The Five Arrows, Waddesdon
We despatched top crime novelist Sharon Bolton to nail three courses at this mid-refurb fine dining restaurant. Was her meal all killer or pure filler?
I spent the first five years of my son’s life visiting Waddesdon Manor and drove countless times past The Five Arrows, which stands at its gates, without ever venturing inside. It always looked a bit grand for the likes of me, to be honest: an elegant, Agatha Christie, Murder at the Manor sort of place, where the butler would be as likely to sneer at my fork usage as to step deftly over a corpse.
Owned by the Rothschild Foundation, The Five Arrows seemed a special occasion venue, one I’d feel comfortable in when I was sophisticated, richer, more successful. I’m still waiting for those things to happen so when Muddy sent me along – during a major change in direction and halfway through a refurbishment – I’ll admit to a few nerves, but took along my posh next-door-neighbour for moral support.
Were the experience to be less than delightful, I reasoned, I could make it the location of a grisly murder in my next book and fictionally slaughter the lot of them. (Spoiler alert: it was great, we’re all good).
The Five Arrows of the past, general manager Charles explained to us, was a very traditional hotel and restaurant: formal, carpeted dining rooms, heavily swagged curtains, leather-bound menus. It had a market but probably not a sustainable one, hence the rethink. Now it’s less formal, more inclusive and with an emphasis on simple, seasonal quality food. If you’re going to serve a pie, says Charles, “make it the best pie the customer has ever eaten”. (Charles was very passionate about the pie – Waddesdon Estate steak and Shepherd’s gold ale pie. Had we not already ordered, we would definitely have tried the pie.)
From the outside, it’s impressive: a huge, ornate mansion with gables, spires, intricate chimneys, and more fancy brickwork than you can shake a stick at. No doubt about it: you’re on the threshold of somewhere special. Inside, the newly refurbished bar was warm and Christmassy, the décor smart and contemporary. The multiple shades of classy green on the walls give it something of a clubby feel but one where stylish young women will feel totally at home. Posh-next-door-neighbour and I are neither stylish nor young, but we liked it all the same.
There are tables in the bar but we were led through to a large, high-ceilinged area, where the mood changed a little. Here you can see the old Five Arrows, reminiscent of a dining room in a grand stately home. The refurbishment hasn’t quite made it this far yet but will in time. On we went, into a private alcove where we genuinely thought, for a moment, that we’d been taken outside: one wall was a sheet of clear glass, overlooking the garden. If you’re booking for a party of up to four, try hard to get this alcove. It’s totally charming.
On a Friday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, we shouldn’t have been surprised to find the place busy but the noise levels never became uncomfortable. Whether that’s still the case when the carpets and curtains disappear remains to be seen, but for now, it was a very pleasant dining experience and we weren’t at all disturbed by the busy road outside. The double glazing here really is working very hard.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu (same for lunch and dinner) isn’t extensive; a good sign as it means maximum care can go into each dish. Stand-out items included Butternut squash, quince and Blue Monday cheese tart (£7.50), Braised Waddesdon Estate beef nugget (£7.50) and Creedy Carver duck breast cooked in quince (£19.50).
To kick things off, we opted for the excellent smoked salmon with beetroot and horseradish (£8.50) and the goat’s cheese mousse with mulled wine gel and gingerbread crumbs (£7.50); one of the best starters I’ve eaten in years. Were I nit-picking, I’d say the mains list felt a bit restricted, with no pork, chicken, or lamb, but as Charles explained, ingredients come from the Rothschild estate half a mile away and from Lord R’s vegetable garden.
Next-door-neighbour chose the roasted salmon fillet with crispy potato, kale and cream sauce (£16.50) which was very good indeed, and I had a most enjoyable wild mushroom tart with orange braised chicory. For pudding we went for Christmas pudding with brandy custard and redcurrants (£6.50) and the poached pear with honeycomb and whisky ice cream (£7.50) Both were superb.
The Sunday lunch menu differs a little to the main lunch and dinner offering, and comes in at £24.95 for two courses, £28.95 for three. The children’s menu costs £10.95 for two courses and features fish goujons with chips and peas, minute steak with chips and peas and chocolate brownie with ice cream. As we were leaving, afternoon tea was being served: towering creations of sandwiches, cakes and savoury delicacies (£23.95 per person). I may be back.
The family are known both for their wine production, on estates around the world, and for their extensive collections, so you’d expect the wine list to be a bit special – and it is. This is an exciting, innovative list, giving the impression that each item is carefully chosen and painstakingly described, from the ‘green apple, peach and hazelnut’ notes of the Waddesdon Sparkling Wine (£10.95 a glass) to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014, ‘bursting spicy black fruit with a touch of smoke on the finish’ (£49.50 a bottle) Wine buffs will have great fun here but no one should come expecting a cheap house red.
We didn’t stay over – we live just up the road – but we were given a peek into a couple of the bedrooms, including the romantic, four-poster-boasting bridal suite. All looked cosy, chic, with a touch of country-luxe. Three of the 16 rooms are dog friendly, and pooches are welcome everywhere except the restaurant.
OUT & ABOUT
The village of Waddesdon, and indeed the surrounding area, is mainly about Waddesdon Manor: a country house in the style of a neo-renaissance French chateau. Built in the late 19th century, it’s now one of the National Trust’s most visited properties. I might be new to the Five Arrows, but I am a Waddesdon Manor old hand, and can testify that while it’s wonderful to visit at any time of year; in the run up to Christmas, it is magnificent. A perfect winter afternoon could be lunch at The Five Arrows, followed by an afternoon viewing the glorious Christmas decorations in the house before a winter wonderland walk through the woods for tea at the stables. (Please note: the house is very busy at Christmas and booking is essential.)
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Christmas lunch, especially combined with a Waddesdon house visit. Special occasions, family celebrations with older relatives, a romantic weekend away, with or without dog, wine buffs.
Not for: A noisy night out with the girls. And while children are very welcome, it’s not the kind of place I’d bring raucous tiny tots.
The damage: Mains are up to £20, starters are £7 – £8, while puddings are from £6.50 – £10.50 for the cheese selection. The wines aren’t cheap but there are several bottles below £25. Prices stack up well against most of the gastro pubs in the area, while the standard of food, setting and service are offering something a bit more.
The Five Arrows Hotel, Waddesdon, Aylesbury, HP18 OJE.
‘The Craftsman‘ by Sharon Bolton is out now.