Bybrook Restaurant

24 Mar

Last month Mark bought a set of Le Creuset pans off eBay, however in his giddy stupor he pressed ‘Bid’ before he saw that they had to be collected in Chippenham. Not to let this get in the way he decided to make a mini-break of it, and even better than that a surprise mini-break for me! B&B booked as well as a table at Bybrook Restaurant.

Bybrook Restaurant is situated in Castle Combe at Manor House, a rather grand and imposing hotel. Up the long and winding driveway, the lights from the hotel glimmering through the trees, I was sure I had seen this place before in every single period film ever made. After extensive googling it appears this is not so, but it was once host to the cast of Stardust. We waited outside the entrance for a moment to see if a valet would appear as a sign indicated one would, but we drove off to the car park in a matter of seconds as I didn’t think I could deal with the embarrassment. Mark’s Nissan Micra looked right in place parked between a Mercedes and a Porsche.

As we entered the hotel we were greeted by a gentleman who Mark later described as a ‘horrid little man’, so that will be his name henceforth. He was rather surprised to see us, especially when Mark explained they had a table booked for us at 8.15pm. With his lips formed in what one may call a smirk, he informed us that it was now 8.30pm. ‘Errr, I don’t think so…’ was Mark’s quick reply, and a pleasant-looking man behind the desk muttered ‘It is actually 8.20.’ The horrid little man turned red, his eyebrow raised and his smirk dropped into a grimace. ‘Please, follow me… Sir’ he said, leading us toward the dining room.

‘Hello, this gentleman apparently has a booking with us at 8.15’ said the horrid little man, pointedly looking at his watch. The hostess scanned her books and looked at us with a fairly unconvincing smile. ‘Um, er, was that for two?’ she asked, leading us into the restaurant to a spare table. As soon as we were seated we witnessed a mexican wave of information pass from waiter to waiter that an unexpected couple were now seated by that window over there and need some service. The horrid little man was a catalyst of hostility as every member of staff who passed him peering through the doors at us seemed to take on his unfavourable demeanor. ‘I think it would appear that they have lost our booking…’ I murmured through what I hoped was a charming and innocent grin as a pathetic attempt to appease the enemy. I suddenly felt out-of-place and for the very first time in my gastronomic history I felt inadequate in my Gap sale dress and my cheap Topshop shoes.

We decided to go for the ‘Menu Prestige’ aka the tasting menu and as an additional bit of extravagance I asked for the wine pairing. It was probably my subconscious telling me that the staff would like us the more we were happy to spend. We were given some arancini and parmesan sticks to nibble on while we waited for our seven courses to arrive. The parmesan sticks were a bit nicer than your bog standard cheese stick, but the arancini were lovely and piping hot.

The  Menu Prestige started with an amuse bouche in the form of a mushroom veloute. Call me greedy but I get a bit irritated when a menu lists the amuse bouche and pre-dessert as a proper course. I like to see them as surprise freebies to whet the appetite, something to make me feel that even though I am wearing a Gap sale dress and cheap Topshop shoes I am still deserving of a little bit extra. Irritation aside, the veloute was very smooth and hot, but I was more than ready for the real deal.

The first proper course was scallops with cauliflower puree and agro dolce dressing. It was subtle in flavour in that there wasn’t much at all, but I was hungry and it was pretty so my eyes were well fed. However, it did seem to be a good luck dish as the waiter who brought it along with (almost) every other dish of the night was polite and smiley and just oozed an aura of good will. Bye bye passive aggressive service! Even greater was the sommelier – attractive, enthusiastic, funny, wonderful to listen to – this guy could do no wrong. I couldn’t help but watch him all night as he read the mood of each table perfectly, it seemed only with us it was apt to describe a particular glass of wine as smelling so much of ribena. Very apt indeed, that was exactly what I could smell.

Torchon of duck liver, fig and port reduction and gingerbread followed. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, though it was probably the sweetest savoury course I have ever had. And I also struggled to find any gingerbread on the plate though this was probably a good thing. I loved the wine with this course (Gewürztraminer Signature, René Muré, Alsace, France 2008) which was also quite sweet. Apparently this particular wine has a Marmite effect on everyone who tries it, luckily I loved it.

Next up was pan fried fillet of Cornish turbot, cèpe, celeriac and pancetta fricassee. For some reason Mark gets very excited by turbot, but I think this is an aspirational thing. The fascination all started with the realisation that he had never tried turbot as it rarely appears on a lunch menu. He tried it for the first time at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant last September and enjoyed it, however he found it hard to distinguish it from any other white fish. Never the less, his excitement was still high and it did keep up to expectations. Cooked to perfection and all accompaniments were delicious, even the celeriac which I generally don’t like as a rule.

Herb crusted cannon of lamb and confit belly, tomato and rosemary terrine, shallot puree, roast salsify and rosemary jus was our savoury finale. Lamb so tender it only needed a gentle nudge of a knife to be cut into mouthsize pieces. I really liked the tomato and rosemary terrine, it sliced through the richness of the meat and flavourful jus. A bit of finger swiping went on where my knife and fork couldn’t reach. I tried with the bread but it was undercooked and not particularly pleasant. I usually go mad with the bread basket – I can’t say no to free food – but I found it easy to restrain myself on this occasion.

Waving goodbye to the savoury courses, I can’t say I was looking forward to the desserts. There was a mystery pre-dessert (too small to be excited by) and then a chocolate fondant. Chocolate fondants just seem to pop up everywhere, so much so that for me it has turned a dessert that was once seen as special to something so ordinary. All this fuss about if the centre will be gooey enough – Bybrook has a Michelin star, I am sure it will.

Our pre-desserts were brought to us not by our charming waiter but by one of the horrid little man’s minions.

‘Here we have your pre-dessert – a rhubarb and orange jelly with…’

‘Yes! I love rhubarb!’ Mark interrupted, grinning from ear to ear. Well that went down like a tonne of bricks. There was a weighted silence as she glared at him, a smile that said ‘I hate you’ playing across her lips. The colour drained from Mark’s face. ‘As I was saying…’ she continued, ‘a rhubarb and orange jelly topped with vanilla cream and orange granita.’ We ate our pre-desserts in silence.

Warm Valrhona chocolate fondant, rum ice cream and chestnut puree now, blah blah blah. I half-heartedly brought my spoon to my mouth, but as soon as I tasted it I knew I was in for something good. It was so perfectly balanced in bitterness and sweetness as well as texture. I may even go so far as to say it is the best dessert I have ever eaten. It was just bitter enough to stop it from being too sweet. It was genius.

I was on a chocolate fondant high for the next half an hour which was improved somewhat by the test tubes filled with tea leaves given us to help us choose our hot drink to relax with in the lounge.

I noticed that everybody else just stared at theirs which seemed pretty pointless to me so I sniffed away but I didn’t choose anything too exciting in the end, just a pot of jasmine pearls. While we drank our tea we made friends with an incredibly drunk woman called Pauline and her more sober friend. It was Pauline’s birthday so they were celebrating with a stay at the hotel, good food and lots of alcohol. The horrid little man and his minions treated them with contempt, but Pauline et al didn’t seem to bat an eyelid. They confided in us that they found the staff to be snooty and arrogant, but what can you do.

We chatted with Pauline until our eyes began to droop and we were sorry to leave her. Pauline had no intention of going to bed, just to continue drinking and good for her! She wouldn’t let the horrid little men of the world get her down, so why should we? Just before we left we filled out a quick customer service form; we were sure to mention the wonderful service from the sommelier, but we added a little note about how they should consider organising a friendlier reception.

Bybrook Restaurant
Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe, Bath, Wiltshire, SN14 7HR

2 Responses to “Bybrook Restaurant”

  1. Mark Bixter March 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm #



  1. The Hand & Flowers « Naomi is hungry - April 18, 2011

    […] Levels. I don’t know why but that made me love her a little more, probably because some like Bybrook’s nasty little man could learn a thing or twenty from her and no doubt his experience by far exceeds […]

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