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10 Restaurants with Rooms in the UK (Part 5)

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The Crown at whitebrook – Monmouthshire Wales

This seasoned performer has been offering food and accommodation in a pretty, 17th-century cottage since 1971. The secret to its longevity seems to be a combination of location – its Wye Valley setting is both idyllic and easily accessible – and wonderful food. Chef James Sommerin’s insprised, Michelin-starred cuisine is as soul-stirring as the choral soundtrack that greets you in reception.

Description: The Crown at whitebrook – Monmouthshire Wales

The Crown at whitebrook – Monmouthshire Wales

The décor here is country-comfortable, and the public spaces have all the leather furnishings, low ceilings and oak beams you’d expect in such a rustic setting. My room, “Dylan”, is something of a shrine to Wales’s favourite poet, and he stares down at me from the wall as I flick through his life’s work from the bedside bookshelf. Design-wise the room is a little bland, but I find it cosy and charming; and the huge bathroom feels as decadent as a night out with Thomas himself.

Description: The all round kings of great Welsh food, the Crown at Whitebrook

 The all round kings of great Welsh food, the Crown at Whitebrook

The restaurant goes for a more modern look, but other than some original art, there’s nothing to get too excited about. That’s where Sommerin comes in. From the amuse-bouche of creamed langoustine on a bed of ham hock and starter of crispy chicken pieces on a mushroom reviolo, it’s clear he is unafraid of using techniques to coax the best from earthy British flavours. My main course of quail with black pudding and red wine is stunning; I particularly love the deliciously light false “legs” Sommerin creates by deep-frying balls of minced quail and inserting a sliver of bone into them.

Description: Seared scallop at the Michelin starred The Crown at Whitebrook

Seared scallop at the Michelin starred The Crown at Whitebrook

By the time dessert comes around – a walnut-and-banana soufflé with condensed-milk ice cream – I feel as though my tastebuds have been taken into areas previously unvisited. I’m also very full. Thank goodness Dylan is just a stair-climb away.

Whitebrook, Monmouthshire (01600 860254; www.crownatwhitebrook.co.uk). Doubles from $215 B&B. Three-course dinner menu $85 per person.

Mr Underhill’s – Ludlow, Shropshire

Description: Mr Underhill’s – Ludlow, Shropshire

Mr Underhill’s – Ludlow, Shropshire

There’s something of the school dining-hall about Mr Underhill’s. Guests are required to take their places for dinner between 7.15pm and 8pm, and are served the same dishes from the nine-course Market Menu (although it can be adjusted to suit guests’ dietary requirements). The similarity with school dinners ends there, though, Chef-proprietor Chris Bradley has earned his restaurant a Michelin star for the culinary journeys on which he takes guests, and his inspired creations – which, on the evening I visit, include a filo cone of raw salmon and beetroot, a pot of crème caramel-like duck-liver custard, and a piece of lemon sole topped with a chorizo crust – are as delicious as they are showy.

“The Market Menu was born out of necessity,” Bradley tells me. “When we first began, we didn’t have the supplier network we do now. Being so far from London, the only way we could get what we wanted was to buy in bulk. For that to work, I had to be sure everything would be used.”

Description: udlow food Festival recipe: Mr Underhill's Festival apples

Ludlow food Festival recipe: Mr Underhill's Festival apples

While Mr Underhill’s is undoubtedly a favourite of residents of this genteel borders town, its four luxury suites – including two new spa bedrooms with pool baths and steam rooms – mean it also attracts many visitors from afar. Though the food is obviously the biggest draw – “Our guests know they’re guaranteed a fabulous meal at about a quarter of the price of Le Manoir,” says Bradley – the location of Mr Underhill’s is not to be sniffed at either. Situated on a weir beneath Ludlow Castle, overlooking the ducks and water-babble of the River Teme, it is a gorgeous spot by day. And at night, when candles are lit in the terraced courtyard garden and fairylights illuminate the sculptures dotted between arbours and ironwork tables, the whole place feels utterly magical.

Dinham Weir, Ludlow, Shropshire (01584 874431; www.mr-underhills.co.uk). Doubles from $330 B&B. Market Menu $93-$100

Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham

Description: Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham

 There’s a lot to get over before you can appreciate Restaurant Sat Bains. Firstly, there’s the location. Turn off the A52, drive under a flyover and pylons, and you find yourself at the gates of a low-level, red-brick complex. The backdrop of traffic rumbling along one of the Midlands’ busiest thoroughfares adds little to the scene, and it doesn’t help that this restaurant with rooms resembles a motorway service station.

“The majority of gastronomic restaurants have beautiful locations, sweeping countryside, sea views, that sort of thing,” says chef-proprietor Sat Bains. “We don’t, and that’s what I wanted. The juxtaposition of the location and what you get on your plate is unique, I think”

Description: Restaurant Sat Bains

Restaurant Sat Bains

Then there are the rooms. Arranged around a central courtyard/car park, they’re OK in a functional, budget-hotel sort of way. Some effort has been made to give them boutique-style gloss – my bed has a ceiling-high purple velvet headboard and a metallic snakeskin blanket – but I find the décor and other furnishings uninspiring.

Where it does work, though, is in the Michelin-starred restaurant. Every one of my seven courses is stunning, a perfect complement of flavor and texture. Highlights include a tender piece of Loch Duart salmon in a robust oyster soup, and soft, pink medallions of mallard served with a cleverly deconstructed Waldorf salad. Every dish is confident and accomplished, and served with a real sense of fun. “I question everything,” says Bains. “Why do combinations work? What levels of acidity need to be added to offset fat? How much crunch needs to be introduced to give texture to cream? We research, research and research more.”

Description: Restaurant Sat Bains presents Beef Cheeks, Seaweed, Oyster

Restaurant Sat Bains presents Beef Cheeks, Seaweed, Oyster

Alsa, the package didn’t work for me. I felt it was a superb restaurant, with rooms tacked on. Forget sleeping here; get them to call you a taxi at the end of the meal.

Lenton Lane, Nottingham (0115 986 6566; www.restaurantsatbains.com). Doubles from $194 B&B. Dinner menu $115 for seven courses, $124 for nine.  

(Conde Nast Traveller UK 2012 06, pages 124 – 133 + 158)

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