The Dining Room at Whatley Manor, a beautiful Grade II listed manor house hotel and spa set with 12 acres of gorgeous Cotswold countryside, has held two Michelin stars since 2009. The only difference now is there’s a new chef at the helm: Niall Keating.
The dining room looks the same as our previous visit back in 2014 (cream washed walls, white tabeclothes and hushed surroundings which does feels a touch dated). There is still the same friendly, youthful and passionate front of house too. The food however couldn’t be more different and it’s all rather wonderful.
The 12 course tasting menu is £99 per person and takes inspiration from Niall’s travels/work around Japan, Korea and France. Snacks start with a fiery cracker topped with shrimps and sesame, a plump oyster with seaweed mignonette and smoked eel in an impossibly light vinegar tempura.
Egg white custard topped with salmon roe is the only dish that divides the table. I’m a fan of those fishy balls, which burst with a taste of the sea, against the creamy custard. My gentleman companion struggles with its pungency.
The rest, we agree, is a hit list. From a squid ink tortellini filled with pork, which has the texture of a wonton, bursting to release a deluge of pork fat, to a “risotto” of chorizo and raw scallop, which is incredibly well balanced.
Even the bread, whose bubbly texture is a work of art, comes with caramelised AND buttermilk butter, along with a beer matched perfectly with all three, showing the kitchen doesn’t do things by half.
Mackerel arrives with preserved raspberries and a fresh raspberry dressing – the oiliness of the fish pairing well with the zingy fruit. Salmon with Exmoor caviar and beurre blanc is as classicly French as you could get. It would stick out from the rest of the menu like a sore thumb if it wasn’t so indulgently marvellous. Such a treat.
The Wiltshire lamb cutlet is super thick, making the result of both soft and crisp fat even more impressive. A teeny dollop of fresh wasabi is another nod to the exotic and it stands up to the strong lamby flavour.
We opt for cheese (£12.95) which is a truffled something pongy, whose name escapes me, atop a slice of bread topped with extra truffle – grated this time. They certainly don’t scrimp on the stuff that’s for sure. This time my gentleman companion enjoys the pungency. Heaven.
White peach with rosemary and olive oil acts as a light and refreshing palate cleanser before the real star dessert of cherry microwave sponge (a more delicate sponge I’m yet to come across) with marzipan and pistachio.
We finish with a fresh mint tea and some matcha green tea choux buns in the large drawing room which has the comfort of someone’s living room. The perfect end to a rather special meal.
Long, adventurous tasting menus where you’d struggled to recreate the food at home is exactly the sort of cooking I love – and that’s exactly what Niall has created at Whatley Manor. To produce such an extensive menu with no duds is even more impressive. And he’s only 25.
Would we go back? Yes
We dined as guests of the restaurant