£20 doesn't buy you much these days – or I thought so until today when I had lunch for that modest sum in the elegant dining room of glorious Thornbury Castle. I was a regular there in the late 1980s (there's been a change of ownership since then) and well remember being shown around the whole castle one evening. It took my breath away then and it has just done so again, but for a different reason.
Currently the hotel offers (until later this year) a bargain two course lunch for £15 or three courses for £20 (cheese and coffee are extras) per head. And what a lunch! It's true that the portions are on the small side – I'm not keen on huge portions of anything but I could easily have eaten the starter twice over, not just because it was small but also because it was absolutely outstanding. Baby beetroot, served on a huge glass plate with parmesan curls, hazelnuts, mixed cresses, all dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette, was as visually beautiful as it was tasty. This was accompanied by home made bread (a choice of 3 being offered regularly throughout the first and main courses). Meanwhile my partner tucked in to a bowl of Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil, with which he was equally thrilled.
Just when we thought that gifted Chef, Mark Veale, may have peaked too soon, along came our main courses, perfectly cooked fillet of guilt head bream served with herb crushed potato, carrot and sauce vierge for me and middle white pork liver and braised shoulder, with mustard pomme purée, baby turnips and chestnut jus for him. The preparation and visual appeal of our main courses were as good as it gets.
Two portions of Thornbury Castle Pudding (a light version of sticky toffee pudding) with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce completed our unforgettable lunch, which had been washed down with a bottle of Viognier (£27), selected from Thornbury's award winning wine list.
On the negative side – our pre-lunch drinks included a glass of Kir, at a very pricey £12 a glass and the restaurant manager's black suit would have benefited from a trip to the dry-cleaner – but, hey, maybe we met him just after he'd dealt with a kitchen disaster. From our arrival to departure the service was charming and faultless, so I'm happy to forgive the odd stain!
How's the building holding up since I saw it last? Well, the lounge where aperitifs are served is not as grandly furnished as I remember it. There are several wooden chairs, in amongst the tapestries and suits of armour, that would be better suited to a kitchen than a baronial hall. Then there's the use of low energy light bulbs, which simply don't suit old buildings (and, in my opinion don't suit new ones either)!
If you are into magnificent buildings, that once played host for 10 days to Henry VIII and Ann Bolyn and also appreciate superb food in glorious surroundings then I recommend you get along to Thornbury Castle before their special lunch menu ends!
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