Travel: Driving to dine hard

By Jon Massey on May 11, 2014 10:15 AM |

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LIFESTYLE

I have the unnecessary luxury of a car in London. My little blue Clio sits patiently behind my flat, hopeful each day that it will be the chosen conveyance rather than rails and the DLR's robot trains.

But alas. It hopes in vain. Neglected, ill used. Earlier this year I noticed the downward curve of its bumper, the moisture wetting the inside of its headlight glass and decided to perk the little chap up.

Together we would go on a little jaunt. For me, a chance to try the culinary delights of two establishments reached best by road.

For the Clio, an opportunity to warm its tread on the open highway instead of sheltering next door's cat.

Our first stop was Great Fosters. This stately Tudor hunting lodge is a mixed bag.
Although only a short hop from Heathrow, it's a picture of prime English country real estate.

Manicured grounds, a stunning vintage outdoor swimming pool and the great house itself. The kind of place for fantasies; a palace of luxury.

My "historic" room was deep oak panels, four poster absurdity. Even the toilet was a converted period throne and, if I'm honest, uncomfortably high as a result.

But it was consumption not evacuation I visited for, so it was out and down to the luxurious Tudor Room. Before we get to the food, a brief negative aside.

My only real criticism of the hotel was the feel of its communal areas.

Impossible to pin down, as staff were crisp and professional at every turn, but somehow I felt the need to creep around as though bent on some nefarious endeavour. Not a welcoming warren.

Not so in the restaurant, a painted oak postage stamp of warmth and hospitality.

Here eight courses, supremely plated and flavoured were brought forth.

Head chef Nik Chappell is a titan of taste, and delivered a near faultless melange of courses featuring rabbit, beef, tuna and rhubarb.

The highlights were Asian broth with roasted chicken, a mouthwatering little dish and a delicate rabbit and foie gras ballottine with sweet raisins and earthy pistachios, pictured below.

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Sated with good service and beautifully matched wines from an extensive cellar, I sat in the golden surroundings and reflected that this hotel offers the opportunity to push the boat out and feel well away from town without actually travelling very far at all.


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There's no denying The Bull in Wrotham, a short whip round the M25 from Great Fosters, is a contrast.

It's every inch the coaching inn, but a modern spruced up take. It's bright, functional and deceptively well styled.

Much should be made of the fact my night there eclipsed the five-star luxury in terms of restfulness.

The well appointed rooms come as a pleasant surprise as soon as their crazed wooden floors are revealed.

But it's a very different proposition. Gastronomically, its down to earth, albeit skillfully cooked, fare generates a warmth in the pit of the stomach rather than excitement in the mind.

Downstairs to the restaurant bar and sound, well-sourced ingredients were left to give good account of themselves. It's little wonder the place was packed.

The service was friendly, pleasantly irreverent and efficient.

Chicken liver parfait was as plentiful as the parking out back but came, as ever, without enough bread.

Fortunately a white knight in the form of excellent pork belly rode to the rescue and made me forget everything else about the meal.

So good was its fleshy fattiness that the rest of the evening passed in contemplation of just how the kitchen had managed to generate such an excellent texture.

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Then, after a little stout to see off the remaining minutes, it was off upstairs to collapse amid wallpaper replete with pink birds.

In the morning, despite Great Fosters' greater range and quality, The Bull also won out in the breakfast stakes.

The more delicious of my two full English experiences, there's something about consuming the best part of a pig in a completely unpretentious environment that really sets up a Sunday.


FACTFILE
■ Jon was a guest at Great Fosters, Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey, TW20 9UR, 01784 433 822, greatfosters.co.uk. Expect to pay around £455 for an historic bedroom and breakfast. The eight-course tasting menu in the Tudor Room is £75.

■ Jon also stayed at The Bull, Bull Lane, Wrotham, Kent, TN15 7RF, 01732 789 800, thebullhotel.com. Expect to pay around £89 for bed and breakfast. Main courses in the restaurant are around £17.

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