Rediscoving some foodie treasures

Whittlebury Hall

1st May 2019

Food & Drink

Whittlebury Hall

EARTHY-tasting pigeon, sour rhubarb to make your teeth cry out and mussels with a layer of sand eaten on a windswept beach - all memories from a well-spent childhood.

Now, decades later, there are better memories thanks to the culinary skills of Harvey Lockwood who is putting his personal stamp on Murrays at stylish Whittlebury Hall.

Harvey's innovative menu has rightly won recognition thanks to his inventive use of ingredients to transform often traditional British dishes. The restaurant has two AA rosettes and was runner up in the 2018/2019 Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards while Harvey won Chef of the Year.

There is no arguing with the decision of the judges.

Murrays is a stylish haven away from the hotel's busy lobby and Silverstone bar, where Formula 1 fans will appreciate the memorabilia that lines the walls from greats of the nearby race track.

At the end of a corridor the recently appointed maître d' Ana personally welcomes diners into the exclusive reception room where a pre-dinner drink is on offer.

The surprise arrival of canapes, including a warm salmon fishcake and rich duck parfait, set the mood, while Ana's attentive but not overbearing manner bodes well for what is to come.

Plate envy is not a problem for diners opting for the six-course tasting menu which promises a tour through the culinary creativity of Harvey and his team. It is a good choice but still means missing out on dishes from the main menu including starters of French-reared rabbit with prunes and radish or a main course of Thame lamb loin - but there is always a next time.

After a freshly-baked roll with English butter had been served to the table I shared with husband, Des, we had our first experience of the tasting menu. An amuse bouche boasted cubes of apple and celeriac served with a creamy veloute combined with a vibrant green parsley oil.

I had drawn the nominated driver short straw, but this did not mean Des had to avoid the extensive drinks menu. After some encouragement from me, he opted for the 'wine flight' where a selected wine was served with each of the taster menu courses.

Those in the know understand how a well-chosen wine can enhance the flavours of the food and vice versa. To be honest, by the fourth course he realised finishing off each glass was not the best way forward, but it was a good decision.

An arty-looking dish of pickled cucumber with crème fraiche with a generous serving Loch Duart salmon was a safe bet before the wood pigeon. It is decades since I last ate pigeon at the home of my uncle, a Northamptonshire farmer, who was better than any scarecrow when it came to guarding his crops. The taste of gunshot still makes me cringe and I have steered clear of it ever since - ditto rabbit.

Ana was delighted that I had left a clean plate as I rediscovered (or maybe discovered for the first time) the real taste of pigeon minus the metal. It came with chargrilled artichoke, bitesize onion and an onion granule that gave the dish a whole new twist.

Wild turbot was another new experience. A meaty fish served with vibrant red cauliflower florets, slices of chargrilled cauliflower and a parmesan crisp. After eating the mussels, I finally understood how people can enjoy the shellfish that has been on my 'not wanted' list since the days at the beach.

Melt-in-the-mouth Northamptonshire beef took pride of place on the next dish with truffle adding the final touch to one of the stand-out courses.

And so, to rhubarb, yet another ingredient that really does not deserve any celebration. That is unless it has been used in this rhubarb and custard creation where crunchy ginger crumbs made it a real winner.

Finally, a deconstructed tiramisu headed our way, combining swirls of chocolate, rich bite-size cake, mascarpone and cubes of jelly. Delicious.

Petit fours and coffee are included in the price of £65 per head - excellent value for those who want to taste the finer things in life. And while the food is good the final word must go to Ana and her colleague, ????, who kept a close eye on the needs of each guest.

Charming but not hovering and ready to glide in when they felt a discarded napkin had to be swapped with a fresh, crisp replacement before Des returned to the table, or to sweep the crumbs off the white linen cloth. Rosettes all round.

Hopefully more people who visit the venue, with its popular spa and golf course, will find the time to put Murray's to the test.

To book a table call 01327 850489. Opening hours Wednesday to Sunday, 7pm to 9pm. For other facilities at Whittlebury Hall, including the Aston Restaurant or The Terrace Cafe, see the website at www.whittlebury.com

Whittlebury Hall