bar and told us to relax and he would show us to our table when the food was ready to be served. Nice touch as we were settled and enjoying our drinks. I opted for the beer braised local partridge with ham hock, bubble & squeak and red cabbage puree and Linny chose the recommended ‘delivered fresh that day’ lemon sole. Both meals were well prepared, presented and consumed. We liked the bar atmosphere so much with the illuminated courtyard beyond that we skipped dessert and returned for a final night cap before retiring to our rooms ready for our early start the following morning.
We left the Bear early to make our way to Whitcoombe House Stables, Upper Lambourn for breakfast with Charlie Mann, his family and jockey Noel Fehily. We were welcomed at 08.30 and sat down in Charlies house for a full english breakfast with copious pots of tea and toast. Charlie had already being out on the gallops for the earlier 06.30 morning run and met us at the house where we were to join him and Noel for the second session. With 60 horses in training and 63 winners in the 2009-10 national hunt season this is a busy and successful stable. After breakfast we jumped into a Land Rover and drove up to the gallops to watch the morning run. Charlie and his team made us really welcome and gave us an insight into the daily life of a top training stable. This is a 3 hour experience that can be booked on-line and I would highly recommend it.
After leaving Lambourn we decided to stop for lunch on the drive home and by chance found the Horse & Groom Inn at Charlton in Wiltshire, just to carry on the theme of the day we couldn’t miss this. Sometimes you stumble on a special place by accident and this was one of those occasions. The Horse & Groom Inn has won plenty of awards for food and we managed to get a table in the Charlton bar with stone flagged floor, large open log fire and busy vibe although we could have dined in the restaurant but the bar area was our choice. The first thing noted on the menu was the inclusion of a limited two course meal for a humble ten pounds. This was my choice with a cotswold white chicken, apricot and tarragon terrine with apple chutney and brioch appetiser followed by a cottage pie with side dish of seasonal vegetables. The taste, presentation and quality of the food was excellent and how the food was offered for the money baffled me. Linny opted for a cheesy version of the classic fishcake which also got the thumbs up. Take a look at the menus on the website link and if in the area this classy gastro pub should not be missed.