Winter Warmer at Cliveden – followed by our very own chicken, leek and mushroom millionaire’s pie
thebigfatnoodle and I recently celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. Every year we seem to be semi-surprised to still be alive and kicking, so each year we seem to push the boat out a little further to celebrate. A couple of years ago, in our never-ending quest for gastronomic satisfaction,we visited The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Bray.
This year, we wanted to visit Michel Roux’s place, The Waterside Inn, to compare, but we left booking too late. So we opted to try Heston’s pub in the village, The Hinds Head, which is a little more affordable, but equally impressive with the quality of its food: two thumbs up from us!
thebigfatnoodle says: “If you ever get a chance to go there yourself, you have to order the fillet steak with the bone marrow gravy. It was UNBELIEVABLE! I couldn’t take pictures (the pub was very busy and I felt too self-conscious taking pictures of the food) but trust me, it was amazing!”
The carpark for both The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head is where we think Heston’s ‘lab’ is located so the bigmonster naturally couldn’t resist taking a snap:
After lunching in Bray, we drove onto Cliveden for a spa overnight-lazy-Sunday kind of thing. For those that don’t know, Cliveden (pronounced CLIV-den, not CLIVE-den) is a grand stately home, built ages ago, burnt down twice, rebuilt three times, and was the British country pile of the Astors, one of the original American billionaires, which was quite good going for the 1800’s. It was bought by William Waldorf Astor from the Duke of Westminster for £1.2 million, in 1893, so goodness knows what it would sell for today.
It hosted luminaries of the day including Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill Joseph Kennedy, George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Amy Johnson, F.D. Roosevelt, H.H. Asquith, T.E. Lawrence(Lawrence of Arabia), but it became infamous in the UK for its role in the Profumo Affair in the early 1960’s, when a dodgy married MP (who knew they existed!), shagged a dodgy girl of the night who had connections with a dodgy soviet sailor. Sex, Spys, and Soviets with an extra helping of lying to Parliament:- they really knew how to mix it up in the 60’s…
Now it’s home to a five star luxury hotel, purporting to offer lavish country living in the UK for distinguished guests from around the world, so we fitted right in 😉
It certainly looks the part, with opulent set rooms, a fabulous art collection of paintings, statues and an old-world atmosphere to match. Cliveden is co-managed by the National Trust, so you can visit the house and grounds any day. But the whole place feels world weary, and looks like it needs rescuing and to be lovingly repaired.
So the food, unfortunately, didn’t quite match up to the expectation. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday night, not the best night of the week to go for a fine dining experience, perhaps it was because the hotel is in the final stages of being sold to another management group, who knows.
For a gourmet dining experience, it was pretty poor, with the courses coming so thick and fast, we thought the kitchen staff had a big match to get to after service. It was OK, but nothing memorable apart from the bill.
We retired to our suite, which was great: named after the Stanford University that used Cliveden as its British campus from the 1960’s, read some of the history, and gazed lovingly at the view from our room across the large swathes of linen and laundry stacked outside the back of our room. And the whole place sort of smelt of deep fried something or other, that came from the staff buffet that was just around the corner from the room. Ah well.
As it was a special weekend, we opted for the room service breakfast.
The following morning, this arrived and was duly set up in our living room, for us to graze upon before luncheon later in the day.
I swear, no joke, I have never tasted a saltier baked tomato, or beans that were rock hard yet slimy soft at the same time. My soft scrambled eggs had congealed into a warmish gruel. And the back bacon was indistinguishable from the streaky bacon in a hardened lump on the fast cooling plate. Five star? Little Chef is tastier…
So we waded through this and went for our spa treatments, and I spent the next 90 minutes trying not to break wind into the face of the massage therapist. I almost succeeded. (thebigfatnoodle says: “that’s his [bigmonster] comments, not mine!!!”)
After a late checkout, we had a final treat, the Champagne High Tea.
Now the pastry chef should get a medal: he/she really knows his/her stuff, and the biscuits and high tea cakes and pastries were first class.
Tarts had crisp, buttery bases, proper crème anglaise custards.
The finger sandwiches were a delight, ranging from smoked salmon, roast beef and horseradish, to cucumber and radish, and ham and wholegrain mustard, The scones were some of the best I’ve had, with a light crisp outside, and a generous helping of clotted cream. The strawberry and apricot jams looked suspiciously like industrial-catering products, but I had forgiven them by then. In fact, I’d say that the cream tea single-handedly rescued the visit for us. So if you are the company buying this hotel from Von Essen, you should maybe think about putting this person in charge of the whole place.
I saw that the cream tea was charged at £25 per head, so that’s £50 for two. For tea. Oh, how I laughed…
Then I read in my research that this hotel set a Guinness World Record, in 2007, for ‘the most expensive sandwich commercially available’.
Probably had the beef.
When we returned home, I decided to make a warming chicken, leek and mushroom millionaire’s pie, which was inspired from Cliveden, so if you’d like to see the recipe, click here.
We’ll leave you with the remaining pictures we took around the grounds of Cliveden.
Lots of love
bigmonster & thebigfatnoodle