A Three Course Amuse Bouche

A review of Gravetye Manor, East Sussex
http://www.gravetyemanor.co.uk

I’m figuring that my weekend away in East Sussex counts as a Blackheath blog review. This is because I live in Blackheath and I want to go on weekends away that are an adequately short drive away from Blackheath, and I’m figuring that my Blackheath and Greenwich readers do too.

Gravetye Manor gave us a very warm welcome, potentially because the hotel was quiet, us arriving 10 minutes before the allowed check in time, although throughout our visit all reception/waiting/cleaning staff offered a cheery hello! We were led through perfumed hallways with woodsmoke and Corot-like oil paintings to our room, which was impressive. Much care and attention had been give to the decor of our standard room, a key feature apparently being textures. Bose speakers and a Nespresso machine were nice touches, along with a mini bar of complementary juices, and cantuccini.

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We’d planned a late lunch by one of the open fires but the sun was actually out (despite the time of year) and we wanted to take a look at The Manor’s advertised gardens in the short period of daytime left. The gardens were beautifully cultivated, taking advantage of differing ground levels and took a good hour of exploration including a sitting on garden benches in the autumn sun overlooking a neat but completely unused croquet lawn.

There is a strong slant on garden food in the hotel’s promotional material and we are pretty sure that our eggs and vegetables were sourced from the walled garden, although there were very few vegetables with any of the meals…

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On return to the hotel, lunch from the garden menu was disappointing. We’d aimed to eat very light (in preparation for the evenings meal ahead), and so ordered eggs and smoked salmon, which basically arrived as a soft boiled egg without salt or pepper and a loaf of salmon. This was a little bit of a let down despite being a fan of eggs and there was so much salmon and yet so little flavour (or veg).

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The cheese as ordered by my husband however was delicious. The size of the portions will take about a year on the cross trainer to remove from my body. And while we had the cheese names listed to us by an eager waiter, it was a bit ‘in one ear and out the other’ as our mouths watered. This was a pity as there was an exceptionally subtle blue cheese and great goats cheese that I will never be able to name for you. We were slightly tricked (haha) into a lunch time wine. I ‘d been holding out for dinner, but was told that their English red wine was light. Why I thought this changed anything about dinner, I don’t know, but It was offered an excuse and I ran with it. Actually it was fabulous. Light and grown up.

There was a bizarre cramped feeling in the living room where we ate lunch, with the main door opening straight onto the only sitting room with an open fire. This was bemusing given there clearly was much more space somewhere in the hotel.

The dinner menu was fantastic.
This is the first three course amuse bouche I have ever eaten:

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However I preferred, the cauliflower and truffle velouté. Very truffley.

Scallops with fennel and vinegar sounded like an unattractively astringent
combination, but arrived very traditionally tasting (and perfectly cooked). Exactly what I ate for mains is a little bit up for debate because it was venison cooked in the way that the hare would have been if they had not run out of hare. With the exception of a small pastry slice (‘the chicory tart’ I assume) which bought an unwanted extra oiliness to the dish, the meal was excellent. The slices of venison being beautifully cooked and tender, and whatever constituted the meat ball delicately spiced.

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As with all restaurants the waiters offered still or sparkling water. But if you paused, they would then add, or there is the local spring water. The mark up on still and sparkling water was so great that they were hiding their own local speciality. This was beneath them, I think.

We especially asked if we should order side orders, because if the dishes came with enough sides, we might not be able to eat dessert. Terrible! It was advised for my husband’s Brill so we ordered dauphinoise which the waiter said would easily share between 2 dishes. Check out the pretty tiny saucepan in the picture. That’s what was to be shared between two. Fortunately, this wasn’t especially necessary because here meals were perfectly balanced.

The dessert of hazelnut creme brûlée, chestnut canele, walnut crumble and dark chocolate was good, but a little samey by the end which is odd given the effort for diverse flavours.

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We went for coffee and petit fours by the fire. This was the meanest selection of petit fours I have ever seen.

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So, back to the room. The water pressure and shower were great and there was a heated floor. Woohoo at for heated floors. These should be in planning instructions for the building of everything, even carparks. (Maybe not tube stations).

But hanging a newspaper in a pretty straw sack on the door handle might look sophisticated, but it does wake you up at 6am and what I never ever want at a weekend away is to be woken up at 6am.

Breakfast service lacked a little panache with dirty plates left unremoved, and bizarrely undercooked poached eggs (Gravetye does not honour eggs. I suppose no one is perfect), however it did retain its charm. One area for improvement is the communication of how the breakfast menu works. I am acquainted with the free for all buffet, or the free for all a la carte (yes really) or the choice between continental versus full English options. Here everything was listed out with out any clear guidance on what choice fitted their expectations. This was a pity, as you might have chosen fruit and yogurt, but it turned out that fruit and yogurt were both starters, and you could only chose one. The cooked breakfast was considered the main course which sounded intimidatingly heavy, but was in fact presented with the same elegance as dinner and in similar petite portions. A nice twist was the lambs liver. And frankly, after that, we just asked for a mini pain or raisin and a pot of coffee, which was delivered without a second glance.

Staff, even cleaners, make the effort to be friendly, unlike some hotels we have been to where reception is shall we say point-scoring? Attention to detail and quality is mostly very high. No one ever asked for our room or our name. Or maybe we had been marked down as troublesome customers once we had ordered the spring water.

Car journey from Blackheath: 1.5hours
Room Rates: £250-325 for standard room
Nearby attraction: the Bluebell Railway (that is steam trains!)
http://www.bluebell-railway.com
The Horsted Keynes station is preserved as it may have looked in Victorian age,with the exception of the credit card machine. Unfortunately trains are not too frequent but a bit of an explore will find you a roaring open fire in the waiting room. In the cafe you can buy a sausage roll or a hot chocolate, AND PREPACKED FLAPJACK. I think I have made my thoughts clear. We took the railway to East Grinstead where we found an equal dearth of coffee shops, but did buy Lyonaise sausage from the local marketers recently recommended by hairy bikers. Which was odd. Has anyone else tried this?

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