Fine dining nirvana: Humphry’s at Stoke Park

Looking for somewhere really special to go for lunch or a spot of dins? Stoke Park country club, hotel and spa – and home of Humphry’s Fine Dining Restaurant – certainly makes a jaw-dropping first impression. Think turning up on a blind date and finding Ryan Gosling waiting at the bar. Well, hello! The exquisite late 18th century mansion house, in Stoke Poges near Beaconsfield, has been at the top of the Muddy hottie hotel list for a while, with its lofty ceilings (I’m guessing 25 feet high), marble pillars, opulent chandeliers and walls lined with actual Warhols and Van Dykes. But it was the tiniest of details that really made me swoon – namely, the plushest carpets I’ve ever had the pleasure of walking on. I was tempted to pull off my ankle boots and socks and gambol around in the pile, whooping. But, on second thoughts, being escorted out by security wouldn’t make the ideal start to Sunday lunch.

I brought my mum along for the ride – mums like a bit of fine dining, don’t they? Although I’d presumed I’d be the youngest person in the room, I was pleased to see a good mix of diners in this formal space, including a multi-generational party of 20, who ranged in age from about 9 to 80. It made for a lively, buzzy feel. And the tables are perfectly spaced – it’s a real bugbear of mine when restaurants pack ’em in too tight and you keep getting distracted by your neighbour’s conversation. It’s worth noting, though, that children under the age of 12 are only permitted for Sunday lunch – and that’s the only day of the week that Humphry’s is open for lunch. Alternatively you can have dinner from Wednesdays to Sundays. Something to bear in mind so you don’t turn up on a whim only to go home hungry.

We sat by one of the glorious floor-to-insanely-high ceiling windows, with an exquisite view out across the gardens and lake. Said lake featured in the movie adaptation of Bridget Jones’ Diary –  Hugh Grant, aka Daniel Cleaver, whisks Renee Zellweger’s Bridget off for a dirty weekend in the country, and they go boating (him rakishly handsome with fag in gob) on that very lake. You can also see the bridge designed by one Humphry Repton – the restaurant’s namesake, who was the last great landscape designer of the 18th century, doncha know.

(BTW, Hero stayed in the Bridget/Daniel Stoke Park four poster romp-pad if you want to check out her review).

So let’s eat shall we? First thing to let you know is that service at Humphry’s is dazzlingly good; attentive without being obsequious, friendly but not over-familiar. You might worry that a 5 star hotel with a three AA rosette restaurant could be a teensy bit intimidating but both my mum and I were struck by how warm the whole experience was. That goes for our welcome, the service, the ambience and the dining room itself. Despite the cavernous space, it’s cosy and cosseting thanks to the roaring open fire and apricot-painted walls.

Executive chef Chris ‘Great British Menu‘ Wheeler’s modern British cooking is pretty special too, with its imaginative ingredients and flavour combinations. We went for the three-course set lunch – excellent value at £35 per head, given that à la carte mains alone are about £30 each. The kitchen also threw in some Brucey bonus snacks  – imaginative amuse-bouches in spoons (crab salad with mint, black pudding with beetroot puree and truffle humous with crackers) and a pre-dessert palate-cleansing lemon and vodka sorbet.

To start, I went for butternut squash and gorgonzola risotto with toasted hazelnuts and fried sage leaves, while my mum had plum, radish and dandelion salad with English wasabi and soy dressing.

Then I scoffed roasted stone bass (like a chunky sea bass, in case you’re wondering) with king prawn and lemongrass dumplings, greens and trumpet mushrooms.

My mother was defeated by a giant plate of roast beef with all the trimmings.

And how’s this for a nice quirky touch amid the formal fine dining feel – every dish came on a different, mismatched plate. My raspberry parfait dessert was good, but my mum hit the jackpot with her oozy, rich chocolate fondant, which was basically an edible Miró painting.

We had hoped to stroll off all that deliciousness in the 300 acre estate afterwards, but the weather was so vile we had to leg it straight back to the car. But I’ll be back at a later date to nose around the hotel, spa (a former Muddy Award finalist, it’s widely regarded as one of the best in the country), golf course and tennis courts.

Meanwhile, my mum is already angling for a repeat visit – it is a great choice for a special family get-together, birthday or anniversary lunch. And after dark, I can imagine it would be a decadent choice for a romantic dinner – if you squint in the candlelight, he might even look a bit like Daniel Cleaver.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: a posh family lunch or a romantic dinner. Impressing an older relative – need to placate your mother-in-law? Voila!

Not for: Scruffs – this is fine dining, so you need to dress to impress. And you may be made of sterner stuff than me but I wouldn’t go with toddlers who like chucking food and hate sitting still –  too stressful in such swanky surroundings, even though, it must be said, Stoke Park is incredibly child-friendly.

£££: Not cheap, obviously – you’d be looking at £60 per head, without wine, for a 3 course lunch à la carte. But the set lunch is great value at £35 per head.

Stoke Park Country Club, Hotel & Spa, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Bucks, SL2 4PG; stokepark.com

 

 

 

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Bucks & Oxon