The UK’s sexiest eaterie?
We couldn't resist the opportunity of a seven-course tasting menu at Meghan Markle's favourite hangout, Cliveden House. Muddy's Rachel got heroically stuck in.
Does Cliveden need any introduction? OK, for anyone who has been housebound without a TV and wifi, Cliveden House is one of the UK’s most luxurious and romantic hotels, straddling the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire border. It oozes old school glamour and has a scandalous history that it wears like a badge of honour. The Italianate mansion was originally built for for the Duke of Buckinghamshire’s mistress, it was later owned by Waldorf and Nancy Astor (a trailblazing woman who became the first female MP), then joined the the Iconic Luxury Hotels Group and became a five-star crash pad – and Chewton Glen’s big sister.
To this day, Cliveden’s greatest claim to fame is its role in the Profumo Affair when Sixties showgirl Christine Keeler played spin the bottle with Secretary of State for War John Profumo and pretty much brought down the government of the day. It was all a bit messy and political. Suffice to say it was a big story. That said, Meghan Markle’s pre-wedding night here has certainly put it on the map and the Channel 4 documentary A Very British Country House (with a cheeky cameo from yours truily in episode one) hasn’t done it any harm either.
Cliveden has the sexy swagger of Harry Styles on heat. As you cross the threshold, I imagine the public displays of chandelier swinging are now relegated to the history books. The vibe is friendly, relaxed and surprisingly normal. It is special, no doubt about it, but it’s feel like a decadent place to hang out.
Nothing modern about the decor, plush velvets, antique furniture, suits of armour, enormous Rococo style portraits of royalty, artistos and total randoms who, I’m guessing, were very posh. It feels lived in and loved.
The Cliveden Dining Room (formerly known as the André Garrett Restaurant) has not changed a bit. A vision of Art Deco loveliness, you are surrounded by sumptuous swags of soft fabrics, crisp linen table cloths and breathtaking views across the South Pareterre gardens. It is undoubtedly a beautiful spot. Uniquely, Cliveden is also owned by the National Trust, something you’re reminded of frequently as you lock eyes with the visitors meandering round the building with their beanie hats and backpacks. I have always found this hilarious.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Chef Paul O’Neill wears the culinary crown in Cliveden’s kitchen. He arrived at the hotel in 2017 with an impressive CV – a Roux Scholar, he has worked at Ashdown Park Hotel, Berwick Lodge and Paris’s three Michelin Star restaurant Gagnaire. He has created a menu to reflect his passion for quality produce and tends to use only a few ingredients.
The Cliveden Dining Room is only open for dinner and Sunday lunch, with an a la carte and crowd-pleasing kids menu available. This little piggy opted for the seven-course tasting menu (£97.50pp) with wine flight (evenings only) – the perfect meal for the greedy and indecisive.
Now that I have a glass of Veuve Cliquot in my hand, I think we should get started. The menu consisted of Heritage tomato essence with black olive and olive oil jelly; tuna carpaccio, Yazu, sesame and soy; beef fillet tartare with shallot, mushroom and aged parmesan, barbecued lobster, coriander and a coconut radish salad; loin of lamb served with mint, courgette and broad beans, the curiously named Sharpham Rustic and air dried ham ‘toastie’, finishing with strawberries, hibiscus, meringue and mead.
The food is seriously good. How so much flavour can come from so few ingredients is baffling. The dishes were harmonious, light, beautifully plated and, although the dishes were twists on classics, there were little surprises.
I would definitely recommend the wine flight, there are two price points, so if you’re want to dive deep into Cliveden’s finest cellar wines, then you can. I’m not sure my palette is that sophisticated so stuck to the classics. The sommelier knows her stuff and happily answered my endless questions. Sorry. Less talking more drinking. We started with a light Reisling (German wines are having a bit of a moment), moved onto a delicious red burgundy, I got to taste Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2016 (one of our Five Wine’s To Try Before You Die) – Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Park your chardonnay prejudice of the 80s, this is unoaked, smooth, drinkable. In fact they should just leave the bottle.
I wasn’t so keen with the white port or sweet dessert wine that came at the end of the meal, but that’s more about personal preference.
Absolutely, to a point. There is a really good menu of crowd-pleasing dishes for little people, and it is lovely that you can enjoy a special occasion meal together. I’m just not sure if my kids would feel relaxed in such a formal environment. Boredom could set in and all hell could break loose – and it doesn’t feel like the sort place you’d want to being the digital nannies. I prefer the Astor Grill with my boys, but perhaps I’m just a miserable old bag.
OUT AND ABOUT
It is absolutely criminal to come to Cliveden and meander around its 376 acres. There’s lovely mix of formal garden, woodland and the house sits above one of the most beautiful stretched of the Thames. Don’t miss the outdoor exhibition of British sculptor Anthony Caro’s work, currently on display (until 24 Nov).
And of course, it would be rude not to mention the spa. It had a very expensive refurbishment a few years ago and is well worth booking in for some high quality horizontal R&R. If you’re staying (you lucky duck) Windsor Castle and Legoland are about 10 minutes down the road and London is a 30-minute drive if shopping, museums and the West End are on your to-do list.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone with taste buds! Paul O’Neill’s cooking is elegant and delivers more flavour than seems humanly possible. It’s perfect for a birthday treat, anniversary – and comes with a special occasion price tag.
Not for: Lovers of more casual dining – this is definitely crisp white tablecloth territory. And despite Cliveden’s raucous past, a rowdy sesh will not fly in the dining room. It has a serene atmosphere that you’ll want to savour.
£££: Prices what I would expect for the quality. You could really go for it on the food and the wine and splash some serious cash. You definitely get what you pay for though – the restaurant has 3 AA Rosettes, and you’re made to feel very special by the staff.
The Cliveden Dining Room, Cliveden House, Cliveden Road, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. Tel: 01628 668561. clivedenhouse.co.uk
Words: Rachel Jane