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Lunch at Cliveden House review

Lunch at Cliveden House review

by Isaac Parham 19 February 2014

Isaac from Great British Chefs reviews lunch at Cliveden House. In a magnificent setting including knights in armour in the reception, manicured lawns and palatially high ceilings.

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Knights in armour in the reception, manicured lawns as clipped as the accents of its guests, looming portraits of nubile ladies in the dining room, double-decker bus high ceilings… it is fair to say Cliveden House is one of the grander locations I have frequented.

Even after a week of tempestuous storms that left much of Britain devastated by floods, this most palatial of country house hotels, which sits on the banks of the Thames, remains remarkably unflustered. It reminds me a little of Roger Federer in that regard, who after a lung-busting rally will merely flick any stray hairs insouciantly back into place while his doubled-over opponents reach for their isotonic drinks.

‘Fortunately, the Thames has only burst out at the other side, away from us,’ a waitress tells us. Of course it has; how very obliging of it.

Part of Cliveden’s charm, and this is complimentary, is that it feels so detached from the real world – a cosseted dimension of power corridors, vintage champagne and Cold War love triangles. It is the type of place you could come to to forget a war is on – escapism at its very best.

But what is a five star hotel without a five star restaurant? Well, missing a trick, that’s what, so it was no surprise that towards the end of last year Cliveden approached Galvin at The Windows Head Chef, André Garrett, to lead its dining room.

Garrett is the perfect choice for an establishment like Cliveden. He is not afraid of a little French classicism - which Cliveden’s clientele undoubtedly demands, but is modern and ambitious with it.

So, a Dover Sole ‘Veronique’ main pays homage to Escoffier’s original but daintily pairs the meaty tranche of fish with salted grapes and strips of baby fennel.

Before that I enjoy a winter salad; batons of roasted carrots and celeriac offering a sweet and peppery foil to the crispy hen’s egg and truffle soldiers.

My colleague, Eliot, an unfussy type, lets André select his courses, and is rewarded with a riotously textured mackerel tartare starter, complete with smoked eel beignets and caviar no less, and a gamey pigeon main, enlivened with glazed salsify and chestnuts.

The desserts are equally accomplished. I enjoy a dense chocolate ganache topped with a sticky shard of Florentine and popcorn sorbet, while Eliot devours an exotic mille-feuille.

The highlight, though, is the pre-dessert; a baked fromage blanc, a buttery quenelle of which sits on a granola crumb and an intense lemon gel, which acts as a ‘false bottom’ in the serving glass.

After lunch we are introduced to André, who explains his grand plans for this grand location while leading us round Cliveden’s labyrinthine kitchens: he is clear in his desire to win back the star he held at Windows and eager to establish Cliveden as a destination for refined food as well as luxurious hospitality.

Yet, evolution - not revolution – is the watchword for Garrett, and while he has made the menu his own and refreshed a few elements (introducing a more relaxed and changeable market menu and continuing to rebuild the kitchen team), Cliveden is not an establishment in need of a major makeover.

The sommelier, for example, who is suitably ostentatious, predates André, and as we leave offers to take us to his stash of Canadian ice cider. We are intrigued.

The flavour is extraordinary: intensely fruity and nectarous, it is an alcoholic drink like no other. We only have a dram, but nevertheless, it is hard not to feel a little giddy at the whole Cliveden House experience..

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