Forget fish & chips on Brighton Pier and tarts in Bakewell. Here, we bring you some of Britain's best restaurants, where the produce is local and the wine lists are fit for city dwellers.
Three Horseshoes Inn, High Wycombe
The Chilterns are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is all well and good: one must do something between lunch and dinner, after all. The Three Horseshoes isn’t bad-looking itself: an 18th-century red-brick building with six comfy attic rooms, a titchy front bar serving real ale, and a restaurant good enough, in gastronomic and economic terms, to have won the place a Bib Gourmand from those finicky Michelin types. Puddings in particular are beauteous enough to offer a serious challenge to the landscape.
This gorgeous Cornish cottage, with its acres of grounds and salmon stream, was apparently mentioned in the Domesday Book, but it’s moved on considerably since then: the current building is 17th century, and no restaurant with rooms survives this close to Padstow (or Padstein, as those unfavourably disposed to Rick Stein call it) if the food is still at the mead and trencher stage of evolution. There’s an open fire and an ambitious menu featuring Cornish boar and lots of fish.
Famous winemakers on lightning tours of Britain often hold events at Calcot Manor, a gracious Cotswolds manor house. There are two restaurants, both very good but pitched differently: the Gumstool is gastropub-style, the elegant glass-roofed Conservatory more ambitious. There are 35 exquisite bedrooms and a spa and pool to work off the unavoidable gastronomic excesses, and foodie parents will be particularly happy as Calcot is famously child-friendly.
Gerard Basset is one of the best sommeliers this side of the Channel (yes, OK, he’s French, but we own him now). He co-founded the Hotel du Vin chain but has since downsized to this gorgeous boutique hotel near Southampton, where each of 11 bedrooms boasts that vital foodie accoutrement, an espresso machine. The restaurant’s wine list is all you’d expect from a Master of Wine with an international reputation to uphold, and the food does it justice. You’re well placed to explore the New Forest outside the front door… but you may not make it outside the front door.
Fawsley Hall is steeped in history. A former royal manor, it dates to the 15th century and boasts royal connections. Inside, muted tones, luxurious armchairs, grand staircases and the wood-panelled Great Hall contribute to an air of sophisticated decadence. Chef Nigel Godwin’s Modern British restaurant, Equilibrium, proves you don’t have to go to Barcelona (or Bray) to indulge in the multisensory delights of designer cuisine. Between starters of Cornish crab with avocado mousse or rich slow-cooked pork and mains of local partridge and lamb noisettes come palate-cleansing buccal bombs of fresh mint and camomile frozen in liquid nitrogen, and aromatic wafts of delicate parfait. A wine list that would grace the finest city restaurant is taken for granted, as is an artisan cheese board that contains the very best from the UK.
Once the home of Admiral Lord Howe, Nelson’s ‘great master in tactics and bravery’ (although the present hall postdates him, thanks to a 19th-century fire), Langar is a 12-bedroom country house at the end of a lime-tree avenue in the Vale of Belvoir. Imogen Skirving is the current incumbent (her family has been here since 1860, although letting the hoi polloi in was her idea) and she oversees a kitchen full of locally sourced produce – always a good move when the ancestral home is in stilton country.
Raymond Blanc may be a quintessential Frenchman, complete with culinary skills and comedy accent, but his gaff is a gorgeous Oxfordshire manor house with 32 individualised bedrooms and a garden that provides a remarkable amount of the ingredients that end up on your plate in the superb, Michelin-starred glass-walled dining room. Oh, and the wine cellar is fit for a Frenchman too. Not cheap by any means, but a good bet for a special celebration.
One of Britain’s finest restaurants with rooms, Fairy Hill, at the Swansea end of the Gower, is sublime in all its details. The 18th-century house is understated but grand, with 24 acres of parkland. But the restaurant, cheffed by James Hamilton, is the main draw. Andrew Hetherington, front-of-house, and his partner Paul Davies, who have run the place since 1993, pride themselves on using local produce; the Gower peninsula is a wonderful source for foodstuffs, from sea bass and cockles to salt marsh lamb and Welsh Black beef. From neighbouring Carmarthenshire come delicious cheeses. The wine list competes with any in London.
It takes some doing to make a name for yourself when your restaurant is as far north as you can get before falling into the Atlantic, but Eddie and Shirley Spear have managed it. Their little restaurant on the edge of Skye (pretty much everything in Skye is on the edge, but this is a particularly scenic section) is tucked into three tiny stone-lined rooms of a former crofters’ cottage. The food is fresh, inventive and as local as possible. The Spears have turned the cottage next door into a luxurious B&B (the House Over-By) for those who can’t stagger any further after dinner, but be warned: it has only six rooms, and they’re deservedly popular. Three Chimneys(01470 511258, www.threechimneys.co.uk).
The Pheasant at Harome
The Harome blacksmith wouldn’t recognise his smithy now: 14 rooms, of which two are suites, an indoor heated pool and a lovely restaurant, all run by the same people – Andrew and Jacquie Pern – who own the Michelin-starred Star Inn down the road, plus a couple of local delis. Despite the pool and the village prettiness, the Pheasant (which reopened in 2009) is cheaper than its big sister – and naturally the staff can still book you dinner at the posher venue – assuming there’s availability, of course.