A nosebag at the Astor Grill
The relaxed little sister to the refined André Garrett fine dining experience at stunning Cliveden House.
ASTOR GRILL, CLIVEDEN HOUSE HOTEL
On the border of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, Cliveden House Hotel is a palatial Italianate mansion, originally built for the Duke of Buckinghamshire’s mistress, famed as the home of the sociable Astors and the setting for the notorious Profumo affair in the Sixties. If these walls could talk – rock stars, writers, royalty, politicians and show girls have partied here and a few of them have probably tried swinging from the chandeliers too. It’s 5 star fabulous and sweeping down the gravel drive, dodging the occasional National Trust visitor, is a pretty special moment. It’s one of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s favourite places – choosing to rest her soon-to-be royal head at Cliveden the night before her big fat Berkshire wedding to Prince Harry. So what’s good enough for Meg is good enough for Muddy.
The Astor Grill is the more relaxed little sister to the refined André Garrett fine dining experience, Opened in 2016 in Lord Astor’s stable block, and with the decided whiff of serious investment, it carries an elegant equestrian theme. Well, when you’re putting a bijou restaurant (just 40 covers) in a grade II listed stable, it would be rude not to. Alongside the original stone herringbone patterned floor, ornate partitions and hexagonal sea green wall tiles – Lord Astor’s fillies had quite the crash pad – are rich blue leather banquettes, bespoke brass light fittings and carved horse legs prop up the tables. It looks cool, right?
As the sign on the door states, kids, dogs and buggies are all welcome to enjoy informal menus for lunch or supper, with a kids and dog menu (brilliantly bonkers) available. Laid-back, luxury loafing is the order of the day. On a hot day (and we’re certainly getting a lot those right now) you can sit outside in the pretty al fresco dining space set out on the cobbles with large parasols and garden furniture. Rock up in shorts and T shirts if you like, there’s no dress code, but smart casual is probably fitting.
Scoff & quaff
And so to food. Oh alriiiiight, to booze… I started with an Astor Fizz (I mean, hello?) – basically bubbles with added elderflower – before embarking on a small plate of crispy fried scallops with a lemon mayonnaise (£7) and mussels in a garlic and parsley sauce, soaked up with smokey chargrilled sourdough bread (£10). Mr M and I shared and devoured the lot. It was cooked to perfection, full of favour and had a whiff of the Hamptons about it.
The mains were a little trickier to firm up, there’s a superb range of fish, salads and grilled dishes . The chateaubriand for sharing is exceptional, but nothing could lure me away from lobster and chips, lathered in a herb and garlic butter (£30). Mr M went for a classic ribeye steak (£30) with triple cooked truffle chips, mushrooms and a chimmichurri sauce. A little over or under can end in tears – Mr Muddy’s normally – but nothing but perfection leaves Cliveden’s kitchen, under exec chef Andre Garrett. The only disappointment, I could’ve happily eaten the other half of lobster. It was that good.
Special mention has to go to the awesome glass of wine which was totally new to me Picpoul di Pinet. It’s the new Sauvignon Blanc, dontcha know, so show off your wine knowledge by ordering this foxy little number wherever you go. Totally on trend, and freaking delicious. If I could sell Mr M I would’ve booked into the hotel and settled in for the afternoon. I have since Googled Picpoul di Pinet, Jean Luc Colombo, South of Frso I can stock it at home. You need to try it.
The grand finale, was a boozy marinated and grilled pineapple, served with a lime creme fraiche. Whisk me off to the Caribbean, I’m done. It needed to come with a straw, because there was no way we were leaving a drop of that marinade on the plate. It was a bit like a warm mojito. The perfect summer pud, in my opinion.
Although I didn’t have my kids with me on this particularly lovely visit, I would have no worries about bringing my kids in to eat, other than the fact that the bill could escalate steeply once the Muddy locusts get going. Possibly I’d more inclined to meet with girlfriends, businessy colleagues or other grown-ups, but for a special family meal the mini Mudders would thoroughly enjoy it.
Out and about
It’s worth noting, a small charge is added to your bill that’s paid to the National Trust (no charge to NT members), so you might as well make the most of it and mooch around Cliveden’s 376 acres of formal gardens and woodland. My kids love rolling down the slope on the south parterre lawn, the maze and the tree climbing. Me? I’m currently enjoying the Lynn Chadwick sculptures scattered across the grounds and a boat trip down the Thames is very much on my must-do list. If you don’t fancy exerting yourself too much (er, never), head to the spa. Grade II listed outdoor pool, luxurious indoor pool, a menu of lush treatments and more. Assume the position and soak up the rays.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Casual brunches and lunches, sneaky glasses of bubbles at the bar, informal family meals. Anyone wanting the André Garrett treatment without the fine dining price tag (he exec chefs this menu).
Not for: Anyone looking for fast food. Everything is freshly cooked and perfection takes longer than a trip to the McDonalds. Marauding dogs, or children, for that matter. The space is pretty bijou (it’s a stables after all!) so the pretty courtyard might be a less stressful spot with fidgety young children.
££: This ain’t no local gastropub so there’s still a Cliveden premium – an Astor burger is £18 and even salads come in at £16.
The Astor Grill, Cliveden House & Spa, Cliveden Road, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. Tel 01628 668561