Fosse Manor, Stow-on-the-Wold
Katie Jarvis reveals her twin passions for dining at Fosse Manor and a certain celebrity chef
I ADORE Clement Freud. (Helpful tip No 1: For those of you keen to read on and find the relevance of this to the latest review, there is none.)
One of the first ever celebrity chefs (but I forgive him), his memories of kitchens past are nothing if not surprising. He began with his education at the progressive Dartington Hall, where lessons in all but sex education were optional. Then he moved onto the kitchens at the Dorchester where, he soon surmised, the main aim of the staff was to "get back" at the diners.
"I had been there a few days when I saw a man urinating into the stock pot. When I asked him why, he said, 'That'll teach them.'"
Another chef insisted on garnishing new potatoes by chewing on garlic and parsley, before dropping it into the dish. "The holes in his teeth made a lovely pattern."
I once read a piece by dear old Clement where he claimed to have arrived back home from a short break to the realisation that friends were due for dinner that very evening. While most of us would have plumped for either hysteria or cancellation, he sauntered to his fridge where he found a chicken and butter; and other cupboards containing potatoes and sugar. With no effort at all, he whipped up a roast chicken and potato salad, followed by fudge for pudding. And this was without any planning whatsoever.
I come from the sort of family where, no matter how meticulous the preparation for a meal, it is obligatory to find - usually at the point of no return - that you've somehow forgotten to buy the principal ingredient for a recipe. When scientists have finished discovering the genes for serious diseases and alcoholism, and have suddenly twigged as to what it is that binds the quantum world to the classical; when they're subsequently twiddling their thumbs, wondering whether they should go back to memorising train timetables, they'll perhaps devote time to finding these more esoteric genes.
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It's definitely hereditary. My brother was put off cooking at a young age when he deeply misunderstood a recipe in Hamlyn's All Colour Cook Book (over 300 quick and easy recipes all illustrated in full colour). The recipe title ,'74 Chocolate brownies', was not, in fact, detailing how many squares you could hope to make with only 4oz of self-raising flour, as he mistakenly believed; it was, as it happens, simply a helpful numbering of the recipes - something he would have discovered sooner had he tried '317 Pork chops with cider'. There is a surprising but happy ending: he's now an accountant.
I could - at this point - make up an amusingly witty connecting sentence to the effect that now I'm going to be talking about one restaurant that quite clearly doesn't forget its principal ingredients! But I'm not going to. I did state, at the beginning, there was no connecting factor, so here we go: for this month's review, I went to Fosse Manor on the outskirts of Stow-on-the-Wold. Anyone have a problem with that?
Reader, I had been there before. And shall undoubtedly go again. One thing - and there are multiple - that I love about Fosse Manor is its genuine and wholesome celebration of all things local. This is no token gesture. The family crest above the entrance to this once privately-owned residence, still remains; but where the ancestral portraits might have hung, there are now photographs of some of the area's best suppliers. Among them is Simon Weaver and his cheese (which prompted me to write about him this month), just down the road in Upper Slaughter. He told me that Fosse staff - from kitchen to front-of-house - had even visited the creamery to see exactly what goes on. That would explain why they are so genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the dishes on the menu - honestly, it's refreshing beyond words and makes you even more keen to try the produce on offer.
In fact, it's a pleasure to read the menu: Coln Valley smoked salmon; smoked Donnington trout; Cotswold chicken; Warwickshire sausages...
OK, you're going to ask: so why did I pick Parma ham as a starter? I don't know - I just did. With goats' cheese and homemade tomato and chilli jam - very nice too; and also a chicken liver parfait and shallot marmalade.
Another thing I like about Fosse Manor is this: Forgive me, but I come away from many hotels thinking that, even if credit in the next few months becomes so crunchy that I'm forced to get a full-time job, the last trade I'd go into would be catering. This is solely due to (because of? Grammar crisis) the fact that so many hotel staff look as miserable as sin. But not at Fosse Manor. Here, they are so nice and smiley you can only conclude that, even if you won the EuroMillions - and discovered the picture of the woman with a wonky hat you were taking to the car boot is actually a Picasso - it might still be fun to apply for a job there. Now there's a compliment.
But back to the food. The chump of lamb with creamed potatoes, spinach and a nicoise sauce was pretty tasty - unlike the linguine with breast of Cotswold chicken, wild mushrooms, rocket and parmesan. It sounded a lot more fun than it was, to be fair, and was the one disappointment. Perhaps the chef had forgotten the main ingredient; who knows?
But back to form with the sea salted caramel mousse, banana and chocolate sorbet; and the pecan and date tart.
All, with bottle of wine and the usual coffees, for �83.
If you enjoy great local produce, then you'll love this place. And, let's be clear, it has nothing much to do with Clement Freud.
Value for money 8
Fosse Manor Hotel is on the Fosseway at Stow-on-the-Wold GL54 1JX, 01451 830354; www.fossemanor.co.uk