Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire, DY10 4PY, Tel: 01562 777876
Don’t you hate being late for an appointment?
Self-indulgent types make a habit of it, as if it’s their “thing.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m ALWAYS late,” they say as they trundle in smirking, half an hour overdue, expecting to be cuddled like a favourite puppy.
The not very subliminal message here is clear: I am late because I am more important than you – and aren’t you so lucky that I turned up at all?
This sort of behaviour should not be tolerated. It’s rude, plain and simple. Have no truck with it.
So you can imagine my horror when I made the call to Brockencote Hall to say I would undoubtedly be late for my lunch reservation. In fact, I might be so late that I would miss lunch service entirely.
With five minutes to go until my allotted munch time, I found a significant wedge of Shropshire and Worcestershire between me and the restaurant. An interview had over-run. Now I have rusty map-reading skills and no sat-nav, so I’d probably get lost. I felt like a cad, an absolute cad, as I made the call to reception. I expected as much as I would give out myself: a bollocking.
“Don’t worry at all, sir,” said the chap on reception. “You should be fine. Give me a ring when you get nearer and I’ll direct you in.”
Thus it was that I careered up the sweeping drive of this Victorian pile in Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire, two minutes after lunch service officially stopped. (That’s 32 minutes after my reservation slot. Not that I’m obsessed with deadlines.)
“Am I too late for lunch?” I said like the errant son of a peer as I scrambled across the main hall.
“Not at all. This way, sir,” said the receptionist. To bollock is human; to forgive is divine.
Joseph and Alison Petitjean bought the then rather dilapidated Brockencote in 1985 and opened their hotel nine months later. It has been a fixture on the monied county set circuit ever since and attracts a loyal local following. There are plenty of well-turned-out ladies who lunch, wealthy retireds and the occasional huddle of industrialists who escape the smog of the Black Country to sup Chablis in the Brockencote parklands.
The restaurant staff, who appear to be 95 per cent Polish (“There is a corner of a Worcestershire field that is forever Kraków ...”) are brisk and efficient and don’t engage in mindless conversation. It may seem disconcerting to have a quintessential English country house experience delivered by eastern Europeans but I’m a fan.
I’m not such a fan of the decor and ambiance, which veers towards retirement home chic in the conservatory where drinks and after-dinner coffees are served. It’s a toughie for the management. The clientele seem happy enough but I’m not sure how the atmosphere chimes with an affluent younger age profile.
Piped music showcasing instrumental versions of Careless Whisper and Hey Jude are an aural version of water-boarding. The place and the food don’t need it.
There are no complaints about the view. I sit at a table overlooking dry meadows that fade out at a line of great old trees. Birds and the sort of things you see in the countryside buzz around occasionally. The view works wonders for the blood pressure.
The inevitable amuse bouche/chef’s appetiser/twiddle in a tiny cup arrives. I do wish chefs would stop doing this. It bores me. I’m not having a go at Brockencote’s head chef, James Day, because this “with the chef’s compliments” rigmarole has become, in the parlance of phone hacking, systemic. I just wish someone had the balls to say they’re not doing it any more. You’ve ordered three courses, here they are. Enough of the foam flannel. My bouche is no longer amused.
So today’s “pre-starter” was foam flannel, asparagus foam with lemon oil. At first, I thought the waiter had a problem with catarrh but then realised it was his Polish way of pronouncing “ahhgh-spara-gusss.” The veg whip was fine, but pointless.
There’s a good value table d’hote lunch menu, three courses for £22, which reads very well (Cornish mackerel, rabbit liver “faux gras” with piccalilli vegetable and fig brioche, Cornish lamb, fillet of grey mullet) but I plunge into the a la carte. The starters include staples such as scallops with chorizo and cauliflower puree and foie gras terrine with black cherries, but I went with an Anglofile concoction of poached duck egg, ham hock, Cumbrian ham and “pea a la Française”.
There was a homely savouriness to the dish and the hock was good. I’m not sure why the peas (there were several) were Française. I found them hard and not sweet.
My main was described as spiced Brixham monkfish tail, squid, baby fennel, lovage and lemon spaghetti, rocket bubbles. It sounds ideal for light lunch eating although I’ll never be a fan of anything described as bubbles (except bubble and squeak – I far prefer bath salts to bubble bath). It was a pretty plate of food, garnished with some of those herbs/flowers that are all the rage.
I sensed the inspiration of Glynn Purnell at play with the light curry-ing of the fish. It was nearly very good. Fish and pasta is one of the great combinations but the deftly chopped lemon needed something doing to it to take away the acidity. The fish was well cooked but needed more salt. If it sounds like I am being harsh it’s because the dish costs £21.50 – but more than that it’s because, on the basis of the three course I consumed, I think James Day is worth pushing.
I say this, in particular, having scooped up a delightful dessert of iced coconut parfait, caramelized banana, passion fruit and banana sorbet and chocolate molé sauce. There was no fannying about here – just very well made constituent parts of a pud that came together beautifully. The discs of caramelised banana were pure yummy sweet eating, simple but what’s wrong with simple?
I had a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a glass of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.
Bill for one: £53.35.
The last time I dined at Brockencote, Frenchman Didier Philipot was manning the stoves. Does anyone know where he is now? Answers to email@example.com
Similarly, if you’ve found a gastronomic gem, please drop me a line. I’m always grateful for tips.
(7/10 on the McComb-o-meter signifies: “very good cooking and ambition; good attention to detail throughout.”)