The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell - Restaurant Review

Can The Rectory Hotel redeem itself? Katie Jarvis sincerely hopes so...

The new Rector and his wife are coming to stay so, naturally, I'm in an advanced state of hysteria, which sees me mainly rocking backwards and forwards in a chair, yodelling. Or whatever.

The hysteria is induced by the fact that I've got:

a) A book manuscript to finish and deliver

b) Cotswold Life articles to write (your fault, dear readers; go ahead and feel guilty)

c) Floors, children and bathrooms to scrub, as usual and

d) Can't remember what d) is, but there's always a d) and I'll remember what it is the moment it's too late to do d).

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Ian, on noticing potential breakdown (must be bad), says he'll help. Bless. Indeed, I come back from hasty grocery shop on the morning of said Rector and wife's visit to find that Ian has emptied every single one of the many kitchen cupboards and is sorting them out; it's like a dead-tin graveyard, bodies everywhere, with the inside of empty cupboards looking like the aprs shower scene from Psycho. I warmly, warmly thank him for his appropriate and generous action. "This tinned bean salad in vinaigrette is best by 2003!" he says, oblivious. To be fair, I have some sympathy but, obviously, will not show it. For a tin to run out in 2003, it was clearly purchased in the Paleozoic era (the earth's plates are in motion now and a super continent, Pangaea, has been formed); besides which, who on earth rushes into a supermarket looking for tinned bean salad in vinaigrette? Obviously, I was either insane or having a fleeting Delia moment. (Sort of similar.)

Ian and I have radically different views on food. For example, I believe that it's not necessary to eat vegetables to extract nutrients from them. You lose a lot less vitamin C if, instead of boiling them, you buy them, store them in the fridge until they're limp and gain suspicious fluff, and then guiltily hide them at the bottom of the bin. Ian, quite rightly, believes in no waste and, if possible, would have us eating the very packaging itself, full of valuable fibre.

We have radically different views on a whole range of things, including money (in general); whether or not �60 is a hell of a lot, Katie, for one pair of shoes; how to bring up children; appropriate preparations for rectors' visits; life; and - sometimes - over which restaurants we think are the all-time best.

He has had a fixation about the Rectory Hotel in Crudwell (no relation to Rector, above) since we last went there several years ago. In fact, so good did he think it was, he claims he's judged all other meals against it since. Clearly, a revisit is due.

It's a lovely setting: a period house in three acres of Cotswold walled garden. According to the website, it's been named one of the top 10 game restaurants by the Times. (It's also got me on there, saying it's on my list of favourites). The question is: what exactly is the game? Could it be Hunt the Staff?

We go into reception, which is deserted. We hang about for a bit until voices from down the corridor entice us. Yes, there's a party having fun in the bar - but no bar staff; so we wander down the end of the corridor, half way back up, down again, around the empty restaurant a bit (it's not quite time for dinner), and back up to reception. Our path is uncrowded by staff. Not quite knowing what to do, we hang around for a bit longer until - joy - a lady appears! We fall on her with happy, appreciative, relieved sounds until we realise she's more fighting us off than trying to serve us. "Ah!" she says, when she can get a word in edgeways, "You must be looking for the staff, too. We've discovered the best way to get them is to bang loudly on the kitchen door."

In a customers-together posse, we do just that, and eventually find a lady in a sort of beach outfit (white pedal-pushers) who makes me feel alarmingly overdressed (quite an art). She sits us in the lobby, gets us drinks and, after a long wait during which we finish our drinks, brings us some stale nuts.

It's all a bit of a disappointment after the giddy heights of last time. And I'm sorry, Rectory, I truly am, because I did enjoy my last visit. Hotels can well moan that you caught them on a rough day, but, umm...

So on to the food, which is good, nice, fine: love the way they highlight suppliers, such as Jesse Smith, Coln Valley Smokery, Stanton Manor Venison, Cerney goats' cheese. We have pressed terrine of ham hock with piccalilli, and roasted pumpkin soup; Middle White pork sausages, and a roast loin of venison with celeriac gratin and parsnip puree; then a baked white chocolate cheesecake with banana and Baileys milkshake; and a chocolate panna cotta with Grand Marnier-marinated orange segments and coffee ice cream. It's all good; good, but lonely. If they're not going to have a member of staff in the dining room while you eat, perhaps they could fit an emergency pull cord so you could find someone if you developed an urgent need mid-course.

Look, Rectory, as I've said before, when you're paying �90 plus for a meal for two, good food is just the start; you want a bit of pampering too. I'll do you a deal. I'll include you in my new Cotswolds guide book (out soon; please do buy), but you need to up the service. Then you'll be one of my favourite restaurants once more.

Ambience 7

Service 5

Food 7

Value for money 6

The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell, near Malmesbury SN16 9EP, 01666 577194,

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