For years now Lords of the Manor, a former rectory in the picturesque village of Upper Slaughter nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, has been one of the leading small luxury country house hotels. A charming hotel in a secluded picturesque spot, it has paid host in recent years to the Crown Prince of Japan and the triumvirate that is Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May when they were still flying under the Top Gear flag.
I have been heading there at least once annually to escape London, usually over New Year. Living within the area closed down for the New Years Eve fireworks on the Thames, this is a wise course of action, given the crowds and security cordons that inhibit free movement in and out of one’s home. My New Year visit to the hotel this year had been preceded by an important change: a new head chef, the hotel having parted ways with their previous chef and thus, for now, the Michelin Star it had held for some years.
One of the things that makes any small luxury hotel is a team of staff who are warm and obliging and, right from the start when Hanna, at front of house, and Andy the head concierge, both always smiling and cheery, welcome you in the driveway and settle you in, this is what you get. The team under manager Michael Obray are always friendly, going about their duties imperceptibly, and are more than happy to try and cater to one’s every whim, be it afternoon tea in the drawing rooms, the provision of wellies for walks, or arranging clay pigeon shooting.
While heading out for walks in the stunning local countryside or visiting Bath are all possible from Lords of the Manor, personally I prefer to do nothing at all, bar take a 20 minute stroll across the fields to Lower Slaughter for a pub lunch on one of the days during my stay. Instead I favour ensconcing myself in a comfy sofa with a book or card game, whiling the day away being hydrated with coffee and gin (separately if you don’t mind) and staying festively plump thanks to afternoon tea or rounds of roast beef and smoked salmon sandwiches (these fillings separately too). This of course all follows a relaxing breakfast and a morning lounging in my warm and cosy bedroom.
The main event, though, is dinner and pre feeding drinks. Since the departure of their last chef, Charles Smith has been bought on board as the new Head Chef. His previous role was Head Chef at Michelin-starred Alyn Williams at The Westbury, following stints working for Paul Heathcote, then at the Michelin starred Gilpin Lodge, and at Marcus, by Marcus Wareing, at The Berkeley in 2008, where he worked his way up to Junior Sous Chef and won the 2011 Young National Chef Of The Year competition. He later went on to work at Thomas Keller’s three Michelin-starred Per Se in New York. With such pedigree it’s clear that Lords of the Manor wants its star back, and it has invested in its new chef by kitting out the kitchen to suit his needs and allowing him to source and design the menu as he sees fit.
In some ways the menu and ingredients are refreshingly old school, not in terms of the menu being dated, but in shirking the trend for local ingredients and ultra modern cooking techniques. Smith has brought his experience and the philosophy he will have learnt from the likes of Keller and Wareing with him and is applying it to his own dishes. Its a philosophy and style of updated classic dishes expertly executed and produced from the finest available ingredients.
Smith was clear when I spoke to him that all he cares about ‘is giving his diners the best experience possible’ and that to do this ‘local ingredients aren’t always the best, they may be good but at times they are not better than ingredients from a bit further away. The best pig I have ever had is hung for 50 days and comes from a small farm in Cornwall, it’s expensive and hard to get, but it’s the best so I only put pork on the menu if I can get it. Just as the best salad leaves come from the south of France so I make use of them.’
Smith’s taking over of the kitchen is a breath of fresh air for Lords of the Manor, bringing a revitalising breeze to a kitchen and menu that, though well executed, had become somewhat staid under the former head chef. The menu is purposely kept to three or four choices per course on the a la carte so that it can be constantly updated and changed, ensuring continued creativity and seasonality. There is of course also the choice of a tasting menu.
The ravioli of Loch Durat salmon and lobster is superb, better yet is the quail ravioli and beautifully clear quail consommé. The veal carpaccio with ostreca caviar could be said by some to have too much going on, but I’d suggest not. The veal is superbly subtle, gaining its seasoning from the caviar and a crisp freshness from the leaves, while the sweet paprika coated celery seeds finish the dish superbly. My only comment is that the supremely light horseradish crème fraiche is provided in a slightly larger quantity than is necessary.
The roasted lamb with salt baked celeriac, pickled celery and candied dried black olive is quite probably the best lamb dish I’ve had for quite some time. The flavours mingle and balance perfectly, but the star is the sauce, a mint infused lamb sauce oozing complexity and rich meaty unctuousness. It is a true testament to the skill of the chef and kitchen.
The belted Galloway beef fillet with foie gras, artichoke and bordelaise sauce is at its core a reworked version of that classic tournedos a’la Rossini. With the large crouton of the classic dish being replaced by small garlic infused cubes of fried bread, it is a version worthy of its illustrious predecessor.
The dining room is a relaxing space and the staff attentive, professional and diligent, somehow giving off a calming effect that makes for the perfect relaxing set up. The wine list has always been a strength (even if certain wines a little pricy – invariably these days that’s the case with Clarets), and current Sommelier Ugo has ensured its breadth continues. You’ll find Uruguayan wines, an increasing trend, and even a Yuzu Saki, which went superbly with the brie, honey comb and toasted truffle laden brioche.
The location, building, staff and food all combine to make Lords of the Manor quite the rural ideal and thus the perfect place to escape to from London, or at which to spend a romantic getaway weekend. It may not be cheap (such service never is) but it’s well worth every penny.
Lords of the Manor
Telephone: 01451 820 243