Restaurants worth a journey
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.
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 (£50) or nine-course tasting menu (£110 or £185 with paired wines), you can expect bold flavours, fine presentation and exemplary service.
Restaurant Coworth Park, Blacknest Road, Ascot
Appearances can be deceptive: from the street, Gilbey’s looks a lot like another of the quaint little cafes that line Eton’s streets, but the narrow frontage conceals a restaurant that has expanded in response to its success. Even so, an air of intimacy persists.
Dining areas are separated into a warren of separate rooms, each of which feels self-contained, and friendly serving staff project a spirit of family warmth.
The menu is similarly well pitched, blending bistro classics (steak, peppercorn sauce and hand-cut chips, £30) with a modern British sensibility (sea trout, caper-buttered samphire, broad beans, baby artichokes and new potatoes, £24). An expansive, though not expensive, wine list focuses on France, and supplies engaging, unpretentious descriptions of each bottle.
If you plan to make an evening of it you can retire upstairs to one of four double rooms (from £150), all charmingly furnished. A continental breakfast is served downstairs in the bar, from where you watch the town come to life over coffee and a croissant.
Gilbey’s, 82-83 High Street, Eton
Sitting on the edge of the village of Cuckfield, in West Sussex, Ockenden Manor is surrounded by rolling fields and woods - as well as several vineyards, which contribute to its prodigious wine list. It has a tasting menu to match (£90), which extends to eight courses, supplemented by a few extra little treats, and wines to go with each (an additional £60).
While the hotel retains the feel of an English country house - a pre-dinner glass of Sussex sparkling wine is served at fireside armchairs - the menu is a contemporary take on a selection of bistro classics. A sorbet of calamansi limes - a mandarin-like citrus fruit from south-east Asia - follows beef from Trenchmore farm, just a few miles away.
Both the service and cooking are confident and accomplished, all the way through to a dangerously generous slice of spiced apple fritter.
The lunch menu (two courses for £22.50, three for £29.50) provides a lighter introduction to the Ockenden way, featuring an ever-changing roster of fish, meat and vegetables from Sussex and its coast. Click here for The Week Portfolio's full review.
Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield, West Sussex
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 range from a three-course lunch for £48 to a Sunday brunch for £55 and seven-course tasting menu for £95, all 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.
Gravetye Manor, Vowels Lane, East Grinstead