Lythe Hill Hotel, Haslemere GU27 3BQ - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 10:31 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:31 21 February 2014
Some of our nation's greatest writers have been drawn to Haslemere over the years. Restaurant reviewer Matthew Williams paid a visit to enjoy dinner and a stay at the exclusive Lythe Hill Hotel and see if he could go away equally inspired...
Reviewed: Lythe Hill Hotel, Restaurant & Spa, Petworth Road, Haslemere GU27 3BQ. Tel: 01428 651251
What we ate:
Confit Duck, Poached Apple, Apple Cider Caramel, Port Wine Gel, Gingerbread Crumb, £8.95
Slow Poached Ballotine Of Salmon, Wasabi, Fennel, Sesame and Apple, £6.95
Assiette Of Pork ‘5 Ways’, Port Glazed Salsify, Savoy Cabbage, Fondant Potatoes and Madeira Jus, £19
Loin Of Local Estate Venison, Roasted Parsnips, Truffled Polenta, Braised Red Cabbage, Smoked Celeriac Purée and Chocolate and Espresso Jus, £23.50
All 12 cheeses (ideal to share), £15.95 – (breathe in!) Wookey Hole Cave Aged Mature Cheddar (Dorset); Stoney Cross (Wiltshire); Manchego (Spain); Roquefort (France); Cornish Blue (Cornwall); Celtic Promise (Surrey); Tornegus (Surrey); Wealdway Mature (East Sussex); Saint George (East Sussex); White Velvet (East Sussex); Waterloo (Berkshire); Smoked Ashdown Forester (West Sussex)
Malbec, Finca la Colonia, Argentina, 2012, £24
REVIEW: With flood water still marching across the countryside and roadside rivers ripe to spill, we found our sanctuary and the keys to a room named after English Romantic poet Keats. Next door, already occupied, were Shelley and Byron.
The countryside and hills surrounding Haslemere have long been famous for having attracted George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Conan Doyle and Tennyson to their bounty, but Keats was a new one for me.
Born in Moorgate and buried in Rome, I’m not sure he had the same connection with the area as the above literary luminaries but it is said he wrote his poem Endymion near Dorking, so that’s close enough.
Having stayed in one of Lythe Hill’s historic suites a few years ago, it was intriguing to turn the page, and our Keats abode was all fresh limes and neutral colours, with views to the lake and a grey stone floored bathroom – complete with jacuzzi bath (I may be wrong, but I think the latter post-dates the Romantics. They’d have never got any work done...).
A Haslemere hamlet
The proprietors describe this country hotel as something of a hamlet in its own right and, on visiting, you can see why. Found a few minutes from Haslemere town centre, the converted farm buildings, barns, cattle sheds, milking parlours and stalls, are somehow sprawling while retaining a certain intimacy.
The restaurant itself, which is split into old and new sections, is located in the Tudor house dating back to 1475.
On arrival, we were shown into the cosy Old Room – all oak panels and candlelit tables, which are in turn a mix of white linen and rustic.
While the larger, modern half of the restaurant was quiet on the night we visited (understandable with Christmas and New Year still fresh in the mind), the tables around us were full: one couple celebrating their anniversary and visiting for the first time, while on the neighbouring table the other duo had been regulars for years; a family group meanwhile discussed the latest film releases over plenty of laughter.
Our host for the evening was restaurant manager Patrick, a jovial Frenchman new to the hotel – what a time to move down from London into a countryside full of floods and power cuts, I thought. Welcome to Surrey!
Comfortably seated in large, padded armchairs with a view of the bunnies hopping about outside, our wine and water glasses were swiftly filled and delicious bread served to the table – made on-site by the junior sous chef, the black pudding variety proved a particular favourite with both my wife Sylviane and I.
A couple of surprises arrived before the starters, with a selection of canapés, including chickpea hummus, saffron aranchine, goat cheese with wild mushroom tarts and tarragon crackers, pre-empting a tantalising duck breast with pak choi, fig and raspberry vinaigrette.
At your service
Service from the off was excellent and throughout the evening we were never rushed or left waiting – things certainly look formal at Lythe Hill and maintain that high standard, but the atmosphere is kept relaxed and as the evening progressed it certainly helps ease you into the surroundings.
Now full of expectation, we pushed onto the starters. I had opted for the confit duck with poached apple, apple cider caramel, port wine gel and gingerbread crumb. It was an excellent dish, although my personal preference would have been for a little more crumb and caramel, which I thought was a delicious addition.
Sylviane went for the slow poached ballotine of salmon with wasabi, fennel, sesame and apple – a deliciously fresh dish that she loved. For my taste, I think they could have got away with a touch more wasabi but perhaps I was just feeling brave in my relaxed state.
In between courses, a yoghurt sorbet with blackberry sauce was delivered to freshen our palates. Not one necessarily known for her sweet tooth, Sylviane demolished hers like it was the dessert.
The work that went into my assiette of pork was certainly to be admired – the end results looked fantastic plated and huge flavours burst out of each pig variation. I think my favourite was the pulled pork but the sweep of apple sauce bit well against the meat-heavy dish too. Thoroughly enjoyable for someone with my particular tastes.
While I was working my way through the components of my dish, I was struggling with the distraction across the table where my wife sounded as if she was listening to sweet nothings from Keats… or perhaps Byron would be more apt… either way, the loin of venison was obviously a delight! Not only was the meat superbly cooked but the truffled polenta was really something special and the chocolate and espresso jus excellent.
When we spoke to head chef David Quinn recently he said that “although like most chefs, we use tried and trusted methods and flavour combinations, we constantly try to put our own twist on the way they are constructed on a plate and attempt to create dishes that defy the expectations of the diner.”
I think it’s fair to say that this sort of bold approach is exactly the sort of mentality that has helped distance countryside hotel restaurant dining from the old staid prawn cocktails and roasted meats menus of old.
A fromage fiend
For once, I decided to skip dessert and join Surrey Life’s Official Cheese Board Taster in her explorations. And what extensive explorations they proved to be…
Not so long ago during another restaurant review, we’d chatted to the proprietor about the importance – or not as some people see it – of cheeseboards. They are something that is so easy for a restaurant to overlook, as they don’t highlight the craft of the chef, but so important for those who lack a sweet tooth (the poor souls!). So you can imagine my fromage fiend wife’s delight when she spotted Lythe Hill’s epic 12-cheese list. In fact, such was her enthusiasm that she managed to order all 12 while I was distracted by those bunnies playing outside the window.
Served with a wide range of crackers, grapes and celery – as well as a cheeky port (well, we weren’t driving anywhere!) – suffice to say, she was far less daunted than I. With two Surrey cheeses included among the full spectrum, it was certainly an impressive display.
In fact, such was the immense dimensions of the board that half way through we retired with it to our room to enjoy with the last of the evening’s television.
Well, I wasn’t going to complain that I was full. After all, we’d ordered the thing and tradition has it that during the 18th century Lythe Hill Farm House was used as a Court House with the convicts being hung in what is now the hotel’s kitchen. Something for any complaining customers to bear in mind perhaps; not that they are likely to have any reason to grumble, mind.
Fortunately the old notion that ‘snacking’ on cheese before bedtime can only lead to nightmares proved unfounded and perhaps immersed in poetic reverie we were soon swept up by that “low murmurer of tender lullabies”. That’s sleep, to you and me and Keats.
3 other country hotel restaurants in Surrey
Stroude Road, Egham TW20 9UR
Tel: 01784 433822
About as close as you can get to staying in a stately home, Great Fosters’ two new restaurants, The Tudor Room and The Estate Grill, are already pulling in the plaudits.
Langshott Manor, near Gatwick, Horley RH6 9LN
Tel: 01293 786680
Steeped in history, Langshott Manor is found just a stone’s throw from Gatwick Airport and yet, somehow, also in peaceful seclusion.
Foxhills, Ottershaw KT16 0EL
Tel: 01932 704480
Foxhills celebrated 30 years in the ownership of the Hayton family in 2013, as well as hosting the first Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards and impressing our reviewer.