Restaurant Review: Zodiac at Hanbury Manor Hotel & Country Club, Ware

Richard Cawthorne enjoys lunch with William Boulton-Smith at Hanbury Manor

IF you've wanted to experience the Marriott Hanbury Manor Hotel & Country Club near Ware but been intimidated by its grandeur, now's your chance. A promotion initiated by general manager William Boulton-Smith to 'bring the local community back into the fold' is offering lunches in the Zodiac fine-dining restaurant at �10 for two courses and �15 for three.

William, a native of Southampton and with a solid hotel career already on his CV, took over at Hanbury this summer and immediately set about introducing his philosophy. He says, 'I have found that as hotels like this have developed and grown, they have relied on business from certain areas of the country and not engaged with the local community as well as they should. We looked at that and realised there was a huge business opportunity we were missing out on.'

William said he found a large number of people in the area who simply did not think about Hanbury as a place to visit for a meal and a drink. The special promotion quickly followed. 'We want to get people thinking about our food and about the hotel,' he says. 'This is part of local heritage and it had almost fallen off the radar. There was a perception we were too expensive but people are surprised that we are not. The last thing we want to be is a mausoleum. What we have is here to be used.'Six months in, William says lunch business in Zodiac has been tremendous. 'We have been absolutely hammered, far more than we anticipated,' he adds, somewhat more directly than one expects of a Marriott general manager, although he makes clear he is not one for stuffiness, however opulent the surroundings.

And opulent is what Hanbury Manor, which for a time in its chequered history was a convent, now is. The history of the estate goes back to the 16th century and though the first home on it was little more than a country house, there were additions and extensions over the years and the work that went in when Marriott took over has produced the commanding buildings that can be seen today.

William says he is proud to be in charge and talks over lunch in Zodiac, resplendent with chandeliers, traditional fireplace and elegant furnishings, about his career. He arrived at Hanbury from the country house hotel at Stapleford Park in Leicestershire, having begun in traditional fashion in hotel kitchens. He was four years at the Savoy in London, which he describes as 'a very good school but tough', then spent several years in Asia with the big names such as the Mandarin Hong Kong and Shangri-La.

For lunch, we choose veloute of garlic and onion with wild mushrooms, followed by a simple pan-fried seabass with vegetable risotto and lemon sauce. The soup is hot and very creamy but light - perfect for a winter's day - while the fish retains its delicacy but proves full of taste. Other starters offered include traditional oak-smoked salmon with dill and cucumber salad, or Parma ham with cantaloupe melon and flaked parmesan. Alternative main courses include guinea fowl with pancetta, pomme fondant and herb jus, or mushroom and baby spinach strudel with cherry tomato vinaigrette.

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Zodiac, which has two AA Rosettes, is in the hands of head chef Carsten Kypke, 27, who joined Hanbury Manor this year from Cliveden House Hotel in Berkshire, where he was sous chef. Born in Berlin, he worked at the Lowen Hotel in Austria before moving to the UK and has marked his arrival at Hanbury by launching new lunch and dinner menus with the emphasis on seasonal ingredients.

As well as good eating, Hanbury Manor offers top hotel, spa, golf and leisure facilities and caters for a busy conferences and weddings business. And other promotions are on the way, says William - watch this space.


Zodiac at Hanbury Manor Hotel & Country ClubWareSG12 0SD01920 487722

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