Editor's note: in November 2016, head chef Martin Burge left Whatley Manor. He is succeeded by Niall Keating, who has worked at restaurants including Sat Bains, Benu and as chef de cuisine at Kong Hans Kaelder in Copenhagen.
Whatley Manor is set in an 18th century manor house set in extensive grounds near Malmesbury. It has been run as a boutique hotel with 23 rooms since 1987, and has been in its current ownership since 2003. Under head chef Martin Burge it gained a Michelin star in 2005 and has held two Michelin stars since 2009.
In the spring of 2015 the menu format changed. You now have a choice of three different seven course tasting menus (at £110), one of them vegetarian, though the restaurant is flexible about allowing you to mix and match between menus. The extensive wine list offered over 650 labels, including an unusually good selection of German Riesling. Examples were Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 at £43 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £15, Rausch Spatlese 2009 at £75 compared to a shop price of £25, and Domaine Arnaud Ente Mersault 2008 at £145 for a label that retails at £75.
The meal began with some nibbles: green tomato consommé, beetroot with creme fraiche, foie gras mousse with teriyaki jelly, and a Parmesan savoury flan with truffle. The last two of these were the stars, both rich and full of intense flavour (18/20 average). A final nibble was an interesting one of smoked haddock served with cucumber, ginger and wasabi ice cream. A selection of bread is made from scratch here, the best tonight being excellent onion bread with particularly good texture and plenty of flavour (17/20).
The first formal dish from the menu was native lobster with slices of mango and coconut, resting in a Thai style spiced consommé. On the side was crab claw, bak choi and won tun stuffed with lobster mousse. This dish worked very well, the lobster tender and with a hint of sweetness, the subtle spicing nicely lifting the dish. The mousse was delicate, velvety and delicious (18/20).
Turbot fillet was pan-fried, served with a caramelised obsiblue prawn (a high quality farmed shellfish from New Caledonia) and a side dish of truffled macaroni. The seafood was carefully cooked and the truffled macaroni worked well as a contrast to the seafood (17/20).
Squab pigeon was poached and roasted, served on a bed of watercress with foie gras cream topped with a soufflé potato and a Pedro Ximines sauce. This was excellent, the pigeon precisely cooked, the richness of the liver and the sauce balanced by the watercress (18/20).
In place of a cheese course was a dish of creamed Roquefort, deep fried goat cheese, honey truffle ice cream and candied walnuts, along with sliced pear and a little salad. This was unusual and interesting, the fruit and greenery managing to prevent the dish from being too rich, the walnuts giving a textural contrast (18/20).
A pre dessert of liquorice pannacotta was topped with fruit compote and a pear sorbet. The liquorice flavour was mercifully restrained and the fruit had good flavour (16/20). The main dessert was apple and maple syrup cheesecake, served with poached apple and caramelised pecan nuts. This was delicious, the miniature cheesecake having lovely consistency, the apple cutting nicely through the richness, the nuts again bringing an interesting extra texture (18/20). Coffee was from a supplier called Hunter and was rich and smooth, The meal was completed by a plate of petit fours and a selection of chocolates.
Service was very professional, the staff friendly and attentive. The bill came to £188 each with good wine. A typical cost per head sharing a modest bottle of wine would be around £150. Whatley Manor is a charming place, with appealing and precisely cooked food, a glorious setting and friendly staff.