Restaurant review: Eastwell Manor, near Ashford

The cooking is right back on track at Eastwell's Manor Restaurant, where Neil Wiggins is producing innovative and seasonal dishes of award-winning quality

To the Manor born

The cooking is right back on track at Eastwell’s Manor Restaurant, where Neil Wiggins is producing innovative and seasonal dishes of award-winning quality

A visit to Eastwell Manor is always a treat, whatever the season – the sweeping curve of a drive that only reveals the beautiful house as a final flourish, the smell of wood smoke from the open fire that greets you as you enter the main hall (yes, even in high summer) …

And now with the return of executive chef Neil Wiggins to his rightful place in the kitchen, after a two-year gap away, the restaurant has definitely climbed up several notches and is serving impeccable dishes of the finest quality.

“Well, I just couldn’t fault that meal!” said My Talented Writer Friend as we finally put down our spoons after virtually licking our dessert plates clean.

She was right – from start to finish each course served in the large, wood-panelled Manor Restaurant had been superb, with notably fine service from our Romanian waiter Aristide Nuani, who was engaging, informative and without any of the slightly intimidating formality you might possibly expect from such a setting.

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Indeed, our fellow diners at the well-spaced tables all seemed to be having an equally good time – we spotted a party group, several couples, two girls out celebrating a birthday and a young American family.

You can choose from the daily changing three-course table d’h�te dinner or do as we did and opt for the � la carte menu, which so expertly showcases Neil’s inventive and creative mix of French and modern English cooking.

Having pretty much identical tastes in food, MTWF and I were happy to dip in and out of each other’s plates, so I can vouch for the deliciousness of her pan-fried scallops with peas and salad leaves, the pancetta providing a nicely salty contrast to the sweetness.

And my East Sussex coast lobster with cucumber and fennel was given a whole new zest by an accompanying citrus-sharp gooseberry dressing, a brilliant and imaginative touch.

Main courses showed us again sharing our top favourites – my rack of pinkly perfect lamb (braised shoulder and sweetbread) came with a most impressive stuffed courgette flower on its stem, respectively fried-crunchy and just al dente, not an easy thing to do so well.

MTWF’s fillet of John Dory, a first for her and much enjoyed, was served with ‘summer on a plate’ – fresh peas, asparagus, crushed new potatoes and a treat of caviar cream. An impeccable dish, the fish crisp and moist and bursting with fresh flavour.

Having noted our tendency to share Aristide took complete charge of our puddings, informing us really quite firmly (but with a huge smile) that we would be having rhubarb souffl� and the dark chocolate fondant. 

We’d have picked those anyway, but he was spot on and our top tip is they taste even better if you divide them in half and eat together, then you get the contrast of the freshly picked rhubarb steeped in orange and the warm gooeyness of the fondant. Aristide led our choice of wines too – the list is from an excellent cellar, with a good choice by the glass. The Chablis Grand Cru worked well with both starters, as did a full-bodied Chardonnay with the John Dory and a rather good House red (a French Cabernet Sauvignon) with my lamb.

Coffee and petit fours followed in the heavily panelled lounge where we felt so at home I nearly nodded off in my comfy leather armchair. Our conclusion? While the Manor Restaurant is perfect for celebration dinners and ‘occasions’, it’s also a treat on a weekday night when you just fancy a bit of spoiling. We shall be keeping an eye out for the new awards that will surely follow.

THE ESSENTIALS

Where: Eastwell Manor, Eastwell Park

Boughton Lees, Ashford TN25 4HR

Tel: 01233 213000 or enquiries@eastwellmanor.co.uk

What: Formal but intimate

What’s the damage: three-course table d’h�te dinner �26.50 per person, two-course table d’h�te lunch �15.50 per person; � la carte menu available at lunch and dinner; three-course Sunday lunch �19.95 per person

When: Mon-Sun 12/12.30pm-2pm and 7pm-9.30pm

Events: 17 August, Opera at The Pavilion Restaurant, Opera Dinner at The Manor Restaurant, 18 August

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