Hambleton Hall overlooks Rutland Water, and has a very attractive ornamental garden behind the house; in fine weather you can sit out on the terrace and have your drinks and nibbles before moving into the dining room. The tasting menu is £60, with two three course menus at £37 and £46; given that main courses on that a la carte are priced between £30 and £39 it is hard to imagine that many people order a la carte rather than taking one of the set menus.
The wine list stretches over 16 pages and features some fine producers from a wide range of countries. Examples are Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008 at £30 for a wine that costs around £9 retail, JJ Prum Spatlese 2004 at £38.50 compared to a retail price of £24, and the superb Alion 1999 at £65.50 for a wine that costs £35 or so in the shops. At the higher end of the list, Cristal 2002 is £225 compared to a shop price of at least £125, and Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1987 was £322 for a wine that costs around £220 retail. A particularly good wine at the low end of the list is the very pleasant Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc 2006 at £25 for a wine that will set you back £9 to buy in a shop.
Canapes were a very good deep-fried sea bream with tartare sauce, crumbly and enjoyable olive crisps and a little foie gras paté with orange on toast (16/20). Breads are made by the nearby Hambleton Hall bakery, and were a choice of white brown and granary rolls, and slice of sourdough and beer bread. The sourdough was my favourite, having excellent texture, but all the breads were enjoyable, served warm (17/20). A little cup of soup with anchovies and chorizo raviolo was essentially a refined meat stock with a few diced vegetables, having deep flavour, while the raviolo itself was rich and tasty (17/20). The first course was a series of takes on tomato: a cold coulis with little tomato pieces (17/20), green tomato iced essence with tomato foam (16/20), pieces of tomato with very good tapenade (16/20) and, best of all, a delicate tomato tart with mozzarella and a mozzarella beignet (17/20). I was surprised how much taste was extracted from the tomatoes given that we are in England rather than the Mediterranean.
A salad of lightly curried crab worked well, the salad including celery and apple, and an ice cream made from the brown crab-meat, with apple crisps; the crab had good taste and the elements worked well together (17/20). Even better was a large, plump, sweet sautéed scallop with onion puree, Puy lentils, lemongrass foam and onion bhaji as a garnish. The scallop was stunningly good, perfectly timed and beautifully sweet, while the onion bhaji was a revelation, light as could be with excellent flavour; the foam added a nice hint of spice to the dish (19/20). For main course a sea bream was well cooked, served with excellent fine beans and a light mustard and cucumber mash (17/20). I had ballotine of quail with pearl barley risotto, the quail having good taste and the risotto a well-matched foil for the richness of the meat (17/20).
A dessert plate consisted of a passion fruit soufflé, delicate champagne jelly, passion fruit and orange jelly with popping candy, a pretty white and dark chocolate parfait, caramelised lemon tart, nougat with raspberry and raspberry sorbet and blackcurrant and apple sorbet with apple crisp. These were of a uniformly high standard (17/20).
Even the double espresso had strong taste and was a proper cup, not the dribble which sometimes appears in restaurants these days, accompanied by some nice chocolates. Service was friendly and efficient throughout the evening. Overall I found this a really enjoyable meal, every bit as good as the last meal I had here many years ago, and for me a very strong one star meal indeed. Chef Aaron Patterson has been cooking here since 1992 after training at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and La Tante Claire, and it is a testament to his team that the excellent meal delivered this evening was on his night off.
The room had quite subdued lighting, so it was difficult to get decent photos of the food.
What follows are notes from a meal in June 1999.
This is a wonderful place for a weekend away in the country. If the weather is good you can have drinks on the terrace overlooking the beautiful gardens and Rutland Water. The wine list was extensive and had an especially wide selection from Eastern Europe, but the mark-ups are fairly steep. We had an excellent Austrian Riesling, followed by an Austrian Eiswein, that were both more fairly priced than the classics. Service was excellent here.
Here are notes from a recent meal. My starter was a simple but lovely dish of fried morels and asparagus - the morels were in perfect condition, the asparagus excellent, both sitting in a simple sauce which had been fluffed up by a hand liquidiser just before serving. This was very fine (18/20). My wife had ravioli of crab, with ravioli having excellent texture, the crab delicate and tender, offered with some shredded and lightly stir-fried ginger, topped with shreds of deep-fried leeks. They understand here how to have a light touch with the stir-fried vegetables, which were enhanced with a pool of crab and ginger sauce (18/20). For main course I had wild salmon, which was timed to perfection, moist and full of flavour, served with some beautifully cooked new potatoes and in a butter and chive sauce (easily 17/20). My wife had some excellent turbot, sitting on a bed of home-made noodles and spinach, surrounded by morels, other wild mushrooms, diced tomato and sitting in a pool of slightly too lemony butter sauce (17/20). All other components of the dish were very well timed.
Cheeses were offered on a large board, and they had perhaps tried to offer too many choices, as a few were a little past their best and a tad dry e.g. the Colston Basset Stilton. Still, a good board (3/5, 15/20 overall) and most cheeses in decent condition. Ones tried as well as the Stilton were Epoisses (in perfect condition), a Wellington, a Lancashire, a Camembert and a Somerset goat’s cheese. For dessert I had a magnificent passion fruit soufflé, offered with a perfect passion fruit ice cream on the side in a little tuile. The soufflé was divine, the texture could not be faulted and the passion fruit flavour came through beautifully (19/20. My wife had caramelised apple tart, comprising very finely sliced apples on a good, rich pastry, sitting in a pool of caramel sauce, the top of which had been browned with a blow-torch rather than caramelised in the cooking. In the centre of the tart was a scoop of perfect vanilla ice cream surrounded by five blackberries, which added some welcome tartness to the dish (17/20). Coffee was not quite as good as one would expect, though still very decent (15/20). The large espresso was pleasingly generous in measure. Petit fours comprised a Chinese gooseberry, a baby lemon tart, raspberry tart, tuile and a mini chocolate log, and were all of a very high standard - pushing 18/20 overall, with the raspberry tart 20/20.