You have just been engaged as the new minister, and it could happen with the current number of reshuffles, you need a place for a quiet chat with your opposite number in Brussels, a couple of rounds of golf, and an elegant meal to round the day off. Of course you won`t be entirely surrounded by Politicos; there are a few other likely scenarios at Brocket Hall including a sprinkling of club golfers, a bunch of city chaps reliving past glories, foodies looking to try the tasting menu, wedding groups, and discerning London couples escaping to the country after a night out. 543 acres of rolling parkland does have a very soothing effect.
Suites in the main house will be for potentates in black windowed limousines, reclusive squillionaires and, in previous decades, prime ministers and mistresses. Nothing says “I love you” more than being voted in to run the country, or being set up with champagne and diamonds in vast opulence. I`m not quite in that bracket yet, but accommodation in Melbourne Lodge (the old stable block) is far from shabby. We are in “Northern Dancer” named after a world famous Canadian horse that ended up siring English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky ll amongst others. Expansive, tall windows are served by yards of swaged velvet curtain framing views of the lake and golf course, and the bath is almost big enough to bathe a horse too. If you can fill it with less than 120 gallons I`d be surprised.
Arriving a bit too late for a stroll, but booked into ‘The Auberge’ for 7pm, we settled for a couple of glasses of bubbly and, well, a bit of nothing really. “Active lounging” I think I`m going to call it, we absolutely, positively decided to lounge around before changing for dinner. They do say ‘it`s tough at the top’, but I`m not convinced. The Auberge is in the old hunting lodge, at the bottom of the hill, over a perfunctory bridge and nestled by the lake, so I booked some complimentary transport. Why not, one doesn’t want to drink and walk.
You can go ‘A la Carte’, or get tempted by the tasting menu. I got tempted, and took the flight of wines to go with it. Menus like this are all about show and pizazz, unexpected flavours and arty things that take hours to tweak, and I`m ready. Homemade breads and crispy cod skin dotted with precisely dispensed dots of dill mayo are settled in front of us as an ‘amuse bouche’. Elusive, but flavoursome, I knocked back the last of my G & T to make way for the first of the wines and my Blow Torched Smoke Eel, which came with gremolata, oyster mayo and dill. The sommelier said he didn`t want to overpower the plate and elected to offer Brangelina`s (Pitt and Jolie that is) Provence Rose. I struggle a little with Rose in November, but kept the faith. The eel was 2 bites worth of delicious, and along with the caraway and rye bread that I had pasted with thyme butter, an enticing start.
Gobstopper sized Heritage Beetroot rested against the well proven accompaniment of goat’s curd, with the granola and apple providing a talking point. I should have lingered, but like some speedy car theft, it was gone in 60 secs. After that little jewel I was very much looking forward to the next course and the next glass. Like Brad and Angelina, this rose couldn`t go on. A sweet Jurancon was the perfect match for the overly buttery Foie Gras, and proved you can strategically place a sweet wine mid-meal. The Foie Gras came with some exceptional smoked tea jelly and a slither of roast pineapple that had a concentration and texture that belied its size.
I can get back to throwing some unqualified food compliments around now: the Soy Sauce and Miso Glazed Monkfish with cucumber, sea herbs and hazelnuts would have you cheerfully crawling across hot coals, but you might consider using the Kayagatake wine that went with it to put out the flames. It`s just too light for the job in hand, despite the Japanese connection. I had a word, help was on hand, and out came a good St Emilion destined to complement the venison. I was expecting a slightly larger piece of meat for what looks on the face of it like the hearty centrepiece of the experience, but sometimes less really is more. There was masses of earthy flavour in the matchbox sized fillet, and the turnip, celeriac and lone blackberry all stood up to be savoured.
Back in Japan, an intermediate course of Miso Caramel Mousse signalled the run down to the finish before the real dessert of 33% Opalays & Pistachio Cremoux. This comes with blackberry, olive oil croutons (we`ve nipped over to Italy) and star anise, and was again both intriguing and excellent. Chefs and staff, bravo, ‘bellisimo’, ‘agrigatou gozaimasu’! After decaf and a brandy the sommelier dropped us back. He`s a good man, and already has plans to turn things up a notch for the new menu.
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