Back in the day, when business was good, this was a restaurant we would visit on the return leg from the Cheltenham Festival. Back then, the patron Chef Tessa Bramley was, already the holder of a Michelin Star. The Old Vicarage still holds that coveted honour, an honour which she has maintained every year since 1998!!
The wonderful wife, bagged a couple of Travelzoo vouchers earlier in the year for a 5 course tasting menu at this top end restaurant. With the clock ticking down on the ‘use by date’ and the school holidays upon us, she booked us in for Tuesday lunchtime. We arrived early, not far from Leeds it took less than an hour to reach, and had to ring the bell to get in. A nice young chap, explained that they weren’t yet open but led us anyway into the lounge where we were given menus and asked for aperitif orders
Being on a special fixed price menu (£85 for two – normally £150 but for 6 courses) we perused the wine menu, whilst enjoying our pre-dinner drinks, intending to push the boat out a little on the wine. As you would expect, of a restaurant of this quality, the list is extensive ranging from the £30ish a bottle to the ‘infinity and beyond’ a bottle. A little overwhelmed by the lengthy list, we asked Tessa if she could recommend something a little different to our ‘normal’ Spanish Tempranillo, whilst not launching a ship. We plumped for the Quoin Rock (Syrah) 2006 from South Africa at £47. It was an absolute delight and reminds me not to get too set in my drinking ways
The menu being a specific tasting one, was meant to be just that, however, due to my dietary avoidances (dairy, eggs, red meat) some tweaks and complete alternatives were happily accommodated. The opening course was Butternut Squash Veloute’ Smoked Salmon and Pine Nuts. The wonderful wife declared this a taste delight. I had a Smoked Salmon variant which I equally enjoyed
Next up for my dining partner was Roast Fillets of Lemon Sole on Mash with Onion Puree, Sauteed Squid with Chilli, Lime & Ginger Cumin Spumanti. OMG…. was the overall response. Squid is not the typical ingredient my wife would ever select but the little sauteed ringlets on top were packed with flavour and simply delicious and gave an additional mark to the 10/10 score for the fish. My Baked Nectarines on a Herb Polenta Cake alternative, with Oven Dried Tomatoes & Gruyere Crisp just as special…OMG
Main course we were both able to experience. Sage Roast Wild Guinea Fowl with Pot-Roasted Thigh, Fondant Potato & Creamed Summer Cabbage & Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. The pot roasted thigh was particularly flavoursome with notes of fennel and black pepper. I don’t have enough superlatives in my repertoire to say anything more. When cooking is this good you just find yourself saying OMG, OMG…..
As this was a tasting menu the portion sizes are not too large to be over-facing but not too small either to make you think you are being short changed. Normally, we rarely have space left for dessert but as the portions were just right…ask Goldilocks, 2 dessert courses were eagerly anticipated
First up was a Raspberry Creme Brulee with a Pistachio and Almond Biscotti. More of the same….was the resounding verdict. My Fresh Fruit Berries beautiful and I satisfied myself with the lack of wow on it being the healthy option and the fact its almost impossible to get dessert variety without eggs and cream….
Course 5 – Baked Chocolate Pudding with Chocolate Fudge Sauce & English Vanilla Custard was both visually stunning & equally mouth watering – I was told. My selection of Sorbets a treat for somebody mostly starved of anything other than fresh fruit
Throughout the afternoon we were the only diners in the restaurant, although we were informed that a party of 9 had failed to turn up. Strangely, it did not feel like there was a lack of atmosphere, but, that we had arranged a private dining facility. The young maitre d & waiter were both professional, friendly & efficient, whilst Tessa was seemingly always in the background, offering titbits of advice and knowledge to the young bucks
If you have never been, let me assure you, this is one dining experience you must experience. I did think that the food might have become a tad conservative since our last visit. It kind of fits the profile – out of town restaurant – country house…well vicarage – high prices but the food is creative, modern & bright – perfectly judged…..