Last week, we decided we’d had enough of the miserable weather in Northampton and so decided to get away for a few days. We ended up heading to Cornwall and then Norfolk for a couple of nights, followed by a night and dinner at Hambleton Hall on the way back.
Despite the lack of sun, our stay was perfect from start to finish – the service and atmosphere at the Hambleton is fantastic. We had a lovely tea in the drawing room, with a rather Christmassy fruit cake and delicious, zingy Key Lime Pie.
Before heading through for aperitifs…
…and an appetiser of smoked salmon in cream cheese cones alongside beetroot macaroons while we ordered our dinner; the former was delicious – I often find cream cheese can be a little overpowering but I felt that the balance was just right here. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of beetroot but my wife gave them the thumbs up.
A lot of smart level hotels and restaurants are not particularly baby friendly, and since we were travelling with our 14 month old son, that had been our first concern, but the Hambleton was brilliant, the bedroom set up perfectly and they put us in our own private room for dinner at no extra cost.
The waiters and managers were incredibly friendly and engaging – not to mention enchanted by Guy! The menu is not overly complex, always a good sign, with a taster menu and a few extra dishes for an a la carte option. Since my wife Lizzie is 5 months pregnant we chose a la carte as 6 or 7 courses would have been too many for her.
While we waited for our starters, we were first given an option of several breads, all baked at the Hambleton’s own bakery. Before this pregnancy Lizzie had been gluten intolerant so the maitre d’ asked us to sample their gluten free bread as well as the usual options. There is normally a rather obvious difference between the two, but I have to say that when toasted I would almost prefer their gluten free bread – it simply melted in the mouth. However, when you just want bread, there was still no contest, the gluten free bread just doesn’t compare yet. They offered several types, my favourite being a beer based one, which had so much flavour and a good texture too. Neither of us were quite convinced by the rye bread, but then we don’t particularly like our bread too dry. The sourdough was very delicious too.
Next came the hors d’oeuvres: celeriac puree with apple slices. Rich, creamy with the sweet crunch of apple it was perfect, without the overpowering aniseed flavour you can get from celeriac.
To start, I chose the ballottine of foie gras, ginger and rhubarb while Lizzie went for the crab, Virgin Mary and celery sorbet. As you would expect the presentation was beautiful.
I have to say the rhubarb was simply mouthwatering – so tender and sweet. It was definitely the highlight of the dish. The foie gras was very rich and tasty, and when taken with the rhubarb was delicious. I was not convinced by the foie gras ice-cream, which I felt was a little too clever and the ice cold texture just clashed with the rest of the dish rather than enhancing it.
Lizzie’s crab was also very good – it was obvious the chef wanted to emphasise the strong natural flavours in both dishes. One slight negative was that by itself the crab meat seemed a little stringy; however when taken with the juicy sweet tomatoes, in particular, and the sorbet, the flavours and textures combined beautifully. A pretty good start.
We then spent the next few minutes watching my son enjoy a chunk of bread. Who knows what goes through little boys minds but he decided that he wanted to pull the who chunk into the smallest possible crumbs before he eagerly gobbled the whole thing up tiny bit by bit.
Our mains soon followed. I had chosen the fillet of Angus beef cooked on the bone, smoked bone marrow with red wine sauce while Lizzie went for the roast duck, Seville orange marmalade and kumquat.
The maitre d’ appeared with a beautiful fillet of beef, still on the bone. He proceeded to slice it up, while explaining the whole cooking process for me – it was first cooked in a water bath before being transferred to a pan to caramelise. Having carved it, showing off the beautifully rare meat, he then offered me several accoutrements, first a horseradish mayo that was simply delicious and something I will be trying at home. Next he grated a horseradish-like root that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, with a similar sharpness but more mellow. Again, very tasty, but I couldn’t really get enough of the horseradish mayo. Finally he poured over the meat a red wine sauce.
The horseradish mayo is on the right, with grated root in the middle.
The dish was superb; cooking the fillet on the bone gave it so much more flavour while still maintaining the texture that fillet is famous for. The sauce as I have said complemented the dish perfectly, and the roast vegetables were all well cooked. I enjoyed the fillet so much, I nearly forgot about the bone marrow – one of my favourite foods. As usual, it was full of flavour and well cooked, but in this dish it was definitely overshadowed by the fillet.
Unfortunately, three quarters of the way through her duck, the richness of the meal got to Lizzie, and though she had thoroughly enjoyed it she couldn’t manage any more. By the time I had finished savouring my beef, her meat had cooled a little too much and gone slightly tough so I wasn’t able to truly get a good idea of it.
Since Lizzie was completely full and it was now quite late for Guy, we asked for our desert to be served in our room and headed up to bed, giving Guy his milk while we sampled the Kumquat and chocolate souffle, with orange sorbet.
The souffle was delicious and perfectly cooked, and the sweet fruit and rich chocolate flavours balanced very well. The orange sorbet was, I have to say, unusual, tasting like a sorbet form of the fruit shoots that are so popular among children; thus making it especially enjoyable.
All in all, a very enjoyable meal, with very good food and wonderful service. We will be back!