Emma Dance dines in the historic surroundings of Thornbury Castle
Thornbury Castle could have come straight from the pages of a fairytale.
With crenellated walls, suits of armour and heraldic coats of arms it feels as if at any moment a wistful princess could float in from around a corner, or a knight charge past the window on his trusty steed. And in fact, hundreds of years ago, Thornbury Castle actually was the haunt of royalty with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn spending 10 days frolicking there on their honeymoon. These days however it’s a luxurious hotel with a top-class restaurant so everyone can visit and experience the splendour. And it seems as if people are making the most of the opportunity to dine in a Tudor Castle, since when we visited on a sunny Monday evening the dining rooms were full.
You are encouraged to enjoy the surroundings, and instead of being taken straight to our table we were first taken to a cosy lounge area, with wooden panelling and an impressive fireplace, to enjoy an aperitif and some canapes while we perused the menu.
While the building might be steeped in history, in contrast the food is most definitely modern with the team of chefs using contemporary cooking techniques and dishing up innovative flavour combinations. The menu is tweaked from day to day depending on what ingredients are available and the kitchen prides itself on using locally-sourced produce.
My starter of rabbit ravioli was a delight –a parcel of just-the-right-side-of-firm pasta packed with soft, well-seasoned rabbit and drenched in a silky parmesan velouté, with pieces of crispy bacon adding a salty crunch and pickled mushrooms giving a note of acidity.
Husband’s slow-cooked duck egg was a rich and unctuous dish of golden deliciousness. A carrot espuma and red cabbage purée added layers of flavour and the smoked duck crumb gave texture.
My lamb main course was cooked to perfection. The meat was soft and still pink and the fat well-rendered. The accompanying mashed potato was smooth as velvet and the slight sweetness from broad beans and tomato complemented the lamb wonderfully.
Husband’s black curried monkfish looked striking, with the black outer of the fish a sharp contrast to the white meat, and a few leaves of pak choi and golden pearls of couscous adding a flashes of colour. The curry flavour was well-judged – not overpowering the fish but adding a heady warmth.
Dessert, billed as strawberries and cream, was anything but a simple bowlful. Instead, it was a playful take on a traditional cream tea.
Taking centre stage was a perfect sphere of strawberry parfait encased in a thin layer of glistening rosy-pink gel and around it, morsels of scones sat nestled against jewel-like cubes of wild strawberry jelly with light-as-air lemon cream adding a hint of zinginess.
Husband’s blackberry and white chocolate cheesecake was more traditional, but just as tasty. The sweet, creamy filling might have been too much on its own, but the addition of a layer of blackberry jelly and an accompanying quenelle of blackberry and lavender sorbet struck the just the right balance.
The surroundings of Thornbury Castle are undoubtedly something very special, and the food more than matches up to them.
A three course meal at Thornbury Castle costs £50pp.