Monday, 25 May 2009

Escape to the Country

CLEARWELL sounds like the name of a place in a J.R.R Tolkien novel.
So it should be no surprise that this picturesque Gloucestershire shire village is buried in the Royal Forest of Dean, which is thought to have inspired Tolkien's Middle Earth.
I have to admit, when the boy and I first visited Clearwell in February - to attend a wedding at its regal castle - it felt like the back-end of nowhere
But this time, basking in glorious sunshine and with the evidence that summer is well on the way, we could fully appreciate Clearwell's natural beauty.
Richly scenic, the area also prides itself in producing some of the country's finest foods - from cheese (Double Gloucester, Stinking Bishop) to meat (Usk valley beef) and butter (Netherend Farm Butter).
And at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, in the heart of Clearwell, chef Blaine Reed is combining his cooking flair with his depth of knowledge on local produce (he was born in Cinderford).
The boy and I dined there on Saturday evening, while enjoying a short break at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel.
The food was so good that it seemed sad that most of the restaurant's diners were - like us - hotel residents. Many were as wedding guests at the castle.
Having spoken to owner, Colin Fell, I know that he's keen to make the restaurant more of a destination for foodies, and with Blaine on side it's easy to see why.
The hotel is made up of a series of barn conversions (some dating back to the 13th century) and the boy and I felt the interior - particularly the restaurant - could do with reviving if it is to attract the discerning diners it desires.
We felt a touch of bright boutique chic could turn it into a destination for the Mr and Mrs Smith brigade. Right now it's a bit dark and a tad too chintzy.
This aside, the service and food was faultless, with the menu focusing on the freshest fare, cooked without unnecessary complications.
I was unable to resist the starter of local asparagus, with Parmesan Caesar dressing and toasted hazelnuts, while the boy chose the delicious beignets of Devon crab with honey pickled carrots and saffron herb dressing. Both were a joy.
I found my main course of Atlantic halibut with shaved fennel, tomato butter sauce and parmentier light and sublime, seriously impressed by the intelligent cooking of the fish.
Meanwhile, the boy dived into his plate of confit Cowshill Farm pork belly with black pudding with gusto. The accompanying butternut squash added a delectable sweetness, although he felt his mash needed an extra mustard.
For pud, I went off-menu, fancying the rhubarb compote from one dish and the Madagascan vanilla icecream from another. Accompanied by homemade butter biscuits, it was superb combination making the most of the new season rhubarb.
And before I had the chance to lean across the table to sample the boy's lemon creme brulee with blueberry mint jelly it had gone - so it must have been good.
Amuse bouche, pre-dessert and homemade petit fours with coffee added extra indulgence to the evening, and we certainly hit the sack with very happy tummies.
Rooms were charming and ours came with a luxurious jacuzzi tub and was stocked up with my favourite The White Company cosmetics.
The following morning we enjoyed a satisfactory breakfast, although we both agreed that the spread could do with a touch of the elegance we'd seen from the night before. Homemade - or locally produced jams - for example, would have transformed the offerings from ordinary to remarkable.
Tudor Farmhouse really is a superb place to stay, and dine. Service is exemplary and food is contemporary and prepared with flair. A few funky additions to the interior could lift it to the next level.
Foodies staying at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel may also want to take advantage of foraging weekends with celebrity forager Raoul Van Den Broucke, from £75 per couple.
For more details on the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel visit


Thinspired said...

Sounds like an authentic English culinary experience! I've never been or even heard of Clearwell but I want to see more of England while I'm here so I'll keep it in my back pocket for our next daytrip!

Heavenly Housewife said...

Sounds fantastic and a great way to spend a bank holiday weekend! Good to hear you got to enjoy while it was nice and sunny!

Phil Lowe said...

gosh Emily, I am starving now and it is only 10.05 a.m. Really well written piece. A joy to read.

Earlier you asked if I was going to Taste of the Midlands. If so it will most likely be the Saturday. You going?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great place, I'm a big Lord of the Rings fan too.

Gourmet Chick said...

Sounds like such a lovely weekend away you lucky thing