Turn off the narrow country lane and journey down the impressive driveway that's flanked by fields on each side and you reach the manor's perimeter wall, your car facing down a sturdy wooden double door. You wait only a fraction of time though before the door, of its own volition, swings open a welcome giving you access to the central courtyard and staff that are already standing at the reception entrance to greet you, take your luggage and park your car. It's nicely done and warms you to the manor right from the beginning. The staff at reception were super nice and super friendly throughout our stay.
The manor itself is absolutely beautiful and boasts several drawing rooms each with wood panelling and log fires. The bar has a fair range of drinks at reasonable prices and for those who like something healthier than fermented grape juice, there's a full service spa. Step outside and 12 acres of gardens are beautifully landscaped for your enjoyment and we even spotted a peacock joining us in taking a stroll.
The venue itself then is the real deal though sadly, the grandeur of the manor was not always matched by the level of care the hotel aspires to provide its guests and they often seemed to struggle with service despite the low occupancy level in January. We're willing to consider that they're running a skinny staff roster because it's January and maybe their big hitters are on a vacation during the quiet period but at times, the failings in service was unacceptable not only at this price point but in a broader sense for any hotel.
During breakfast service for example, when the waiter approached our table after ten minutes of being seated, we sought to order a pot of tea and Eggs Benedict. We were then told that he couldn't take our order because there were tables in front of us yet to order. In context, there were six other tables of two in a restaurant that seats over 50. Whatley Manor has three AA Rosettes, can they really not handle 14 people at breakfast? 45 minutes after sitting down for breakfast, our Eggs Benedict finally arrived; we assume they were having an off day though at least we got ours in the end, one other table was delivered the wrong order (which they declined) and were still sitting empty as we got up to leave.
There were other things too, the night before, Mrs CC nearly ended up wearing her Martini following a fumble by the waiter while after dinner, on returning to the drawing room for whiskies, after 10-15 minutes had passed, we ended up having to try to find a member of staff to place a drinks order. On a different day and night, things I'm sure would normally be very different.
The alternative main was squab pigeon poached and roasted, served with coffee and sherry gel, roasted foie gras and young turnips. It is true of this dish as it is with the venison above that what's on the plate is technically well done but we would ask in both cases what brings the plate together to make it more than the sum of the parts? Why does it work as a plate rather than just well cooked ingredients? Did roasted foie gras really raise the calibre of the dish or was this merely another excuse to use a luxury ingredient? The roasted foie gras tasted excellent but, in tasting so good, it put the ballotine to shame while making the earlier course simultaneously redundant. We're left thinking that not only does the plate not come together in harmony but nor does the menu as a whole.
At the food level, there was, sadly, an even bigger gap. Having sampled not only Whatley Manor's offering but both Le Manoir's and Le Champignon Sauvage's also, all within the space of a few days, we were in no doubt about the pecking order. Not only that, but one Michelin star venues like Martin Wishart and Apsleys offered us significantly more fantastic meals over the past 12 months. Clearly, Michelin see things differently and we know others who have been cheerleaders for the food at Whatley Manor but for us, on this particular night, it failed to excite.
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Related links: Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Related links: Le Champignon Sauvage