Up in the Midlands, Anita discovers the pleasures of an Edwardian dining room followed by a fine room for the night
Mallory Court country hotel near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, appears an archetypal Edwardian country house resplendent in its holly and ivy coat.
The flaming Virginia Creeper, which sails down gables and along the windows, changes hue daily, the knowledgeable concierge tells me. The Lutyens’-style home looks almost haunted.
Inside, however, it’s a different story and the 1916-built Grade II-listed hotel and grounds, once a private home to industrialists, is bright and busy, now with a spa and conference centre tacked to its outer wings.
We’re here to try the six-course tasting menu at the hotel’s flagship restaurant, The Dining Room, which holds 3 AA Rosettes and is managed by Head Chef Paul Evans.
Having joined Mallory Court in 2017, Evans spent over five years working at the award-winning Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth, Cardiff, progressing from demi chef to sous chef, and was part of the team which retained a Michelin star.
Like most good chefs, Evans uses local suppliers, one very local supplier being its own kitchen garden.
This season apparently, they are harvesting damsons, berries, courgettes, chillies, black peppers, tomatoes, lemon verbena, salt wort, kale, cavolo nero, French beans, artichokes, figs and crab apples. And kohlrabi, which we definitely tasted.
Customers are well-dressed and quietly-spoken and there’s even a helicopter landing point in the grounds, apparently used regularly.
Nearby attractions are the Cotswolds, Warwick Castle, the NEC and Stratford-Upon-Avon, so it is not surprising how full the hotel normally is. The staff are also friendly and helpful, and not all knew that I was writing a review.
There are some quirky features in the hotel, some sadly soon to be modernised. In the main house stands an original shower unit where the maid would mix the hot and cold taps outside the glass cubicle but this will soon disappear.
The drawing room, a period-decorated space, was once called the green room for obvious reasons but also used to be a children’s nursery. Pre-dinner drinks and excellent bespoke canapes (hello sourdough cracker with truffle), can be taken here.
If the kiddie thing spooks you, knock back an espresso martini or two and you’ll be back on track.
The dining room has the original 1916 oak panelling and is dimly-lit and muted. This feels like a step back into fine dining from a different era Ã¢â‚¬â€œ think a toned-down Downton Abbey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with contemporary food.
Course number one of the tasting menu was a sparkling appetiser of cured Pollock with pickled apple, dill and chilled tomato essence. This was probably the most novel dish, refreshing with little dice of green gently steeped in an appley tang.
Mallory Garden Salad came next with lovage curd Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the herb from Mallory’s kitchen garden. The lovage’s bosky flavour contrasted well with the syrupy Fosse Way honey reduction.
Another kitchen garden vegetable that made a welcome appearance in three of the dishes was kohlrabi. Unfortunately, in this dish it was a bit undercooked, but not in the others.
Our favourite course was a whacking crispy-skinned fillet of Halibut from Isle of Gigha with buttery soft flesh. Again, appearing with kohlrabi (here discreetly termed’baby turnips’ on the menu), the distinct flavours of fish and leek in a potent crab sauce worked well together.
Nidderdale grouse arrived correctly pink and nicely livery Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and a good size compared to the dainty other courses.
This was such an autumnal dish with its chocolate, damson and golden hues (golden being the trusty kohlrabi Ã¢â‚¬â€œ must have been a good year) and earthy girolles with bramble sauce. And very pretty too.
Then it was onto desserts. The lemon verbena ice cream, looking for all its money like a mini Swiss Roll, came with a squeezy sticky blackcurrant jelly and a wonderful mint sherbet that crackled on the tongue like retro childhood sweets.
The final dish, a chocolate tart made with ValrhÃƒÂ´na Manjari chocolate was served with a salted hazelnut namalaka and garden rose geranium yoghurt ice cream.
This, with its gold leaf flakes, was a beautiful sight and the gold melted on the tongue like magic. Though I couldn’t fault it, it probably looked more special than it tasted, which was fine by this stage of fullness.
The dining room had a very different vibe the next morning. Breakfast was family-friendly and conference goers mixed with retirees and children for creamy haddock and poached eggs or a delicate full English.
In daylight, the landscaped gardens and terrace out of the window add a pleasant touch.
The place seems too professional for anything to slip too far. While admiring the kitchen garden and protected-status grounds, I pounced upon windfall apples: there was my little bundle of natural imperfections happy at home in the Warwickshire fields.
But I’m fine with Mallory Court’s level of careful ministering too.
The Dining Room at Mallory Court is open daily for dinner daily (6.30 pm – 9 pm) and on Sundays for lunch (12.00 pm – 2.30 pm). Menus are priced from £39.95 pp for a three-course Sunday lunch, £65 pp for a three-course Seasonal menu and £75 pp for a six-course Tasting Menu.
Anita Pati was hosted by Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa in Warwickshire, part of the Eden Hotel Collection. There are 12 spa bedrooms in addition to the existing 31 bedrooms in the main hotel. Stay overnight from £129 per room (two sharing), including full English breakfast and access to the Elan Spa. Call Mallory Court on 01926 330 214 (www.mallory.co.uk).