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Byfleet Manor, Byfleet, Surrey KT14 7RS - restaurant review

PUBLISHED: 15:14 31 July 2013 | UPDATED: 17:27 06 August 2013

Dinner at Downton

Dinner at Downton

Archant

Fans of Downton Abbey will have already seen inside Byfleet Manor without even realising it. Now the impressive country estate, which plays host to Maggie Smith during the TV series, has thrown open its doors for a series of pop-up restaurants.

***

The low-down

Verdict:

Food: 9

Venue: 9

Service: 9

What we ate:

A gourmand tasting menu at £50 per head (bring your own wine) or £75 per head with wine pairing.

Dates for your diary:

Friday September 13 and Saturday September 28

Need to know:

Find out the latest Byfleet Manor dining and afternoon tea dates at byfleetmanor.com, foodbyaneke.com and teavintage.co.uk

***

While I’m rather more used to running the rule over the county’s pubs and restaurants, an invite to Byfleet Manor, home to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Grantham in Downton Abbey, proved too good to resist. The occasion? A pop-up restaurant that is set to become a regular (and I’m sure much talked about) event at the historic home.

Having navigated our way out of Byfleet village and along the private roads leading to the imposing entrance, my wife and I were greeted like the Lords and Ladies of old by the waiting staff for the evening.

Entering the front doors and back through time, we made our way into the Dowager’s room, where Champagne and canapés and the home’s owner, Julie, were waiting. Hailing from Wales originally, she proved an affable host who helped create a down-to-earth atmosphere in the regal surroundings.

Since the success of Downton Abbey, the marble floors and crystal chandeliers of the country estate have become a must-visit attraction for television inspired sightseers and traditional cream teas have become the order of the day. That success has led to the launch of the Dinner at Downton project and my invitation.

Following nibbles and an introduction to our chef for the evening, Aneke, guests dressed in their finery moved into the lavishly laid dining room, armed with their bring-your-own bottles of wine.

I’d read that Aneke has been a chef for over 20 years, working with the likes of Rainer Becker at Zuma, Alan Bird at The Ivy and Alain Ducasse in New York, so expectations were high. As were my worries over my wine selection – would it meet Michelin standards?! Dinner is served We found ourselves sitting with a couple of television executives, Julie and her luxury tour operator friend, so conversation quickly bubbled up. Before long, we were cutting thick slices of deliciously fresh bread for each other and passing around a sweet jar crammed with flavoured butters (garlic, chorizo and plain) wrapped as bonbons.

A chilled cucumber and Byfleet Manor garden mint soup was served up as starter, with Dorset crab and lemon grass beignets – perhaps we let our etiquette slip but the teacup dishes leant themselves so easily to sipping that spoons were quickly rejected.

Next, dusted with extra virgin olive oil, crispy quail eggs were teamed with Onuga faux caviar, buttered asparagus, a Parmesan tuile and smoked pancetta soldiers (the latter standing to attention to add definition to the plate).

Earlier, Aneke had been quick to press her locally sourced credentials –enthusiastically talking about exploring Ripley farmers’ market and such – and that passion and freshness was quick to bring itself to the fore on the plate.

The roast fillet of line-caught sea bass with pea purée and beer batter scraps was a fun and sophisticated take on fish and chips, especially with the addition of candied vine tomato, apple infused curry oil and Champagne beurre blanc.

Created for the occasion

As the dishes and wine flowed, so did the conversation and I found myself already longing for more pop-up experiences. Much like the enjoyment I find in visiting film locations around the county, there’s something very special about dining in a room that has been created for an evening rather than the average day-to-day.

My highlight was the rich slow-roasted belly of pork, with Maris Piper fondant, summer truffle infused celeriac emulsion, pink lady apple butter and port wine jus. A classic and once again served with an exquisite eye for detail.

Portions were well balanced, and the dessert menu soon got my sweet teeth tingling. First came an aptly named chocolate opera resting on sea salted caramel, which had a hot white chocolate latte shot served alongside. Heaven. Then came a bite-sized Madagascan vanilla bean waffle ice cream cone with chocolate covered popping candy.

With dessert, coffee and petits fours polished off, I sat back to tie the evening together – each course etched into memory.

Dinner at Downton is a magical mix of fun, unrushed hospitality and exceptionally high quality cuisine.

I understand that they will be keeping dates limited to a couple a month, which I’d say is advisable as it allows the anticipation to build and makes for an expectant crowd of enthusiastic diners.

Needless to say, I look forward to heading back and, having taken a peek out the windows, think their afternoon teas this summer will also be one to add to the hit list too.

***

3 great pop-up offerings

Maxwell McKenzie

Maxwell trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, including four years with Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. Various dates in Reigate, Dorking and Weybridge.

For all the latest, visit maxwellmckenzie.co.uk

Petersham Nurseries Cafe supper clubs

A rare opportunity to enjoy the magical atmosphere of Petersham Nurseries at night while celebrating gloriously fresh, seasonal ingredients. Various dates.

Contact 020 8940 5230 or e-mail info@petershamnurseries.com to book.

Joseph Lloyds

Not a pop-up restaurant per se but Joseph Lloyds are one of a number of tailored caterers in Surrey who can provide you with a private chef for your own at home dining experience.

More information at josephlloyds.co.uk

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