Eat like a horse
Did you know Cliveden has a casual alternative to its fine dining restaurant. Muddy heads to the former Astor stable block for a posh nosebag.
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, later home of the sociable Astors, the setting for the notorious Profumo affair and Meghan Markle rested her royal head here the night before her wedding to Prince Harry. 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.
The Astor Grill is located in Lord Astor’s former stables. If you’re a Horse & Hound girl you will feel right at home, but don’t worry, you won’t be sharing a node bag with a long-faced neighbour, it has had some serious reno. There’s not a whiff of hay, but it does have a funky horsey vibe going on.
This bijou restaurant only seats 40, so it’s perfect for intimate meetings (trying to avoid the Profumo imagery, but it’s never far away!) or small gatherings. The booths comfortably seat six and are fitted in the individual stalls with squishy leather seats, original metal fret work and herringbone tiled floors. I love the hexagon mermaid-esque tiles – seriously thinking about them for my kitchen.
SCOFF & QUAFF
To start – some bubbles! I was there for a special occasion, so it would have felt rude not to. I can recommend the Astor Fizz which is a sparkling wine with Belvoir Elderflower (£10 per glass). My husband had the Salmon Carpaccio (£12) which was melt-in-the-mouth fantastic. Evil food envy crept in. That said, the Parmesan Gnocci was an exceptionally pretty plate of food, packed with flavour. The wild mushrooms were mind-blowing.
When at a grill you have to have food from the grill, right? We really took one for the team. Mr had the 10oz Rib Eye with a parmesan and rocket salad and triple cooked chips (£28). It was perfect. I managed to swipe a morsel, obviously just for writing purposes, and it was probably one of the best steaks to cross my lips. I had the Grilled Half Lobster smothered in garlic butter and served with fries (£35) and it was succulent and lip smackingly good. I could have eaten both halves though! It was slim pickings for our poor CockerPoo Archie sat patiently under the table, but our lovely waiter, Joao, who was utterly charming by the way, made sure the doggo biccies kept coming.
Wine wise I can recommend the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Faultine (£46 per bottle). I am a sauvie girl and you can’t go wrong with the blondes from NZ, but this was especially light and zesty.
Yes we did make it to three courses – all in the name of research. The cheese board (£12), served with grapes and crackers, was all extremely moreish. The Banofee Cheesecake, which can teeter on the edge of sickly, was lush. The caramelised banana slices reminded me of teeny frittas, and who can no to a dollop of salted caramel ice cream. I would actually go back there just for this and I’m not usually that big on desserts.
OUT AND ABOUT
After all that gluttony, I had a much needed wander around the beautiful grounds. I really love a formal garden and they certainly don’t disappoint at Cliveden. They have several to choose from such as the Parterre , the Water Garden and of course it has a maze which is a big hit with little ones. The 376 acres also include woodland, and Archie (he’s the dog not the husband!) had a fab time dashing through the Autumn leaves. It is an exceptionally beautiful time to visit Cliveden and it has actual miles of trails. I would definitely recommend bringing a change of shoes. If you are super-serious you can download the trails. Also you should pop in to the Sounding Chamber – it is a mysterious feature and four pieces of music have been commissioned especially to commemorate Cliveden’s Girl-Power programme.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: a laidback lunch with the wow factor. Special occasion meals with the kids. Anyone wanting the Cliveden treatment without the fine dining price tag.
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 bijou (it’s a stables after all!) so the pretty courtyard might be a less stressful spot with fidgety young children and your furry friends.
££: This ain’t no local pub so there’s still a Cliveden premium – an Astor burger is £18 and even salads come in at £16, but the quality of the food and cooking is top notch.
The Astor Grill, Cliveden House & Spa, Cliveden Road, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. Tel 01628 668561
Words: Chantal Farquhar