S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Nuthurst Grange Hotel

On the edge of the pleasant village of Hockley Heath, in the gentle hills outside Birmingham's ring road, the M42, overlooking - at a distance - the busy M40, lies the country house hotel of Nuthurst Grange. The happy confluence of a christening for the littlest stonecircle in the area combined with C.'s Christmas present to me of Britain's Best Places to Stay for Food Lovers, resulted in one night's vacation there this past weekend.

The room was spacious - almost more of a suite than a room - with a comfy sofa and tasteful English country decor. Most impressive, however, were the in-room treats. Every British hotel provides a kettle. Most provide tea and coffee and teacups. This one, however, also provided a range of fruit teas, a decent hot chocolate powder, and coarse-ground coffee with a French press pot. Even better, the drink came with a tin of delectable made-in-house shortbread and, the thing which impressed me most about my entire stay there, a bowl full of perfectly ripe, ready-to-eat fruit. Ripe fruit! Now that's attention to detail in a hotel room.

After a late afternoon stroll around the gardens, we settled into comfy chairs in the lounge for drinks and appetizers before dinner. The amaretto sours really weren't - way too much amaretto. The appetizer nibbles platter was beautifully plated, but very few of the nibbles stood out in terms of taste. The rounds of tomato-basil-mozzarella on bread smelled like summer and tasted almost as good. The miniature balls of fish tempura with tartar sauce, and the beef brochettes, were charming in their miniatureness, if not otherwise particularly interesting. The least interesting element to taste were the deep-fried cheese straws, long and meandering like the organicness of tree branches, but cold; the cold grease just didn't work for me. The sheer visual variety of the plate was admirable: in addition to all these, there were also bites of crayfish salad and cold spinach-and-salmon toasts.

We'd committed in advance with a package deal to eat from one of two menu sets, so we didn't sample the tasting menu. All the different set menu variants looked good though, so in a way I was glad to have had that much choice made in advance. I could still choose between five or six menu items per course. After ordering and nibbling and relaxing, we were shown through to the candlelit dining room, where strains of '80s pop filtered through at background music levels from the event next door. Amuse bouche was a salmon roulade, with a cauliflower soup replacement for C., who doesn't eat fish. The same soup, in fact, in excessively copious quantities, was my appetizer, completed by a melting cheddar doughnut and topped with greens. C.'s wood pigeon with celeriac and apple confit was wonderfully intense. A spoonful of raspberry sorbet on a puddle of oddly green apple sauce refreshed before the next course.

Usually when I go out for a multi-course meal, I end up enjoying my appetizer and dessert more than my main, for the framing courses are more likely to offer intense and thought-provoking flavors. This time, it was the other way 'round. I loved the sea bream, cooked into caramelization, sweet and tender and rich. The accompanying tear-shaped dollops of sweet potato mash were phenomenal. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, still crisp to the bite, but cooked through. C.'s pork was decently good, and plated strikingly.

I finished the meal with a trio of crême brûlées, chocolate, mint, and curdled. I think the menu said the third one was meant to be thyme, but it certainly didn't taste of it. Regardless, the mint was pleasant, and the chocolate one really good. C. had cinnamon ice cream and a sweet cake - further details escape both of us offhand. By this point, we were both too stuffed to go on to drinks and petit fours. Service throughout was always well-intentioned and friendly, and generally efficient and competent.

Despite lack of mention, we did order wine with the meal. There are too many wines and time is too short to learn too many of them (plus I haven't already sampled the dishes it's to go with), so I'm always happy to ask for a recommendation to go with a meal. This time, I specified a white which would coordinated decently enough with both the sea bream and pork - both had sweet accompaniaments listed, so I figured that should help with sharing a wine. The wine - a La Serre Sauvignon Blanc - really didn't go too well with either dish. The mains dampened the drink's tart spice, which improved its quaffability, but it was no match for the food.

It was a delight to retire to the comfort of a hotel room so close, and for the driver to be able to drink over dinner. The kitchen is certainly making all the right moves for a high end eatery, from flavored butters and rolls to an intriguing menu. Much of what it's producing is good - some of it superb - but we felt as if there was still plenty of growth room for it. The in-room food, was, however, spot-on. The perfectly ripe fruit and tasty homemade shortbread impressed me plenty.

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