Branston Hall Hotel, Branston
Caroline Bingham visited the Lakeside Restaurant for an evening of fine dining
Branston Hall can boast of quite a record, with their head chef in post for over fifteen years now. This is rare in the fickle and precarious world of catering but this is a privately owned hotel in a small chain and it would seem that when they find skilled staff they are good at retaining them.
The hotel is near the centre of the village but sited in eighty-eight acres of beautiful parkland and lakes, where an elegant driveway lined with shrubberies and lawns leads to the grand entrance of the Victorian hall.
Some resident guests and early diners were already seated in the comfortable Chesterfields in the lounge/bar area and we sat at one of the small tables to enjoy a drink and begin to look through the menus.
I have to say, from the outset of our visit we received the most charming and efficient service. Jacob made us feel immediately comfortable and welcome and he was supported by a well-trained and smiley crew.
We made our choices from the Table d’hôte menu which offered three courses for £32.50, although a couple of the dishes we chose did incur a supplement detailed with the dish.
The dining room has high ceilings and large picture windows overlooking parts of the garden. It was a dark night however, so although we were near a window we were looking into blackness. A few exterior lights might make more of a view for diners in the evening. This did not detract from the beauty of the dining room though. Elegant without being intimidating, we were seated in the main area of the two-roomed Lakeside Restaurant and eagerly awaited our first course.
My friend Louise, who joined me for this evening, started with a mackerel Teriyaki with Japanese radish and noodle salad while I chose Cornish scallops with pork and cep rillette, apples, sage and cider. This was almost a meal in itself. The scallops were beautifully cooked and the rillettes were meaty without overpowering their delicate flavour. The apple gave a sweet yet sharp tang to the dish and a light cider sauce completed a flavoursome seasonal plate of food. Louise declared her mackerel a delicious and occasionally intriguing dish. There were exotic flavours and one element of the salad which defied either of us to name but Jacob was on hand to help us out.
These were just two of the six starters on the menu. We were equally tempted by roast quail biryani with onion fritters and coriander chutney, or a terrine of cassoulet meats with black Chanterelles, haricots and tarragon vinaigrette.
To cleanse our palates, a delicate lime sorbet was served. A lovely treat. For our main course Louise had chosen fillet and shin of beef with baked celeriac and Italian bacon, wild mushrooms and Madeira while I opted for roast pork belly with Puy lentils, braised leeks and apple sauce. We also shared a half bottle of smooth and soft Chateau Bernes Bordeaux which accompanied our main meals wonderfully. We both agreed that our dishes were the work of an accomplished and confident chef, who is cooking seasonal food with flair and skill. I love the freshness and light touch of spring menu dishes but they come nowhere near the comfort, warmth and satisfaction of ‘autumn on a plate’.
There were seven dishes in all to choose from including baked cod with creamed potatoes, smoked ham, pease pudding, parsley and cockles or thyme baked lamb rump with hotpot vegetables and warm pickled cabbage.
And finally, for dessert, I could see no reason to halt the apple theme which had characterised my choices so far, so I settled on the terrine of apple and blackberries with caramel mousse and cookie snap. Louise joined me with vanilla crème brûlée with apple jus and apple crisps. What appetising plates they looked even before we tucked in. Apple with crème brûlée did not seem to work quite as well as the caramel mousse with my terrine of apple and blackberry but they were a delightful way to round off a very enjoyable dinner. If I had managed to save a little more room I would certainly have tried the roast chestnut cheesecake, with mulled wine foam and confit chestnut, or blue cheese mousse with Parma ham, port jelly and celery leaf salad. Next time…
We retired to the Chesterfields to enjoy coffee and petit fours. I can see why Branston Hall Hotel has such an excellent reputation. The surroundings are elegant yet welcoming; the staff operate with quiet efficiency and have an attention to detail that is reassuring. Popular as a wedding venue, for Sunday lunch, short breaks and conferences, luncheon diners can try similar dishes to us for only £14.95 for two courses, or £19.95 for three courses. Don’t wait for Christmas, go for a well-deserved treat now.