Hambleton Hall

November 29, 2009

For thirty years now Hambleton Hall  has been the pre-eminent restaurant in Leicestershire and Rutland.  When I received a  redundancy payment, the temptation to blow some of it on the work of Michelin-starred chef Aaron Patterson was too strong to resist.   

So it was that Sally and I drove up the Hambleton peninsula near Oakham, a finger of high ground that survived the creation of Rutland Water, and into the magical world of this definitive country house hotel. There’s no getting away from it, this is old-fashioned luxury.  No concessions to modernist chic, it’s all 18th century paintings, ornate drapes, preternaturally squidgy sofas and a roaring log fire at every turn. Staff are numerous and, while veering towards the formal,  extremely welcoming. We took drinks in what I suppose I can only call a drawing room, where the first treats came – a half dozen canapes including little bites of seabass and prawn, quails egg and so on. After ordering we’re invited into the dining room – thankfully no bling, but a quiet elegance, the napkins gratifyingly starched, the  cutlery pleasingly solid.  

First an apology for a lack of photos – I did try but lighting conditions were difficult and I was far more concerned with enjoying the food than getting a decent image.

There are set  menus at £37 and £46 and a tasting menu at £60, but tonight we ventured a la carte.  But before getting stuck in we had a further amuse of jerusalem artichoke soup  – served foaming in a coffee cup it was stunningly powerful. It’s a strong distinctive taste – something of a shock to the palate on the first sip but you quickly get the hang of it and by the time it was gone you were desperate for more. Perfect.  Sourdough and beer bread was excellent and, forewarned,  they even managed to bring gluten free bread for Sally. She started with a simple salad, only it wasn’t so simple – beautiful fresh leaves, trimmed batons of cucumber with a really strong flavour, more quail’s eggs, big shards of a parmesan of rare intesity and a sweet truffle vinaigrette.  I was hoping to revisit the extraordinary langoustines I had on a previous visit, but they weren’t on this evening. My good luck, beacuse the scallops I had were exquisite. The shellfish were gorgeous and sat in the midst of  a epic collection of tastes and textures of onion. A supersweet onion puree, some lightly spiced marble-sized onion bhajees, port-braised shallots, crispy onion rings, and a foaming sauce flavoured with lemon grass. Everything on the dish earnt its place there, contributing in its own right and contributing  to a greater whole.

Hambleton is famous for its game and that’s where I was headed. Hare Wellington was perfect, rich and gamey meat wrapped in pastry with a thick layer of a gamey, nutty pate. Its sauce of prune and armagnac came in a cute little copper pan, as did an additional  “hare bolognaise” – exactly as it sounds. The meat nestled on some greens with bacon,  with further flavours coming from quince puree and superb baby vegetables – carrot, turnip and onions.  Sally’s roast duck breast  was  of the highest quality, with couple of intense, complex sauces  – one from meat juices, one dark and fruity. Oh yes the wine list, you could do some serious wallet damage there if you look too far down the substantial list – we had a glass each of  a full-bodied Alsace pinot gris and a half-bottle of Pomerol which was excellent with the hare.

To follow Sally had sorbets – a stunning-looking plate with I think seven sorbets, each presented a wafer thin crisp of its own fruit – banana, orange, apple, pear, pineapple, rhubarb, and coconut. My passionfruit souffle was a technical tour de force – so light and airy, yet so full of flavour, it was such a pleasure to eat.  It came with a passion fruit stuffed with banana sorbet and a shot glass of passionfuit jelly with space dust topping. 

We retired to the drawing room (not a sentence I generally think to write but no other phrase will do) and settled by the fire to enjoy coffee and superb petitfours, which you are invited to select from  an aged wooden cabinet. White chocolate and raspberry truffle stood out, but then so did the passionfuit macaroon, and the caramel, and the fudge… 

The food and the overall experience were, then, pretty much faultless. Of course by most  normal standards it is ridiculously expensive, but here’s the thing. This was superb quality ingedients and highly-skilled, labour intensive cooking so you can see where the money has gone. I’d go back every week  if I could.

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6 Responses to “Hambleton Hall”

  1. Steve said

    Dare we ask – what was the final bill?

    £100 per head?

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  2. riponia said

    With pre-dinner drinks and a 12.5 per cent service charge it did creep just a little over that. Could have eaten very well and kept it down a bit, but in for a penny…as it were.

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  3. Simon H said

    Wow. Some while since I’ve eaten there but it all came back on reading this. Stayed there once the night of my birthday. It being early November the celebratory rocket was called for. Trouble is we pushed it in too far and it had barely left the ground before it exploded. I remember the mangement coming running. Happy days!

    Do they still do the best cheese chariot in England?

    S

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  4. riponia said

    Didn’t go for the cheese but I can’t imagine it being anything other spectacular.

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  5. […] almost a year since I had dinner there – see the review – but the memory remains strong. Next time my ship comes in there’s a tidy sum earmarked to […]

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  6. […]  Last time I came to Hambleton I’d been knocked out by a desert of passionfuit soufflé.  The coconut and lime soufflé I had this time didn’t quite match that perfection but was technically faultless, being as soft as a baby’s breath  but still carrying the flavour of its ingredients. Once again I was particularly impressed with the sorbets, a coconut one with the soufflé, an orange one with Gill’s fine chocolate and orange tart. How the kitchen distils such powerful essences into such an insubstantial  ice I’ve no idea.  Raviolo of ham hock, pea and mint veloute […]

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