Monday, 17 November 2008

Clumber Park hits stumbling blocks

IT'S rare when there is nothing on a menu that I fancy. Even when I am in the pickiest mood I can usually find something to satisfy a whim.
However, that was exactly the predicament I found myself in on inspection of the menu of at the Courtyard Restaurant of the Clumber Park Hotel and Spa in Nottinghamshire.
I am not fond of hotel restaurants and would not dine in one out of choice. Their standards often aren't as high as the price tag. But circumstances prevailed and we found ourselves booked in for 8pm.
Fortunately, the restaurant wasn't completely void of life and there were some other diners tucking into seemingly well presented food.
I'd already browsed the menu in our room and felt disappointed that little had me watering at the mouth.
Starving after a what I'd like to think was grueling workout in the hotel gym (10 minutes on the powerplate, plus a dip in the hot tub), it was time to feast.
Despite the early arrival of a dish of butter, the bread basket seemed a long time coming. A terrible dinner guest, I am always crabby until I have a roll on my side plate.
When the offer of bread was finally made, the waitress claimed she didn't know what type they were. A simple description of 'white, wholemeal or seeded' would have sufficed.
Oven warm, but doubtfully homemade, the bread filled the gap before the arrival of our starters.
I opted for the butternut squash and garlic soup to start while the better half chose mixed meat mezze. The soup, decorated with croutons and a slug of oil, was warming if not particularly flavoursome. There was little evidence of the sweet roasted squash taste I craved. It a bit like Baxters soup. The mixed mezze was equally disappointing with just a few slivers of salami-type meat, capers, slithers of roast peppers and confit tomatoes. It ached for a few slices of Parma ham or Bresaola.
As our stomachs groaned, we hoped for better from our main courses. I quickly realised this was not to be. My pan roasted duck, on its bed of 'white bean and herb stew' gave off an unpleasant fatty smell. On close inspection it appeared the duck breast had not been rendered properly and the fat, rather than invitingly crisp was still flabby. As soon as I cut into the duck and its bloody juices begin to ooze into the creamy-coloured stew, it dawned on me what an unappetising combination I had chosen. The white bean stew, or rather butter bean stew, was bitterly herbed and rather unpleasant.
On the other side of the table the confit lamb with bubble and squeak cake and curly kale faired little better. And while the meat was chewy, the veg was woefully underdone. There is al dente, and then there's just plain raw. The mixed salad was good though.
Clearing our table took a while too, not pleasant at the best of times, but particularly horrid when the smell of fat is lingering so heavily.
Thankfully dessert came as a pleasant surprise. My winter fruit compote was sour creme (sic) was sweet and lucious, although the evidence of strawberries was a bit dubious. Surely strawbs don't grow in winter, not in this neck of the woods anyway? A rich chocolate tart topped with pistachio icecream was enjoyed by the man. He even thought the icecream tasted homemade.
Thankfully i didn't have to part with any cash for this meal as it was part of a work-related package. However, my meal alone without drinks would have cost £28. Staggering, since you can dine at some Michellin-starred venues for a similar sum.
I feel this place has high aspirations but falls at the first hurdle. Neither the service nor the food matched the price tag. So sadly Clumber Park Hotel has done nothing to dispel my notion of hotel food.
What are your thoughts of hotel dining rooms? Where have been your good or bad experiences? Let me know...

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