Somerset Maugham once said; “If you want to eat well in England, you should have breakfast three times a day”. Then of course he hadn’t had dinner at the Manor House in Wiltshire...
It was a bright and sunny autumn day when my wife and I arrived at the Manor House. We drove down leafy lanes and into the quaint village of Castle Combe, which has to be one of the most beautiful in England. On a sunny day like this, the sandstone houses seem to soak up the sunlight and radiate a warm glow. Remove the cars and you get an idea as to how it may have been a hundred or more years ago. In fact there have been no new houses built in Castle Combe for hundreds of years, as it was decided that the valley was full and any new development should take place at Upper Castle Combe on top of the hill.
We turned into the drive that leads up to the Manor House Hotel, and what a wonderful sight to behold! The estate, all 26 acres, stretches out and around this grand building, with stately trees lining the drive. A small river cuts through the grounds and we have to cross a picturesque little bridge on the approach to the majestic looking building.
Quintessential Manor. Steeped in history, the building originally dates back to the 14th Century, although there was a castle built on the same site way back in the 12th Century. The Manor House was extended and added to by the Jacobeans in the 17th century to create what can only be called the quintessential English Manor; with a myriad of chimneys, mullioned windows and creeper covered walls.
Internally, the Manor House has more surprises in store. An 18th Century frieze found in the Shakespeare Room commemorates the Shakespearian character; Falstaff, who is believed to have been based on Sir John Fastolf who was lord of the Manor at that time. In the hall are some beautifully carved panels bearing the date of 1664.
The hotel is luxurious and intimate with a total of 48 rooms split between the Hotel and Mews Cottages, all individually designed with exposed beams, grand four poster beds and roll top baths, as well as state of the art facilities. One of the cottages, the Archway Cottage ,was once the gatehouse to the Manor and retains the original sitting room with huge fireplace and stone spiral staircase.
Spectacular golf. We are here on a culinary expedition, not to eat at the Michelin Starred Bybrook Restaurant at the hotel, but to sample the delights of the Club House food. But first we need to build an appetite! Well, it would be improper to eat in the club house without first playing a round, and this is something that Daniel Tuck, the Golf Operations manager is only too happy to arrange.
Nestling in 365 acres of stunning Cotswold parkland, this 18-hole, par 72 course is one of the most spectacular in the South of England
We head for the first hole, an excellent par-4. From the very tee off, you need your wits about you, it’s a shot over what could best be described as ramparts and your ball will need to carry if you are not to start your round in a ditch. The 2nd hole is a truly wonderful par-3 down into the Bybrook valley. Watch out for the Bybrook River in front of the green and also the bunkers to both the front and far right side. It’s a narrow shot so make sure your ball flies straight.
Watch the river. After playing our way through some wonderful holes, we arrive at the 8th. The tee is on the hill and again you are aiming back down into the valley below. If you attempt a shot close to the green on this par-4, watch out for the ever present Bybrook River on the left hand side.
On to the back nine and you will find yourself playing in from the opposite side of the valley. The 12th turned out to be my favourite of the whole course. A par-5 that seems to have everything. The hole doglegs across the valley, also crossing the river, a lake to the left and bunkers guarding the Green to the right.
The 17th hole is a surprise and will bring a smile to any golfers face. This one drops down 120 feet from the tee to two different and varied greens. The right being protected by the river, and the left by bunkers and again the river to the back. We decided to stay a while and watch the various golfers take on this formidable hole, some with great success, and others with disastrous results. A nine iron seemed to be the best choice and several golfers were rewarded by landing safely on the green.
The picturesque 18th takes us back to the Club House where we now can reward our rumbling stomachs.
A feast at the Clubhouse. We are warmly welcomed by Justyna Payne, the Food & Beverage Supervisor, and make our way to the sumptuous lounge area to order drinks and we collapse into comfortable chairs. Groups of golfers are relaxing and mulling over the events of the day and I am sure that the 17th hole is among the topics of conversation. We have used a buggy to get around the course today which I think was a good call, considering that we have traversed the Bybrook valley on several occasions, but I still feel that I deserve my pint of beer.
The menu at the Club House is not extensive, but simple and unpretentious with a focus on English traditional dishes. The selection of starters on offer include Devilled Kidneys and Welsh rarebit, my wife eventually settled for Prawn Avocado Cocktail while I chose the soup of the day. For main course she chose the pan roasted chicken, creamed potatoes with white wine and mushroom sauce. After my feats of endurance on the golf course, I went for the Lion’s share pan-fried Stokes Farm rump steak with chips, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes.
Other choices on the menu included Bangers & Mash, Duo of Water Rose Faggots, Cauliflower Bake with Somerset Cheddar and Bybrook Bubble & Squeak, all in all, a perfect fare for the hungry golfer.
Traditional fare. After finishing our drinks, Justyna guided us to the dining room where we seated ourselves in preparation of the feast to come. Unfortunately for me, I was the designated driver for our journey home, but no concerns for my wife who ordered a glass of white wine. Surely I deserved a drink and rest after playing so well?
My starter arrived, and turned out to be a very tasty home made Tomato Soup with freshly baked bread roll while my wife tucked into her Prawn Avocado. Well, I suppose white wine does go better with Avocado than Tomato Soup, but all the same.
The main course followed soon after, and I was not disappointed with my choice of Steak, it truly was a Lion’s share. Mouth watering Steak with chunky chips. My wife’s Chicken looked equally as good and I have to say that a part of me hoped that she would find it all too much and let me help her out to finish that off as well.
After the main course, we both felt quite full, but could not resist the tempting desserts on offer. I went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding and my wife chose the Old English Sherry Trifle. I have to say that I usually avoid desserts so as to watch my waif-like figure, but I really felt that all the energy that I had used up earlier needed to be replaced. We were not disappointed with our choices, and sitting there with distended stomachs and feeling much like snakes that have just eaten for the next month, we moved on to coffee.
The Bybrook Restaurant. The Club is a perfect place to eat after a round of golf, but if you’re looking for fine dining, there can be no better the excellent Michelin starred restaurant to be found at the Manor House Hotel, and indeed another equally good reason to visit this wonderful hotel & golf club.
The kitchen at the Bybrook Restaurant is run by Head Chef Richard Davies who has also worked at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Chelsea and The Vineyard at Stockcross. The reputation of both the Bybrook Restaurant and its head chef are well known to lovers of food far and wide. Starters as mouth-wateringly tempting as torchon of duck liver with fig and port reduction and gingerbread, or winter truffle risotto with chicken, oyster beignet and parsley puree are to be expected here.
The main courses are just as inviting, with among others, slow cooked loin of English Rose veal with braised red cabbage, jerusalem artichoke, veal sweetbreads and Madeira jus, or pan fried fillet of cornish John dory with crushed peas, sauté potato, langoustine and langoustine emulsion.
Desserts include baked apple terrine with apple doughnut and date ice cream, or warm Valrhona chocolate fondant with rum ice cream and chestnut puree.
Had we stayed over for even one night, then we would have sampled the wonderful food to be had here in the Bybrook restaurant, but alas home beckoned and now we have yet another reason to return to this enchanting Hotel and Golf Club.