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Eat Your Way Through Great English Gardens

continued (page 2 of 3)

Grafton’s seasonal menus balance British ingredients and Italian flavors, showcasing just-picked produce homegrown at Barnsley. Lunch may feature a kale and leek risotto or vegetable fritters, though you might want to wait for dinner’s more baroque carpaccio of beetroot with goat cheese mousse and hazelnut salad. The estate also sources from local farmers, producers, and butchers, so the Badminton Estate venison haunch with muscade pumpkin, the Ozleworth Park pheasant with savory cabbage, and the Cotswolds lamb (admittedly hard to eat after having watched lambs gamboling in the estate pastures) all map the local backroads.

If Barnsley and Sissinghurst earned their landmark status as gardens first, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a drive east from Barnsley near the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton, demonstrates what happens when a chef designs his own gastronomic dreamscape from the fertile ground up. The chef in question is the vaunted Raymond Blanc, who bought the Great Milton Manor in 1984 with the idea of turning it into the first and last word in culinary country-house retreats. Blanc’s restaurant earned two Michelin stars in its first year, and Blanc’s pioneering emphasis on local, seasonal sourcing—one of the first sustained salvos in England’s coming locavore revolution—had a lot to do with the immediate acclaim.

Blanc and his gardeners cultivated beds growing 70 different varieties of herbs, from Vietnamese mint to lemongrass, ginger, coriander, sorrel, and Jamaican broadleaf thyme; in addition, they planted a 2-acre plot sprouting more than 90 different vegetables, including Swiss chard, celeriac, and purslane; a mushroom garden thick with shitake, maitake, and parasol; a fruit orchard planted with more than 800 apple and pear trees in the spring of 2011; a fruit hedge ripe with 15 varieties of sloes and plums; and a Japanese tea garden.

The results are evident in the ambitious, opulent menu, where rustic English cuisine meets haute French: oak-smoked salmon confit; quail’s egg ravioli, spinach, and Parmesan in poultry jus; roasted wild woodcock with a celeriac fondant; braised Cornish turbot; and a vegetarian beetroot terrine with dill cream. The on-site Raymond Blanc Cookery School offers a four-day marathon course that seems more like boot camp (novices should probably just sign up for the one-day course)—a rigorous counterpoint to the hotel’s luxurious 32 country-chic rooms that will cater your every need.

Looping south from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, you’ll eventually reach Hampshire’s New Forest National Park, where two sister hotels—Lime Wood and the Pig Country Hotel—contend for the title of English Country Inn of the Moment. The more opulent of the two is Lime Wood, a renovated Regency country manor with 29 rooms and suites as exquisitely outfitted as any English boutique bolt-hole—a whirl of antiques, locally sourced ash and stone, freestanding clawfoot tubs, and organic accents, including a cleanly whittled pine toothbrush in each bathroom.

The guests at Lime Wood tend to be just as stylishly composed, and the prevailing sense of on-point, of-the-moment detailing extends to the hotel’s formal Dining Room. Lime Wood claims its own smokehouse, where head chef Luke Holder and his team smoke their own salmon, sausages, and hams. The property’s Herb House Spa is crowned with an olive tree–lined rooftop herb garden, which the cooks strip clean. Add the estate gardens—fragrant with homegrown purple sage and lemon verbena—the local butchers, and the nearby Laverstoke Park Farm with its prize-winning mozzarella, and you pretty much have dinner. The mozzarella shows up in a squab pigeon baked under bread and black olives; other signature dishes include a wild salad of smoked oyster and pickled hedgehog mushrooms, cress, and scurvy grass; char-grilled leeks and beets; an herb-crusted loin of lamb paired with white sprouting broccoli and wild garlic; and a cheeseboard starring the best from New Forest’s four-legged cheese suppliers.

End the trip on an idyllic, affordable note with a detour to the Pig. The smaller neighboring B&B strikes a more homegrown and stylishly downmarket tone, with 26 gently priced rooms (rates start at £125, or $200) overlooking garden and forest. The bucolic property is meant to be explored, and includes a walled garden (lush with strawberry spinach, rainbow chard, beet leaves, and berries), a pigsty filled with actual pigs, and a surrounding raw landscape that often makes its way onto a plate. Chef James Golding (a veteran of New York’s Soho House) has both a forager and kitchen gardener on staff, and the group offers what it calls the 25-mile menu: 80 percent of the fresh ingredients are sourced from local turf.

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