Restaurants worth a journey
Where to go when you need a really good meal - and somewhere to sleep it off
When the Michelin brothers started their restaurant guide in the 1930s, they reserved the three-star award for exceptional restaurants “worth a special journey”.
Today, anywhere with a Michelin star is expected to justify a bit of legwork - and many restaurants which haven’t yet attracted the inspectors’ attention are equally worthy of an excursion.
Here’s a selection of our favourites. All of them provide accommodation, in case the return journey doesn’t appeal.
During the coronavirus lockdown, luxury hotel alliance Relais & Chateau encouraged would-be travellers to content themselves with dreams of “delicious journeys” to savour once travel restrictions were lifted. Now the time has come to make more serious plans. While many hotels in the worldwide R&C portfolio might still be out of reach, Cliveden offers excellent dining in a spectacular setting in Buckinghamshire.
The house is worth a journey in itself. Famous (or notorious) as the backdrop to the Astor Set in the 1920s and, four decades later, the Profumo affair, it is a grand Italianate country house in rolling parkland beside the River Thames. A long gravel drive raises expectations, which are more than met by the oak-panelled entrance hall, antique staircases and high-ceilinged guest rooms.
The restaurant of choice is the Cliveden Dining Room, a formal setting for a menu that mixes tradition (roasted wood pigeon, £22, or twice-baked cheese souffle, £17) with a more modern sensibility. Roasted cod loin with crab lasagne, fennel and apple (£36) is a prime example - though a dish of substance, it has none of the heft or stodge you might expect from from a kitchen that often fuelled Winston Churchill. For those with prime ministerial appetites, a seven-course tasting menu - either carnivorous, vegetarian or vegan - is available for £97.50 per head.
On the fringe of Snowdonia national park, getting to Ynishir will involve a significant journey for most of the UK population. Fortunately, the food - and the whole experience of the meal - justifies the trip (and the investment: dinner and a room starts at £320).
The dining room is on an intimate, almost domestic scale, but open to a high-tech kitchen, from which emerges a cavalcade of wonderful things. Chef-patron Gareth Ward has constructed a menu in which small triumphs follow one after the other, all pared back to an elemental purity.
On a pre-pandemic visit, the highlight was salt wagyu rib, a mouthful of perfection that was crisp on the outside and unguent within, like a chocolate truffle. A lamb rib got the same fire-and-water treatment, with similarly spectacular results. Raw mackerel, soft and fresh, was fortified with a sesame and soy dressing and braced with crisp bean sprouts. And an obscenely soft duck-liver pate is enriched yet further by rehydrated sultanas, bursting with sweet-sherry intensity - and balanced by a hint of sour acidity from a splash of verjus.
Built at the end of the 16th century, Gravetye Manor is a glorious example of an English manor house and gardens. The latter, extending to more than 1,000 acres, were once looked after by the celebrated Victorian gardener William Robinson, who pioneered a natural, informal style that has been rediscovered in recent years.
The present owners have revived both the 17-bedroom hotel and the kitchen garden, which supplies 60% of the fresh fruit and vegetables used in its Michelin-starred restaurant. Set menus include a three-course lunch (£60) and a four-course dinner (£95), both of which marry fresh garden produce with high-quality meat and fish from local suppliers.
Loin of south coast haddock is a case in point, served with lettuce, courgette, beans and a gin caviar beurre blanc. The presentation, like the manor itself, is supremely elegant.
Restaurant Coworth Park
Sitting in between Wentworth, Ascot and Windsor Great Park, Coworth Park is a grand country hotel from the Dorchester Collection. Built in 1776, it underwent a full renovation in 2010 to bring it up to international five-star standards. If the architecture is imposing, the surrounding landscape - a gently rolling patchwork of forest, parkland and wildflower meadow - has a softening influence.
The Michelin-starred Restaurant Coworth Park is at the formal end of the spectrum, with high ceilings and white tablecloths. It is comfortable, too, though: soft leather chairs and a deep carpet instill a serene atmosphere. Their autumnal tones are reflected in a huge chandelier, crafted from copper oak leaves, which is at once elegant and modern.
The same might be said for the food. Even the steak tartare is a thing of beauty, concealed beneath a carapace of sliced mushrooms, precisely laid, like chestnut roof tiles. Puddings, too, range from the comfortable (a rich sticky toffee pudding) to the artistic (a crisply squared-off sandwich of shortbread, raspberry coulis and mascarpone, with a vivid raspberry sorbet).
Whether you opt for the three-course Sunday lunch (£65) or four-course dinner (£90), you can expect bold flavours, fine presentation and exemplary service.