Friday, 2nd September 2016 – Murrays, Whittlebury Hall
For reasons it’s hard to fathom we’ve never eaten at Whittlebury Hall bar the one occasion when we went to the Silson AC 35th Anniversary Dinner. I would argue that this does not count as it’s not fair to judge any restaurant on what is produced in a mass catering situation. Despite it being very close by it’s taken just over 10 years to get round to trying any of the three restaurants in the hotel/spa complex so on Friday evening after the Cars in the Claydons preview evening we booked a table for two and went to try out Murrays, the “fine dining” restaurant. With the Moto GP in full swing at Silverstone the Silverstone Bar, was heaving, Astons Restaurant seemed to be hosting some sort of charity auction, there was a GP-related event on in the Courtyard and I suspect the Terrace Café over in the Spa area was also heaving with people. Murrays on the other hand was quiet.
A table in the Atrium had been reserved for us, though it would have been nice if they’d managed to get my name right on the reservation sign. However, we sat ourselves down with a glass of Cava and the menus, and were supplied a small portion of amuses bouches (popcorn, chicken mousse, tomato) to whet our appetites while we decided what to eat. These were a good start and boded well for the main event which we decided would be just two courses. The tasting menu looked very interesting but we’d been nibbling canapés for some time and there was no way we could get through that many courses. It was also 21:30 by now and much too late to start a trawl through that number of dishes. It would have to keep for another time.
We were soon led through to our table just as the only remaining diners finished and left. They seemed happy enough with what they’d just had so that was also a good sign.
We were then taken in to be seated in a room decorated with photos of Murray Walker (after whom the restaurant is named) and posters of some of his more memorable mistaken quotes. I would have liked the posters much better if they’d contained correct punctuation – between the posters and the restaurant name’s marked lack of an apostrophe my inner proof-reader was starting to twitch quite violently. However it settled again when our waiter brought us a “gift from the chef” in the shape of a creamy, dense sweet potato soup poured over cumin “soil”.
It was very tasty and smooth, which can be hard to achieve with sweet potatoes. He also appeared with the bread basket, containing three types of bread. I went for a soda bread roll, which was very good.
My starter was the smoked duck with passion fruit, blueberries, hazelnuts, and a ball of foie gras coated in chocolate and nuts was my starter. It arrived with a certain amount of ceremony under a glass dome that held the smoke in.
The Devonshire crab with tomato, caviar and sorrel was less theatrical though it did look very pretty on the plate, and it tasted good. I’m not convinced they’re in line for any serious awards any time soon but it seemed to be good, well-executed cooking and we felt we were in good hands.
The bread basket returned and this time it had to be an onion roll, which was spectacularly sticky, the onion caramelised to within an inch of its life and all the better for it. Someone in that place definitely knows how to bake.
The mains came out next with guinea fowl for me, served with puy lentils, asparagus and a sweet potato puree. The guinea fowl was fine, not brilliant, but good enough. The lentils were a misstep, the stodgy, overcooked and dry-ish mass on my plate adding nothing at all to the dish. I love lentils, Lynne hates them, and the plan was (as we intended swapping plates halfway through) that I would eat all of them. I didn’t want to. The other accompaniments were all perfectly good so I was prepared to overlook the lentils although they were a fairly major component of the dish.
Lynne’s lamb was very good indeed, with three different cuts of meat, broccoli and tomatoes. The layout seemed a little odd, slightly too symmetrical to work, but hey, your artistic choice may well not be my artistic choice.
We finished the mains, resisted the attempts of our waiter to persuade us we needed dessert – we really, really didn’t – and settled instead for the petit fours he was sure we had to have.
And with that we were done. We’ll be back I think – and it will likely be for a run at the tasting menu.