A fine-dining destination in the heart of the country more than surpasses expectations, finds Alexandra Henton
The Editor spends the night at Hambleton Hall in Rutland, and finds an elegant country house hotel where chef director Aaron Patterson has a passion for game, which is reflected on the menu.
Alexandra Henton makes a sporting pit stop at SCHLOSS Roxburghe, somewhere that holds fieldsports and feel-good in equal measure.
Taking on the running of a historic stately home is not for the faint-hearted, but these modern-day chatelaines would not have it any other way, says Eleanor Doughty.
An entrance hall full of gumboots for guests to wear, an elegant drawing room, classic red-walled bar, garden terrace that overlooks Rutland Water and a refined dining room: Hambleton Hall, with its 17 guest bedrooms, is a cornucopia of traditional elegance. It is a country house hotel that feels like a home, where you will be welcomed as an old friend be it your first or 15th visit. “I encourage guests to try to make it a two-night stay,” says general manager Christopher Hurst, aware that sloughing off outside cares probably requires breakfast, lunch and dinner at Hambleton. Perfectly positioned in the heart of the country just outside Oakham in Rutland, Hambleton (once a hunting box) retains that convivial and familiar atmosphere. It now plays host to guests travelling north and south – “we are often a stopping point as we are not far from the A1” says Hurst – for gatherings of friends and family, and special occasions. It is, in essence, a byword for proper hospitality and its brimming reservation list is testament to the success of this approach.
The hospitality triumvirate of hotelier Tim Hart, chef director Aaron Patterson and Hurst preside over a hotel that is, joyfully, not a venue. There is no need to jostle with guests going to the spa, attending a conference or getting married. If you are keen on the last, the whole house can be taken. Bedroooms are decorated in proper country house style and bathrooms similarly. Staff retention is extraordinary and plays its part in the atmosphere; Patterson has been at Hambleton Hall for 30 years, restaurant director Graeme Matheson for 40 years, Hurst for 20 years and Tim and Stefa Hart are still as hands-on and involved as when they bought Hambleton in 1979. You are most definitely stepping into their world when you arrive – and it is one that sings on the quality of food that comes from the kitchen and the exceptional cellar.
Patterson’s passion for game is woven through the beautifully hand-decorated china and menus; gamebird feathers for winter, herbs and leaves from the garden in summer. For supper, a beautifully presented chicken liver and foie gras parfait, formed to look like a garden tomato, was novel and delicious, followed by a presa of pork, accompanied by excellent wine choices from resident sommelier Dominique Baduel. Hambleton also boasts a Coravin system so wines can be tried by the glass too. Cheese comes on a trolley (as it should) with knowledgeable advice. As a cheese buff, I was impressed to find three iterations I had yet to discover.
It is easy to forget how good proper British fine dining can be until you have eaten at Hambleton. The menu is a la carte, unusual now tasting menus are all the rage, and simply excellent. Coupled with the elegant rooms and deft service, it is unsurprising that they are oversubscribed. If it works, there is no need to fix it, and Hambleton Hall does what it does in exemplary fashion. Book a room.
OXBRIDGE FOR CHEFS
Hambleton Hall has the longest-retained Michelin star in the country, (held since 1982). Patterson and his team, including head chefs Charlie Jones and James Stone, change at least 50% of the menu daily. Game, when in season, plays a vital role. Food is authentic and well sourced: vegetables from the garden and meat from local suppliers. There are 17 in the team, feeding 100 to 110 people every day, 365 days a year. Chefs leave the kitchen to go on to their own Michelin-starred ventures and make serious foodie waves. “Game season is my favourite,” reveals Patterson. All game arrives in the feather or fur, with whole fish too, making it the ideal place for young chefs to learn. “We are the Oxbridge of commercial kitchens,” Patterson says. Top tip: locals go for lunch – the perfect way to sample the food when the hotel is fully booked.
Price: Rooms from £375 (inc VAT) for a double, including the full Hambleton breakfast for both