High quality ingredients sourced in the Westcountry, often from within the charming grounds of Clevedon Hall or as close to it as possible, are cleverly used to make original and contemporary dishes. Chef Alan Jones trained with Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, and his dishes carry a traditional English menu to a fine dining French twist.
In a word
This is a fine dining restaurant within a classic/ contemporary fusion Victorian mansion hotel. Whilst Clevedon Hall looks every bit croquet-on-the-lawn traditional, it certainly has some surprises, alluding to Alice’s Wonderland. Rooms have enormous baths and the garden houses a beautiful swing seat where you can feel weightless behind a Monet-esque duck pond. This makes it a perfect location for weddings, as it caters to every family member with its spacious and pleasingly furnished rooms. With fresh Cornish crab and Somerset lamb, the restaurant sources local food and presents it absolutely beautifully.
What memories are made of
Clevedon Hall is set on the outskirts of Bristol, in Clevedon, very close to its seafront. With its luxury manicured lawns, orangery and stunning gardens, it’s every bit the quintessential Victorian country mansion. Inside, it has been sympathetically renovated to reflect the period, but adds some contemporary quirks, which earn it the title of luxury hotel. We attended a media outreach event hosted in the hall, in which we were given a night’s stay with dinner and drinks, and a complementary breakfast.
Of all the hotels we’ve had the fortune to stay at, this one was memorable as much for the wonderful people we met, as for the comfort and luxury of its rooms.
Sympathetically restored, rooms played on the fashion for taxidermy and lepidopterism by sporting wallpaper a la Iain Banks. Each room had a literary theme, with vintage library books and tranquil colour schemes. Upon entering the main hall, which was due to be used for a wedding the following day, there were some pre-suspension bridge paintings of Bristol that may have harked back to when Conrad Finzel: Napoleon-fleeing-sugar-refining-Victorian businessman resided there. The ornate carvings on staircases and side panels included an owl, and other birds of prey, which suites were named after.
Each suite was decorated slightly differently, but used some silver and grey for a sophisticated and calming effect. With touches that gave a nod to the era of the house, the whole hotel embodied the classic/ contemporary twist and gave a touch of luxury and opulence that was subtle and yet pervasive.
Holy guac, man, the bathrooms in this place could have housed whole families, and the luxury wasn’t limited to size only. With two sinks, a bath big enough for two, and a walk in shower that would easily have fit a five-a-side team in – what? I’m jus’ sayin’ – the winning feature was definitely the Japanese all singing and dancing toilet. With bum drier. When I lived in Japan, toilets were either latrines or these incredible fast jet bidet hybrids. This was most definitely in the latter, luxury category.
After marvelling at the Neal’s Yard toiletries and fluffy towel bundle, we opened the mini bar to find a bottle of prosecco to welcome us. Quaffing a couple of glasses, we then went down to meet the other journalists and bloggers.
Not a ‘manapé’ in site
I’ve recently read an article about the rise of the alleged manapé. I have some serious contentions with this label, which we won’t go into here, but be prepared for a venomous deconstruction of it later. Here, the canapés were varied, delicious and moreish. Being the salmon fiend I am, many of these smoked salmon harlequins sneaked past my chops, whilst the ‘tache devoured venison tartare toast and these duck balls. There were also platters of vegetarian canapés too, including a goat’s cheese and pesto crostini, which was soft and melt in the mouth.
With canapés this good, excitement for the main event began to build. This was definitely helped by the prosecco bellinis and chatty other foodies.
Either sounds like a euphemism or a type of mushroom. Actually, this was neither, it was the delicious lobster velouté served in a cup that started the meal off. Creamy, smooth, and reminiscent of our Icelandic cousins and that incredible soft and velvety bisque I waxed lyrical about. It was delicious. Veggies got an asparagus velouté, which was every bit as smooth.
Having driven from Cornwall that morning, and staying true to my love for the place, Cornish crab tian was a great way to start things off. This crab was plump, sweet and juicy, and Alan hadn’t added flavour to the actual crab. He knew he didn’t need to. Served with lemon mayonnaise, pea shoots and sun blushed tomatoes, the crab was the star of the dish.
More accurately, I imagine I should have used seasonailty to describe Clevedon Hall Hotel in one word. We went on the first May Bank Holiday weekend, and this was when wild garlic was flourishing, lambs were skipping and a general springiness was in the air. For the main Kieran had the lamb and I chose the vegetarian option.
The risotto was well seasoned and looked, and tasted just like spring. With freshly podded peas, wild garlic that Alan had picked in the grounds that morning, and asparagus, it had a light and fresh spring taste. He’d added cream and lightly perfumed it with orange zest, which added a depth and surprise to a classic dish. I don’t often choose vegetarian dishes, and after the sumptuous crab I really didn’t feel I’d missed out here.
The ‘tache was pleased with his lamb, which was soft and juicy and harked back to Alan’s classic French training. The Italian influence of la primavera did not go undetected. What made the lamb dish so fun was that he’d also made a miniature Shepherd’s Pie with shredded lamb and soft peaks of piped potato, which were almost better than the main event. ‘Tache said the lamb in here was so soft it melted in the mouth, and left him wanting more.
Maybe the best thing, apart from that amazing Cornish crab, was the dessert, which looked and tasted incredible. It really showed a range of skills, from the fondant chocolate to the home made honeycomb and salted caramel. There was something here for everyone, and it was an intelligently designed dessert. I would have ordered it anyway if it was a la carte, and it was one of the best desserts I’ve tasted.
The booze & conversation
We were treated to endless wine throughout dinner, which meant that everyone got chatting. It was really interesting to hear what other people do. We met the editor of a wedding magazine, who was super friendly, and sat with John the operations manager and member of the McCarthy family who owns Clevedon Hall. Also we were really pleased to meet Charlie & Lauren – bloggers who brought the insta to instagramming the meal. They created the hashtag #clevedownchowdown so everyone could stay in touch with what was going on. And we met other journalists and partners who were all friendly, so it was a very special evening in terms of the people, as well as the incredible food.
After eating, we got to meet chef Alan, who was very lively, considering what a long day he must have had. He was really buzzing to hear so many people had enjoyed his menu, and above all really passionate about this step in his career. With a young family, Alan was pleased to be back near his home city of Bristol, and said he enjoyed foraging in the grounds of Clevedon Hall for things to include in the menu.
He’d also made these amazing truffles, which ‘Tache was threatening to take upstairs to finish.
Back to the room
It was pretty late by the time we went upstairs, and the booze made everyone sleepy. The bed was very comfortable in the don’t-want-to-leave kind of way, and the showers were very powerful. Smelling of lovely Neal’s Yard organic freshness was a good way to clear the hangover. This was made even easier by…
There were about 25 of us, and the staff were clearly getting ready for a wedding happening that morning, so breakfast was fairly fast paced, and served buffet style. This is my one comment on room for improvement. With this level of luxury, a cooked to order menu for breakfast would be appreciated. However, the show must go on, and with a lot of preparation for events, I can understand why the hotel operates within its limits. Everything for breakfast was locally sourced and fresh, so really I am nitpicking here. And more importantly we had coffee and were ready to face the world!
I couldn’t resist a little swing in this though, after we’d packed up. I enjoyed envisaging sunny afternoons lazing about beside the pond in this swing.
Thanks to Clevedon Hall for such incredible hospitality and a very enjoyable stay.