Cheshire Life Dinner - The Crystal Restaurant, Nunsmere Hall Hotel

Loin and Shoulder of Lamb, peas, runner beans and mint jelly

Loin and Shoulder of Lamb, peas, runner beans and mint jelly - Credit: Archant

Never let it be said that Cheshire’s social scene lacks a cutting edge!

Sally Ellis and Kate Dyson

Sally Ellis and Kate Dyson - Credit: Archant

For as the evening sunlight shone down on the immaculate gardens of Nunsmere Hall, guests of Cheshire Life’s September dinner nibbled on dainty canapés and engaged in the not-so-gentle art of sabrage. The skill of opening a bottle of champagne with a cavalry sword, so it is said, originated among French hussars during the Napoleonic Wars. Bonaparte himself remarked: ‘Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it!’ He must have drunk plenty after Waterloo.

Back at Nunsmere, both tuxedo-clad gentlemen and ladies in tiaras and evening gowns sent corks and collars flying with deft sabre strokes – running the blade along the side of the bottles – not of champagne but deliciously refreshing and fashionable Bella Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco - and letting the pressure within do the rest. Off with their heads.

Shipping magnate Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, designer of the Blue Riband Cunard liner Queen Mary, would have been familiar with the elegant party atmosphere. Nunsmere, with its extraordinary location, bounded on three sides by a 60-acre lake, was built for Sir Aubrey in 1900 and in its heyday as a stately country residence, he and his wife Lady Grace hosted many glittering soirees attended by the great and the good of Edwardian England.

Today the hotel is at the cutting edge of superb 21st c entury hospitality, having been awarded four coveted AA Red Stars and two AA Rosettes. A recent winner of Cheshire Life’s Hotel of the Year award, Nunsmere has also been twice named Restaurant of the Year by the Good Food Guide. According to Nunsmere’s general manager Mark Huntley, at the helm since the Wilmslow-based Prima Hotels Group acquired it in 2007, the heart of any hotel lies in its kitchen and in head chef Craig Malone, another long-serving member of the team, Nunsmere boasts one of the best. And the Crystal Restaurant is a gorgeous setting in which to enjoy his award-winning culinary creations.

We began with a refreshing chilled charentais melon and ginger ‘soup’ – layers of melon sorbet, vanilla foam and infused gingerbread – served in a shot glass. The accompanying wine, chosen and described by David Kelly of Matthew Clark, was an inspired match, a light, subtly fruited Gruner Veltliner from Austria sporting a characteristic dash of white pepper on the finish. The starter proper comprised a trio of fishy delights, beautifully arranged: neatly fashioned squares of smoked salmon terrine alongside a crisp-coated monkfish ‘nugget’ and a small quenelle of white claw meat crab, all finished to perfection with a lovely lemon dressing. This time the white wine partner was a powerful and unusual oak-aged South African chenin blanc displaying intense tropical fruit flavours to match the richness of the salmon.

Craig Malone’s main course, pairing loin and shoulder of lamb demonstrated a kitchen at the top of its game. The loin, served pink, was beautifully tender and the shoulder, richly flavoured from slow cooking at 55C for four hours, came enveloped in a delicate pancake wrap, together with potato croquettes and tasting of peas, runner beans and mint jelly. Rich, bramble-fruited zinfandel, California’s signature red, made an excellent match.

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Dessert was a triumph too – a fabulous summer marriage of strawberries and white chocolate, featuring champagne and berry jelly, sumptuous white chocolate parfait and a delicious strawberry ‘spring roll’. A fine, off-dry rosé from Provence accompanied it, and coffee with petit fours rounded off (another) night to remember at Nunsmere Hall.

Cheshire Life Dinner Menu

To begin

Chilled Charentais melon and ginger soup

Soeller Wogenrain Gruner Veltliner 2012, Wagram, Austria

Smoked salmon terrine, monkfish nugget, crab claw salad, lemon dressing

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa

To continue

Loin and shoulder of lamb, peas, runner beans, mint jelly

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, Lodi County, California

To finish

Strawberries and white chocolate

Les Collines aux Lavandes Rosé 2011, Jean-Luc Colombo, France

Fact file

Nunsmere Hall Hotel, Tarporley Road, Oakmere, Northwich, Cheshire, CW8 2ES; Tel: 01606 889100;\nunsmere

A la carte dinner menu - £27 for two courses, £34.50 for three; “Let’s do Lunch” menu - £16.95 for two courses, £22.95 for three; four-course tasting menu - £49.50; Sunday Lunch - £27.50; Sunday Dinner - £50 for two people.