The restaurant gained a Michelin star in 1983, which it has retained ever since. Its head chef is Aaron Patterson, who started working here in 1984 and then moved to Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and elsewhere before returning as head chef in 1992. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the impressive house, built as a hunting lodge in 1881 and now a luxury boutique hotel.
Hambleton Hall has a glorious terrace with lovely garden looking out over Rutland Water. The dining room is in two sections, seating up to 60 diners at capacity; there is also a private room available. Tables are well spaced and covered with crisp white linen, and the room was blissfully free of muzak. Three courses were priced at £65, with a tasting menu at £75. The cooking is quite classical in style, with much use made of local ingredients. The restaurant also has a connection to Harts in Nottingham, and the owner's sons have opened Quo Vadis, Fino and Barrafina in London.
The wine list has interesting growers from around the world, with around 500 labels in all, and has plenty of affordable options - I counted 32 wines under £30, the list ranging in price from £22 up to £1,450. Example wines were Rolly Gassmann Riesling 2009 at £32 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £17, Andre Perret Condrieu 2010 at £75 compared to a retail price of £41, and Henschke Mount Edelstone 2008 Shiraz at £122 for a wine that will set you back £86 in a shop. At the posh end of the list, Chapoutier Le Pavillon Ermitage 1994 was £225 for a wine that retails at £135, and Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1988 was £380 compared to a shop price of £379. We drank the lovely Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg Riesling Spatlese von Schubert 2001, on the list at £48 for a wine that actually retails at more than this at around £59. As can be seen, the markups were very fair at all levels of the list, with some genuine bargains tucked away that in some cases were below retail price. This was an exemplary wine list, far removed from the rip-offs so often encountered in top restaurants around the UK - a wine lover's wine list.
Nibbles comprised a fig bubble, Parmesan "windmill" and croquettes of kedgeree with tartare sauce. The fig nibble was pleasant, the Parmesan tuile delicate, the croquette crisp and having very good flavour, nicely complemented by the lively tartare sauce (16/20 average). Bread was made at the nearby Hambleton bakery, set up by a long-time ex sous chef here. Rolls were better than the slices of bread, which had dried out a little. Best was the spelt roll and white roll, least good the slices of sourdough and beer bread (just about 15/20 average).
Crab salad came with gazpacho and brown crabmeat ice cream wrapped in a wafer-thin potato crisp cylinder. The shellfish had excellent flavour, the gazpacho was nicely seasoned, the dish nicely balanced (17/20). I had poached langoustines served in a chilled tomato essence with baby asparagus. The langoustines were of impeccable quality, alive when in the kitchen, the asparagus lovely and the tomato essence was refreshing - this really showed off the shellfish well (17/20).
Sea bass was poached and served with confit of new potato, fish skin crisp, wakime seaweed, cauliflower, cauliflower puree, baby onions, sun-dried tomatoes, clams, caviar and a seaweed sauce. This was quite a busy dish, with more flavours than perhaps were strictly necessary, but the components were well made, the fish itself was carefully cooked and the dish felt pleasantly balanced in terms of textures and flavours (16/20).
Guinea fowl was roasted and came with chanterelle mushrooms, slow-cooked bacon, onion and peas along with a reduction of the cooking juices. The bird had unusually good flavour and the skin was deliciously crisp. The peas had lovely flavour, the smokiness of bacon just lifting the dish, the sauce of the cooking juices excellent. This was really classy cooking, a summery and thoroughly enjoyable plate of food (18/20).
A pre-dessert of mojito served in a shot glass had plenty of mint flavour and was refreshing, the limejuice in nice proportion to the sugar and white rum (hard to score but well made, so perhaps 15/20). For dessert, strawberries were supplied by the Edith Weston farm just on the other side of Rutland Water. These were prettily displayed with meringue, a few dots of balsamic vinegar and served with vanilla ice cream. The strawberries had good flavour, certainly better than you usually taste in UK supermarket versions, but did not compare well with really top quality ones that can be found in Europe or Japan. The meringue was nicely made, as was the ice cream, and this was certainly a very pleasant, seasonal dish (15/20). Passion fruit soufflé displayed excellent technique, the soufflé cooked through but very light in texture, with plenty of passion fruit flavour. This came with a pleasantly complementary sorbet of passion fruit and banana (18/20).
Coffee came from the Monmouth Coffee company, accompanied by a trio of petit fours: coffee and chocolate opera, rhubarb marshmallow and lemon and meringue pie. Service was excellent; attentive without being fussy Our bill came to £125 a head. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill would come to around £95 a head, which seems to me very good value given the high calibre of ingredients and the skillful cooking on display.