Dinner, bed and breakfast at a luxury country hotel and kids on sleepovers – fantastic! As soon as offspring and dog were despatched, we headed off to Nunsmere Hall Hotel with a guilty sense of freedom and anticipation of an evening of fine food and wine.
This was likely to be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, having promised to take a few photographs of the food, as it was a rather special event – a Made in Cheshire evening with all the food sourced from within the county, even including staple ingredients such as flour and salt. As people gathered in the bar and on the terrace in the warm evening sunshine, they were offered a champagne flute of locally made, chilled cider. I, in the meantime, was nipping in and out of the kitchen photographing Chef for the evening, Mark Fletcher, putting the finishing touches to the canapés of scotch quails eggs and welsh toast. I did find time to sample both the cider and canapés and was very pleasantly surprised by just how refreshing and enjoyable cider can be, as an alternative to the more traditional champagne.
I had spent some time chatting with Mark, usually the Sous Chef at Nunsmere, but very much in charge of the Made in Cheshire evening, and he had told me with some pride how he had personally sourced all of the ingredients from suppliers within a thirty mile radius of Nunsmere Hall. He came into the bar to welcome the diners and to talk enthusiastically and humorously about the menu, despite being much more comfortable behind the scenes in the busy, hot kitchen. I don’t envy anyone working in such a heated and pressured environment – it would be my idea of hell – but the kitchen staff seem to thrive on it. Behind the swing doors it was noisy with the banging and clattering of pans, instructions were shouted across the kitchen, there were people rushing about and all seemed rather chaotic to me. But then as a course was plated up and Chef shouted “service!” suddenly all fell into place, waiters and waitresses appeared as if by magic and calmly ferried the dishes out to the dining room. Mark took a gulp of tea from his West Ham mug (I promised to fit in a mention!) and then moved onto preparing the next course.
Out in the restaurant everyone was enjoying the gazpacho with a selection of breads made from locally milled flour. This was followed by a visually stunning goat’s cheese and beetroot dish, which brought out the geek in my husband: “it’s a cone bisected by a plane, which would create an ellipse if sliced across...”. Personally I just thought it looked amazing and tasted divine! Each course was accompanied by a different wine and we had a lively conversation about how hard it is to find wine that tastes as good as those in a restaurant. I think we were underestimating the skill required to match wine with food and then serve it at the right temperature in the correct glass. The goat’s cheese was followed by trout caught locally.
By now my fellow diners and long suffering husband were getting used to me dashing away from the table between courses – at least the presence of my camera reassured them that I hadn’t just got a very weak bladder! In the kitchen the medallions of beef were being plated up and Mark’s two young sous chefs for the evening were carefully adding the vegetables. The attention to detail in the presentation of food never fails to amaze me – as an artist bends in concentration, nose almost touching the canvas, so a chef leans over each dish, carefully positioning each item and then adding jus or sauce with a flourish like a signature. The end result looked almost too good to eat, but you could soon hear the scraping of cutlery on empty plates and the rise in chatter that signals the end of a course. We were enjoying the company of the people around us, the majority being strangers to us beforehand. The couple next to us explained that they had bid for the Made in Cheshire Evening (plus bed and breakfast) at a charity auction, with Steven, at the time, under the illusion he was bidding for a balloon ride and egging on his partner, Jane, to bid increasingly higher!
As we enjoyed a short break before dessert, we could see a figure with a torch roaming around the edges of the garden and eventually setting up a white sheet and bright lamp on the lawn. This turned out to be Fungal Punk, a familiar figure at Nunsmere Hall, preparing for a late night moth hunt. I don’t know about anyone else, but in my experience a restaurant dinner has never been followed by a midnight search for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies to you and me), but more on that in a moment! Dessert was a fruit salad served with locally made elderflower ice cream , followed by a fantastic selection of Cheshire cheeses. I could have grazed on the cheese and sipped port until bedtime but the moths were gathering outside to put on a show for us. Actually it turned out to be a little too late and a little too bright (almost full moon) for them and they had to be enticed out with a mixture of wine and treacle daubed on tree trunks. We must have made a strange sight weaving our slightly tipsy way through the tree line along the edges of the lawn, stopping to peer at moths and spiders in the light of Fungal Punk’s torch (the only torch (!) and we lost a few diners along the way!).
Back to the bar, laughing about our midnight walk and a quick brandy before bed. This was a delicious, fun, and very entertaining evening and nothing like hard work for me.
By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!