Muddy eats: André Garrett at Cliveden
There ‘s something about eating at a fancy schmancy restaurant that gives me the jitters. I get all Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (without the prostitution, obviously) – you want to dress the part, know what cutlery to use, have some idea what your ordering and feel like you don’t give off any ‘too poor to belong here’ vibes.
As I head down the gravel drive of Cliveden House Hotel & Spa in Taplow the panic sets in. Is it going to be uncomfortably posh? Cliveden oozes glamour from every blade of grass, suit of armour, velvet sofa and chandelier. But park your pre-conceived ideas of snobbery and snootiness, because that’s not how they roll. It’s probably in account of the decades it has played host to misbehaving rock stars, royalty, actors, writers, politicians and *ahem* high class hookers. Cliveden wears its scandalous past like a badge of honour.
The Profumo Affair is by far its greatest claim to fame. ‘Showgirl’ Christine Keeler met Sir John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War, during one of Bill Astor’s infamous parties (he’d inherited the Italianate mansion from his parents Waldorf and Nancy Astor). A wild affair followed, but Christine was doing her bit for international relations and was also cavorting with the Russians at the same time. Pillow talk was pretty potent back then, and it all got a bit messy and political. Suffice to say it was a big story.
As I tottered in, I imagine the public displays of chandelier swinging are now relegated to the history books. The impeccably-mannered staff warmly usher us over to a plump sofa in front of a fireplace so big, in London, it would be described as a spacious studio flat. It’s friendly, relaxed and surprisingly normal. It is special, no doubt about it, but it’s feel like a nice place to just hang out. And I did just that with a cheeky gin and tonic – a safe choice I guess considering the length of the drinks menu.
The André Garrett is a vision of Art Deco loveliness, you are surrounded by baggy velvet, crisp linens and breathtaking views across the pareterre gardens. You can’t help but smile. But your smile can often erupt into a fit of giggles. Cliveden is a stunning hotel, but it’s also a National Trust property. Something you’re reminded of frequently as you lock eyes with the visitors meandering round the grounds with their beanie hats and backpacks. It’s a bit like being a tropical fish. It’s didn’t put me of the food though. I’m not sure anything would, to be honest.
Chef André Garrett arrived at Cliveden in 2013 from London and set about creating a menu to reflect his passion for seasonal English ingredients, used in classic dishes that that have been given a Garrett makeover – modern, beautiful but ultimately packing a punch in the flavour department.
His passion for seasonality is evident as each dish swoops on to the table. It’s fine dining, but without pretension. There’s an honesty to menu that enables you to order without the need of a translator (and the staff were superb at making recommendations when asked). At lunch, we had the choice of the Market menu offering three courses for £33 per person; the à la carte Menu (average £65 for three courses) and the 8-Course Taster menu for £97.50 (wine pairing is an additional £75).
For starter I chose the Devon Crab Salad from the à la carte menu – a beautiful plate of food that almost looked too pretty to eat. I practically licked the plate clean. The crab was sweet with plenty of texture, slivers of avocado, Espelette pepper, chickweed and a lemon puree. It was light and luscious. My friend Kell, tucked into the equally delicious celeriac soup from the Market menu. Nothing left on her plate either.
No need to flex our waistbands at this stage, but the main course was going to be the ultimate test. I had the Fallow Deer, a cosy dish drenched in a rich sauce and an even richer deer boulanger (bit like a cottage pie) with mini root veg. I love game and many friends comment that eating out with me is like watching Dexter run amok at Disney. An elegant looking Pork Belly arrived for my carnivorous partner in crime. It’s safe to say, we won’t be following the vegan trend any time soon.
While the trousers were feeling the strain, we debated whether we should in fact even have a pud. We were slipping into a fine dining coma, and the velvet sofas by the gigantic fire were calling my name for afternoon snooze. Of course we gave ourselves a stern talking to and in the interest of doing a thorough job ordered a Rice Pudding (old school fave, literally) and a Mint Chocolate concoction that tasted like a the best mint aero money could buy – without the lurid green colouring. It had the texture of mint aero, snippety snappy ganache and rich ice cream – all elegantly sandwiched together. I started eating it before I had even managed to take a pic. So sorry it’s not the greatest. To be fair, you’re lucky I managed to capture this much.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to enjoy the coffee and ‘bon bons’ as the Mudlets were crashing out of school and we had to tootle back up the M4, but we will be back. We have unfinished business… particularly with that drinks menu.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone with tastebuds! Andre Garrett’s cooking will put a smile on your face and leave you wanting to come back for more. Special-occasion meals, afternoon tea with your mum; lunch with the girls; anyone who loves good food.
Not for: Small children; lovers of more casual dining – this is definitely crisp white tablecloth territory. And despite Cliveden’s raucous past, a rowdy sesh will not fly in the dining room. The André Garrett has a serene atmosphere that you’ll want to savour.
£££: Prices are reasonable for this level of quality. You could really go for it on the food and the wine and splash some serious cash, but the three different menus cater for all tastes and budgets. You definitely get what you pay for though – the restaurant has 3 AA Rosettes, and you’re made to feel very special by the staff. Perfect for a birthday treat, anniversary etc. but the lunch and dinner prices are so reasonable I’d suggest it for lunch with the girls (plus Cliveden’s newly-refurbished Spa opens soon! More about that later my Muddy friends).
André Garrett, Cliveden House, Taplow, Berkshire SL6. Tel: 01628 668561. clivedenhouse.co.uk Lunch: 12.15pm to 2.30pm; Dinner: 6.30pm to 9.45pm (last orders for the Tasting menu, 9pm)
Want to join the royal and rock star regulars of Cliveden? If you live within a 50-mile radius sign up to Cliveden’s new Dining Card and enjoy a 10% discount off food and drink; special events plus celebration vouchers for Champagne, a boat trip and room upgrade. For more info contact the Dining Card Co-ordinator on 01628 668561 or firstname.lastname@example.org