Restaurant reviews - The Lawns restaurant at Thornton Hall

We visit The Lawns restaurant at Thornton Hall and a mini review of Sandbach Old Hall

On the edge of the bijou Wirral village of Thornton Hough, one of the prettiest in Cheshire, Thornton Hall Hotel wears a mask of modernity. The lobby and reception of this enduringly popular wedding venue are located in an extension suggesting the 1960s or 1970s. But venture into the heart of the building and one is suddenly aware of stepping back the best part of a century.

There is much carved wood and sumptuous period detail: no more so than in the Hotel’s magnificent dining room with its splendid stately fireplace, mellow wood panelling, classical bas-relief frieze and above all, its exquisite embossed leather ceiling inlaid with mother of pearl, from which hangs a pair of fabulous chandeliers.

For years Thornton Hall’s restaurant was known as ‘The Italian Room’ – quite why I’ve never fathomed, since by all accounts the craftsmen who fashioned that wonderful ceiling were Portuguese – but it was renamed The Lawns after a major refurbishment in 2009 since which time its reputation for some of the finest dining in the county has burgeoned.

David Gillmore took over at the helm of the kitchen brigade soon after the restaurant’s change of identity and has steered its critical trajectory ever higher.

Highly commended in the Cheshire Life Food and Drink Awards in 2010, The Lawns won national acclaim earlier this year by gaining a third coveted AA Rosette. The accolade puts the restaurant among the country’s top ten per cent and I would not bet against Thornton Hall’s chairman Andrew Thompson realising his latest ambition: ‘Our next goal is to be awarded a Michelin star’.

We arrived on a Friday night to find The Lawns gratifyingly busy, though the generous table spacing lent an intimate ambience in which to enjoy our own company.

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We were attracted by a very eye-catching table d’hote menu offering the likes of Pennine wood pigeon, roasted cod with smoked mash, local wild mallard and braised haunch of venison – exceptional value at �29 for three courses in a restaurant with Michelin aspirations – but settled on the temptations of the a la carte likewise featuring an array of fine local produce. The complimentary amuse bouche, a dainty cup of exquisite white bean and tomato soup with a cheesy toasted ‘soldier’ provided a nod towards the skills involved in what was to come.

My starter proper was a delightfully arranged combination of pork belly, butternut squash puree and pickled shitake with lovely subtle spicing (�9). The pork, meltingly soft and tender and topped by the contrasting texture of crackling crunch with salt crystals was tip-top. Mrs K, who tends to order crab whenever she sees it on a menu, opted for perfectly executed Aberdaron crab ravioli with sweetcorn and a jug of delicious, coral coloured crab cream (�9) which tasted as good as it looked.

For her main course she chose a dish that epitomises the season – breast of pheasant (�17). So often served dry and overcooked, chef Gillmore’s version, cooked sous vide in a water bath arrived fabulously moist, pink and tender on a bed of spinach and surrounded by classic festive accoutrements, bacon lardons, Jerusalem artichokes, chestnuts and sweet baby onions with chestnut cream and a crunchy crostini with flavoursome liver.

My main also had a considerable wow factor: a tranche of exceptional grilled monkfish came resting on duck garbure – a kind of duck bubble and squeak (or should that be bubble and quack) – with luxurious foie gras, samphire, pretty sprigs of romanesco calabrese and a jug of cep (porcini) cappuccino and gingerbread croutons (�21). As I said: wow!

We drank wine by the glass from an interesting and moderately-priced list (175ml from �5; 250ml from �7) and rounded off by sharing an excellent pear delice with pistachio ice cream and bitter chocolate crumb (�7), agreeing completely that The Lawns’ third rosette is fully deserved.

The Lawns Restaurant, Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa, Neston Road, Thornton Hough, Wirral, CH63 1JF.Tel: 0151 336 3938;

Meal in a minute

Digest this mini-review in 60 seconds

Sandbach Old HallHigh Street, Sandbach, CW11 1ALTel: 01270

Style of venue Parts of this pub date back to 1656. Once the home of Sir John Radclyffe, the man responsible for obtaining a Royal Charter in 1579 for a market in Sandbach, an extension was added in the 18th century by one of his descendants who turned the building into a pub.

The Three Tuns Inn, named after the tuns he used to make his own brews, was famous for its strong malt liquor and Samuel Pepys wrote about it in his diaries. There’s a real ale named after this behind the bar.

On the menu The menu changes daily and there are many dishes on offer. When we visited, the menu perfectly suited the frosty sabbath, with several options for a Sunday roast, steak and kidney pudding with mash buttered green and gravy and sweet potato, aubergine, lentil and red pepper moussaka. I opted for fish pie, full of salmon, smoked haddock, cod, prawns and a boiled egg (�13.95). It came with a good portion of French style peas.

My dining partner chose the half roast chicken with stuffing, chipolata, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy (�10.95). Dessert, which we shared, was a sticky and delicious warm pecan pie with vanilla ice cream (�5.50).

D�cor The restoration by Brunning and Price has made the most of the old features. Warm yourself at one of the fireplaces and see up close the original timbers, more than 300 years old. Large groups are easily accommodated but there are small areas, including a snug.

Ambience Warm and welcoming. It’s usually busy with a great atmosphere.

Service Friendly, helpful and efficient. You couldn’t ask for better.

Cost Two main meals and a dessert with soft drinks and coffees came to just over �40.

Emma Mayoh

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