Archive for February, 2011

Manor House Hotel Review. (February 2011)

Posted on: February 14th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

History, hospitality and gastronomy are available in abundance at the Manor House Hotel. Combining a grandiose setting with modern amenities, excellent service and Michelin starred cooking, it is a perfect retreat from the pressures of modern day living.

Set in 365 acres of parkland, which merge seamlessly on the hill above with its 18 hole golf course, the hotel is located next to the world famous, medieval village of Castle Combe, in a valley at the southern tip of the Cotswolds. Entering through the wrought iron gate, along the sweeping drive, and across a low walled bridge over Bybrook river, the visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the spacious, well kept grounds and handsome frontage of the Manor House, The pinnacled gables, ivy clad walls, mullioned windows, and high chimney stacks evoke a romantic, historical past. Although the hotel’s origins lay in the 14th century, most of the existing grade 2 listed buildings are partly Jacobean but mainly Victorian.

The magnificence of the public areas – reception, bar, restaurant and lounges – raise expectations even further. To fulfill these consistently, ensuring that illusions are not shattered, is the primary aim of the General Manager, Stephen Browning (Left). What he calls the “wow factor” of the hotel’s location and history must extend to the accommodation, amenities, service and dining. Stephen exudes charm but has serious intent. Approachable and energetic, he epitomises his philosophy of hospitality with its need to be honest, not too stuffy, and adaptable to the requirements of the different income groups to whom the hotel appeals. That his staff has already achieved this through their hard work and team spirit is a testament to his inspired leadership, clear vision and total dedication.

Stephen has been delighted with the positive feedback of many guests who “don’t want to go back” after enjoying a stay, the average being two nights, (longer in the summer). He stresses that the hotel is very much leisure driven. Whilst the addition of a spa might increase the average length of occupancy, the other diversions, both inside and outside the hotel’s grounds, more than compensate. Indeed, its location near Bath and Bristol, as well as several picture postcard towns and villages, stately homes and gardens, make the hotel a perfect base for touring.

Stephen is also encouraged by the extra trade stimulated by the acquisition and retention of a Michelin star for the Bybrook restaurant under Head Chef Richard Davies. This is especially pleasing given the stiff competition posed by other highly acclaimed restaurants in the area.

Clearly enjoying his role in working for the Exclusive Hotels group, and not content to rest on his laurels, his aim now is to secure a fifth AA red star within the next 12 to 18 months.

The spacious public areas of the hotel are well lit, decorated in a range of styles and luxuriously furnished with chesterfields, settees and armchairs. All these rooms are full of character and charm, retaining many original features: witness especially the fireplace and 1664 paneling in the reception hall and the 18th century frieze in the Shakespeare Room. This commemorates Sir John Fastolf, on whom, reputedly, the famous Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff was based.

Although corporate business only constitutes a small element of the hotel’s revenue, and certainly there is no corporate feel, conferences are well provided for with six 6 flexible meeting rooms, including three elegant boardrooms, and event spaces for 4 to 100 people.

The jewel in the activities crown is definitely the 18-hole golf course, acquired by the company some years ago. Designed by Peter Allis and Clive Clark, the par 73 course has its own clubhouse with restaurant, bars and conference facilities. Within the grounds, there are also opportunities for walking, trout fishing, croquet and tennis, with archery, laser clay pigeon shooting and other pursuits by special arrangement. The Castle Combe race circuit is well known, whilst a programme of special food and wine events offer more epicurean diversions.

For nature lovers, the extensive gardens and parkland, including a woodland walk, will delight and surprise. An imposing stone stairway leads above the hotel to Italianate gardens, romantically designed with statures, ponds and secluded corners. In the grounds, a wide variety of trees – some 60 to 70 specimens not all definitively identified – will excite arborial curiosity.

That rooms are individually designed is now commonplace in hotels of distinction. What puts the Manor House above most is the quality and quantity of design and amenities in the 48 rooms and suites in the main house, mews cottages and stables. Whether they are booked into a master suite, junior suite or guestroom, all of which are individually named after fields in the local area, guests are assured of highly agreeable stay. In the main house, original oak beams and stone walls in the cleverly adapted gabled bedrooms appear alongside the latest modern facilities. Flat screen televisions, dvd players, wireless broadband connectivity are available to all. Well stocked tea and coffee facilities, along with still and sparkling mineral water are standard. Guests are also pampered with handmade mattresses, breathable hand finished duvets, pillow menus, bathrobes and slippers. In my exclusive junior suite were extra luxuries of an ipod dock and an expresso coffee maker. Finally, I was happy to luxuriate in the marble lined bathroom, with its under-floor heating, and spacious wet room douche shower with side jets, watching television from a magnificent roll top bath. Sheer indulgence!

Moreover, the extra touches made all the difference: cup cakes and fresh cream chocolates on arrival; toffees and sleep balm left after the bed was turned down.

Occasionally, style can prevail over substance. Thus, the ultra modern tube-like sink taps in my bathroom had no grip, making them difficult to operate with wet hands. Another irritant was the teddy bear which could be used as a “do not disturb” sign; in practice, it merely got in way!

Overall, Manor House Hotel is a calming, romantic retreat – a place to escape the hustle-bustle and stresses of everyday life. The beautiful surroundings, both inside and out, ensure a comfortable and dare I say pampered stay. The understated, unobstrusive hospitality of Stephen Browning’s team add rather than take away from this feel, to make the Manor House Hotel one of the stand out destinations of the region.

Corrigan’s, Restaurant Review, February 2011

Posted on: February 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Corrigan's Restaurant

 Richard Corrigan opened his eponymous Mayfair restaurant to great critical acclaim in November 2008. Operating on a far grander scale than either Bentley’s or (the now closed) Lindsay House, Corrigan’s Mayfair nevertheless aimed to emulate the gutsy, rustic cooking that brought its Michelin starred chef-patron such great praise. Since then, his celebrity chef appearances have increased considerably, with his latest venture being the weekday Chef School on Channel 4. Given this busy schedule, the question arises as to whether his restaurants have suffered as a result. Fine-dining-guide is happy to report that this is not the case.

Housed in the site once occupied by Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane, the eclectic décor and relaxed feel of Corrigan’s Mayfiar are far removed from those of its classical French predecessor. The long oaked floored room designed by Martin Brudnitzke evokes the rural pursuits of hunting shooting and fishing: witness, for instance, the frieze carving of game animals and birds, antlers decorating the walls, table lamps with goose feather shades, and canvasses of the Irish countryside. Sadly, the dimly lit, low ceilinged room fails to show these to their best effect. Indeed, the bell shaped ceiling lamps linked by dainty chains give an oddly gas-light glow to the lighting. By way of contrast, the frosted glass tiled walls between the deep set sash windows, are a more successful feature of the room.

Well spaced square tables line each wall, with larger round tables occupying the centre aisle. Seating for 70 covers is comfortable, with blue leather chairs and soft banquettes. Private dining for 30 can be enjoyed in the glamourous Lindsay Room, whilst smaller groups of foodies can book the Chef’s Table or Kitchen Library (directly opposite the passe) which seats 12 and 6 respectively.

The food emerging from the kitchen epitomises the nature of Richard Corrigan himself: big, hearty, generous and honest. The emphasis is on cooking to produce clear bold flavours, executed with precision and devoid of extraneous elements on the plate. This is not the place for the cheffy artistry of smears, dots, quenelles or stacks: the focus is uncompromisingly on the main ingredient. Corrigan has never been a slave to fashion, which is why he was a pioneer of sustainability, organic produce and nose-to-tail eating well before others jumped on the bandwagon.

Chef Director Chris McGowan’s impressive CV includes experience in the kitchens of Bruno Loubet, Garry Rhodes and Pierre Koffman before becoming Head Chef at Lindsay House, a position he held for six years. The transition to Corrigan’s Mayfair has been seamless, more impressively so given the increased size of the operation. The ambitious seasonally changing menu of traditional and modern British dishes offers an embarrassment of choice. There are 4 oyster and 11 other starters; 7 fish dishes; 9 meat (with game and offal well represented); and 6 desserts and cheese.

Fine-dining-guide visited on a Monday evening in February, when a pleasant buzz of contented diners was clearly evident.

The selection of freshly home-made breads immediately made a good impression, the soda bread in particular being exemplary in texture and taste.

Parmesan coated mini doughnuts served as a very agreeable amuse-bouche

A starter of lobster ravioli was well executed, the thin, soft pasta being topped with half a roasted lobster tail in its shell. The crustacean was accurately timed, being moist, tender and well flavoured – no cotton wool here! Buttered leeks added texture and an attractive garnish, whilst an intense Americane sauce of reduced lobster stock and crème fraiche brought the elements together well.


Pan roasting did full justice to a trio of Cornish scallops, emphasizing their inherent succulence. The accompanying laska sauce with its lemon grass, chilli, galangal and coconut was sufficiently mild not to overwhelm the delicate shellfish, and the rice garnish provided textural contrast and substance. However, the mustard fruit ravioli, one perched on each of the scallops, proved too sweet and rich for the other ingredients; this was the only blemish in an otherwise excellent meal. (Wine: 2008 Riesling “ Le Kotable” Domaine Josmeyer – Alsace)


The precise timing of a fillet of haddock produced pure white flakes of absolutely fresh fish. A toasted coconut crust contrasted with the gently sweet parsnip puree and coco beans garnishes. This brilliant combination did not need – but did not suffer from – the luxurious addition of chunks of lobster. (Wine: Lugana,Ca’Dei Frati – Veneto)


A veal sweetbread dish was a highly innovative tour de force. The calf’s pancreas had been tea smoked and then breaded before being roasted to produce a crust to replicate a pan seared version. Skillfully prepared, this decadent piece of offal had a crisp exterior encasing a creamy soft centre. Orange in the saucing provided a balancing sweet, citric note. (Wine: 2007 Saint-Aubin, Domaine Girardin – Cote de Beaune)


A wild duck main course was a master class in game cookery. The thick breast of the mallard has been slow roasted pink to retain its essential juiciness and gamey flavour. The leg was cooked as a confit, whilst a slice of “pie” contained an intense farce made with its offal. The richness of the meat with its intensely reduced sauce and the celeriac puree garnish was cut by tea soaked prunes, a vital element in the dish’s success. (Wine: 2009 Cotes du Rhone Pourpre, Maxime Francois Lauren – Rhone.)


Vegetables are not secondary, as shown by excellent side dishes, such as potato and celeriac gratin and honey and black pepper parsnips.

Given the large portions of the starters and main courses, diners would be hard pushed to opt for the excellent all British cheese board before dessert.

Rhubarb and ginger, a classic flavour combination, was given full rein in a soufflé and ice cream dessert, the final highlight in a meal full of stellar moments. The rhubarb soufflé was well risen with a crumble topping, juicy pieces of not too sharp fruit, and vanilla crème Anglaise, poured through the top. Perfectly smooth ginger ice cream completed this first class dessert.


Sorbets too, were intensely flavoured and velvety textured.  (Wine: Jurancon, Supreme de Thon, Clos de Thon, Pyrennes)

Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal.

Other important elements include the impressive 280-bin wine list covering New and Old Worlds, from which the sommelier carefully chose matching wines for our dishes. The list, which highlights organic and bio-dynamic producers – another aspect of Richard Corrigan’s pioneering qualities – also contains very useful notes on food and wine pairing.

The General Manager is Frederic- Claude, whose experience as Head Sommelier at the Waterside Inn and manager of the brilliant if short-lived Ambassade de L’Ile has equipped him well to oversee the front of house.  His top end professionalism combined with genuine passion and warmth, help to ensure his staff members are equally knowledgeable, efficient and solicitous.

Dining at Corrigan’s Mayfair is a highly pleasurable experience. The prices are realistic, given the location, the quality of the ingredients, the generous portions, the skills of the brigade of chefs and the impeccable service. The weekday set lunch menu (including a 250 ml carafe of wine) and the Sunday set lunch menu offer excellent value for money alternatives to choosing from the carte. Nevertheless, the glories of the full menu must be sampled to appreciate the extensive creativity of the cooking. This also makes Corrigan’s a special occasion, destination restaurant, already well received by the critics and
public alike. It is only a matter of time before it achieves greater recognition.

Interview: Joss Fowler, Berry Bros. (February 2011)

Posted on: February 1st, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

WC Fields once famously said ‘who took the cork out of my lunch?’ Indeed wine has proven an enduring pleasure for drinking with or without food. It certainly plays a major role in the fine dining world of today. Who better to enlighten fine-dining-guide about the subject of modern investment wines than one employed by one of the great wine merchants of our time – one of the great wine merchants of perhaps any time – Berry Bros. & Rudd.

Interview with Joss Fowler was conducted by Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide in February 2011. Interview took place in the beautiful cellar spaces (and they remain extensive, although some put to other uses) under 3 St James’ Street.

Joss Fowler

Berry Bros & Rudd Wine Investment Specialist: Joss Fowler

Tell us some history and background about Berry Bros & Rudd ?

The first thing you have to say about Berry Bros. & Rudd is the history. The company first started trading at 3 St James’ Street, London in 1698 and the company started selling wines proper in the 1700s.

It is a family owned and run business – the emphasis is on service and integrity. The aim of the family is not necessarily to be the most profitable wine merchant in the world but to be the best; a mission that brings many attributes that we strive toward on a daily basis.

Whilst the company has this great history behind it, (over 312 years) Berry Bros. & Rudd is forward looking: is generally recognised as the best in the business and ground breaking; the latest element is Berrys’ Broking Exchange (BBX) a trading platform where customers can interact with each other and buy and sell their fine wines.

As the market for investment wine has become global so has Berry Bros. & Rudd, the company now (since the late 1990s) has shops in Hong Kong and an office in Japan.

It’s a bonus working for a family business; for instance Simon Berry is a forward thinking, innovative, ideas driven man and the philosophy of the company reflects those characteristics – we like to stay ahead of the curve!

Over the last 20 years, what have been the trends in wine investment around the globe?

Fine wine investment is not a new market. Many years ago the main market for what we now call investment wine was essentially the UK aristocracy.

At that time “investors” would buy twice as much as they needed, knowing that when the wine matured they could sell half of their cellar and cover the cost of the half they wanted to drink. The US really came into the market in the 1980s. Robert Parker made his name with the 1982 Bordeaux vintage (a great year).

The market became more truly global during the early 1990s with the emergence of Japan and then further still in the mid-2000s with demand from China.

The Hong Kong/China market is really surging on – there are many enthusiastic, intelligent and wealthy potential investors in China with empty cellars!

Has the market for investment wines been affected by changing economic circumstances?

The market has stood up well. Whilst the market was affected by the global financial crisis, it was only affected in very particular areas and it has recovered.

A few wines experienced some volatility – such as the 2005 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild: Over a three month period in late summer 2008, a case may have dropped 40% in value but has now more than recovered. Those that were brave in the autumn of 2008 have already seen that investment more than double in value.

I must stress that it was only a handful of wines that experienced this volatility and should you look at the (long term) statistics of investment wine you will see that the top twenty or thirty Chateaux in Bordeaux have proven a solid investment.

What would you recommend to a complete beginner in wine investment?

The process is fairly simple. First of all, do your research. Researching wine is fun and new people to the subject can’t help but become seduced by the romance of wine. It is so much more than looking at charts of numbers and charts of trends of numbers.

Also do your research regarding from whom you are buying; make sure they are a reputable supplier, likewise with any advice you choose to receive in the trade.

Essentially you are looking at buying the top 20 or 30 chateaux of Bordeaux. Typically, an investor is buying wines when they are young (to sell when they are more mature) and you are buying wines from the best vintages.

Two simple facts regarding the passing of time and investment wine: Supply goes down (people are drinking the wine) so it becomes more scarce, by basic economics something more scarce (cetiris paribus) goes up in price: Secondly, the intrinsic value of the wine increases as the wine matures – a three year old bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild is not really drinkable but at twenty years the wine is beautiful, therefore (up to a point and again cetiris paribus) the price will go up.

Now while these are the basic rules, there are always exceptions and in the modern era there are many exceptions to these basics. Nonetheless, they remain a sensible point of departure for the thinking of a beginner.

With the current state of the market, there is strong upward pressure on price given the demand that is being experienced from the far-east.

This is a double edged sword – the 2009 vintage en primeur (that which was sold and allocated while still in the barrel) was given a very high spread rating by Robert Parker and coupled with this demand the prices were set very high.

Some might have argued that 2005 became a better investment – there was a finished product (in the bottle) with a specific Parker rating. However, expensive vintages, like the 2009, do tend to appreciate in value.

I don’t want to delve in too deep, but just give a flavour of some of the complexities of the market, I’ll talk about one further area to consider: In ten years time, there may be a clamour for the 2009s, the 2005s, the 2003s and 2000s, as they are the strongest vintages. Therefore you would expect them to be the best investment today, however, there’s also a case that their actual value is being manipulated by speculators.

As a result there’s a potential argument for looking into wines for their intrinsic value – a wine of quality that compared to others implies there’s a discrepancy in price today that may be corrected tomorrow. So for example, a strong second growth, Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, or even a fifth growth such as Chateau Lynch Bages (a fifth growth by the 1855 classification but broadly recognised today as the standard of a second growth) will experience much stronger markets.

I should stress, in the context of this discussion about the market, that Berry Bros. & Rudd are wine merchants and not financial advisors. Our advice and expertise is around the wine!

What makes the top twenty or thirty chateaux in Bordeaux stand out as investment wines?

The region has hundreds of years of expertise, ideal growing conditions, aged vines and all round know-how for producing fine wines for investment. There is stability, professionalism and a set of established standards that all serve to reassure the investor and make for a stable market.

Tell us about the influence of the critics on perceived quality and price?

Robert Parker continues to be the world’s leading critic. There is also James Suckling in the US and Jancis Robinson in the UK. There may be a gap in the current market for a critic from the far-east who captures ‘the taste of the far east’. As it stands today, the far-east is a key driver of this market and that market is perhaps more brand loyal than vintage sensitive.

Nevertheless, as it stands today, the Bordelais will not release the price of a vintage until they have the Parker scores. The exception to this rule was the 2008 vintage. Robert Parker produced a set of extraordinary (positive) scores and overnight the price per case of a benchmark Chateau increased by 75%. Now (Feb 2011) they are exchanging hands at seven fold that original (pre-Parker) score price. So yes, the critic(s) have a huge influence! – This example is specific to Lafite-Rothschild, though Chateau Latour is now trading for circa five times its release price.

What is the trend in demand for fine wines ready to drink?

The market for drinking wine mirrors the investment market in that there are a great number of educated, wealthy people in the far-east who will buy fine wines to drink and for their cellars at home.

What is in the store for the future of wine as an investment?

First of all, more in a similar vein, the far-east will continue to be a dominant force in the market. They will perhaps, over time, look more at second growth wines, becoming more vintage and more intrinsic value sensitive (ie less brand driven – Chateau Lafite-Rothschild is comfortably the brand leader in the far-east)

There will also be emerging markets such as India or South America.

How do Berry Bros & Rudd differentiate themselves in the marketplace?

History counts in two ways, its not just heritage, there are negociants that Berry Bros & Rudd have been working with for over one hundred and fifty years. This builds mutual trust and respect. The chateaux like to work with the company as they see Berry Bros. & Rudd’s standing and history in the market mirroring their own.

The financial strength of the company is also important as customers who are (for example) buying en primeur, are buying nine litres of wine they will not see for over two years. You need that feeling of security when you are investing.

Most of all, it is about quality of value-added service to the customer. We offer professional, respected service with unbiased trusted advice to clients.

The sum of these factors help us aspire to be the leading wine merchant in the world.