Cloisters at Nutfield Priory, near Redhill, Surrey RH1 4EL - restaurant review

With love in the air this month, ALEC KINGHAM pays a visit to the famous Cloisters restaurant at Nutfield Priory, near Redhill, in search of a romantic evening out

Reviewed in February 2008's Surrey Life

Cloisters Restaurant at Nutfield Priory, Nutfield Road, Redhill, Surrey RH1 4EL. Tel: 01737 824 400

With love in the air this month, ALEC KINGHAM pays a visit to the famous Cloisters restaurant at Nutfield Priory, near Redhill, in search of a romantic evening out

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On entering the Cloisters Restaurant dining hall at Nutfield Priory, you could be forgiven for speaking in a hushed tone and assuming the religious reverie that comes with a visit to an historic abbey. The candlelit surroundings, faux-Gothic arches, stained-glass windows and timber-lined ceilings create a cathedral-like atmosphere; it was only the distinct lack of religious iconography or whispering priests in brown robes that made me realise Nutfield Priory was not a relic from Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, but a latter-day (circa 1849) recreation. However, once we were shown to our table and peered out over the scenic Surrey Downs, the orange lights of Gatwick Airport in the distance shimmering like a thousand candles in the evening sky, we appreciated what a beautiful location it was for a romantic dinner. Many stylish restaurants, where food preparation and presentation are of the highest quality, short-change you with artfully decorated miniscule portions - 'nouvelle cuisine' - whereby you admire the dish as you would a Rembrandt or Van Dyck, yet leave feeling hungry, or resort to filling up on the bread rolls. Fresh seasonal produce... Thankfully, the fare at Cloisters is both delightfully presented and generously proportioned, with particular attention to tastes and textures, so that we admired the arrangements and departed feeling nourished. The gastronomy is predominantly Anglo-French and seasonally adjusted, with the majority of ingredients sourced from specialist suppliers in the immediate vicinity, ensuring it is fresh and supports local farmers and producers. Cloisters, awarded the prestigious industry accolade of two AA rosettes, reveals on its website that the chefs prepare their own signature meals but are happy to serve beans on toast should you prefer simpler 'comfort food'. However, when you are dining at this level, it would seem a shame to indulge in anything less than their high calibre cuisine.

Cloisters offers both a set-price three-course meal (�36) and an a la carte menu; we opted for the former, which features a wide variety of dishes. The table service was excellent - I heard Australian, French and central European accents - efficient, well informed and courteous, and the wine selection catered to every palate, served by an amiable wine waiter with a droll sense of humour. Wine prices range from around �15 a bottle for the house recommendations to over �120 a bottle for quality vintages or exclusive champagnes - we enjoyed an excellent sauvignon blanc from the Languedoc region of France.

For starters, to accompany our warm freshly baked rolls, my companion ordered beetroot risotto with shaved Parmesan regina and a roquette leaf salad, whilst I began with the excellent cream of celeriac and apple soup, which featured a few submerged apple crisps. For mains, my companion dined on a tender free-range chicken breast, stuffed with apricot farce and Dijon mustard cream, whilst I decided on fish, with a pan-fried fillet of seabass, herb-crushed potatoes and mussel broth. These sumptuous dishes were cooked to perfection, bathed in exquisite sauces. Perfect place for romance... For dessert, we declined the sweet for the savoury, settling on the selection of British and European cheeses with celery, grapes and chutney, which I must admit we found a little disappointing, given that the small portions of unadventurous cheeses didn't quite meet expectations.

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However, overall the food was superb, and despite a full house on the night of our visit, the atmosphere in the dining room remained intimate, although perhaps the table lighting could have been dimmed a little to augment the effect of candlelight. Though we had decided not to book accommodation, no doubt the whole experience would be enhanced by staying on the premises; an open fire in the lounge to while away the remainder of the evening; in the morning perhaps an al fresco breakfast on the terrace to precede a gentle stroll around the panoramic estate, followed by a hearty Sunday roast - surely the perfect place for a romantic weekend in Surrey.

What we ate... 

From the set menu: �36 for 3 coursesStarters

Beetroot risotto with shaved Parmesan regina and a roquette leaf salad Cream of celeriac and apple soup

Mains

Breast of free-range chicken breast, stuffed with apricot farce and Dijon mustard cream Pan-fried fillet of seabass, herb-crushed potatoes and mussel broth

Dessert

Selection of British and European cheeses with celery, grapes and chutney

Wine

Sauvignon blanc from the Languedoc region of France, �19 

Food & wine 8/10Venue 8/10Service 9/10

 Three other romantic Surrey restaurants you might like to try... Gemini Restaurant 28 Station Approach, Tadworth Tel: 01737 812179 Providing modern European cuisine, this intimate restaurant prides itself on excellent food, excellent wine and excellent, friendly service. Two to Four 2-4 West Street, Dorking Tel: 01306 889923 Take a stroll along the antique paradise that is Dorking's West Street and find this bright, modern restaurant tucked inside a beautiful old building. The French Table 85 Maple Road, Surbiton Tel: 020 8399 2365 A combination of excellent food with a warm relaxed atmosphere create the perfect romantic evening for those looking for that certain 'je ne sais quoi'.  

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