Bradford-on-Avon review: Woolley Grange
12 September 2017
"A peach-coloured quenelle of smoked salmon mousse sat alongside a fresh and light crab salsa and dollops of golden-yellow saffron mayonnaise"
It's not all about the kids, as Jessica Carter finds out over a grown-up dinner at this family-friendly hotel...
Okay, I’ll be straight with you: I’m not exactly child friendly. While my mum wills me to settle down and sort her out with grandchildren, I pour another G&T and say I have a dog and quite frankly don’t know why that’s not good enough. That in mind, it’s unsurprising, really, that I don’t often frequent venues that are specifically billed as family friendly – like Woolley Grange.
This Jacobean country house in gorgeous Bradford-on-Avon is all about the family, and its restaurant, spa and gardens all cater for the little ’uns. Heck, there’s even high tea at 5pm each day for the kids, so they can have dinner without sabotaging bedtime.
A few years ago (okay, and a few more on top of that), I would have thought I was in bloomin’ Disneyland here (still not over the fact I never went, by the way, Mum). They’ve literally thought of everything for their tiniest guests; if I didn’t know better, I’d think they employed four years olds to carry out mystery visits...
Here, ‘family friendly’ doesn’t just mean kids get the special treatment, though; it translates into ‘grown-up friendly’, too. As much about the adults as the kids, the hotel offers all kinds of services to give parents a break, like two hours’ complimentary childcare with your overnight stay, and a Children’s Breakfast Club, designed to take care of the kids while the ’rents get a lie in. (Family-friendly also means dog-friendly, by the way, although, like the terrible parent I am, I didn’t invite mine along this time.)
Not a child or a parent ( or a dog?). Well, nor am I, and I had a great dinner here. Grown up dining starts at 7pm in the main restaurant (there’s a family dining room too, The Orangery, which serves from 6pm), which is all white tablecloths, polished cutlery and candlelight.
The menu is often informed by what’s growing in the walled garden (and vice versa), which is open for guests to take a stroll through. Gardener Eliza grows all manner of fruits, vegetables and herbs out here, and works closely with the kitchen so that they can all make the best use of it.
Back in the restaurant, though, me and my similarly childless, gin-loving mate got the wine in, and had a good old gander of what was on offer. The ham hock and foie gras terrine (£9.50) was recommended
by the lovely restaurant manager, and, it turned out, rightly so. Awoolleygrangehotel.co.uk It came with pickled veg (carrot, beetroot and onion), which ripped right through that rich texture and flavour, both with their tang
Across the table was a peach-coloured quenelle of smoked salmon mousse (£8.50), with a fresh and light crab salsa and dollops of golden-yellow saffron mayonnaise. These were colourful and well-pitched starters.
There was a slightly longer list of main courses on the menu, with a few meaty dishes, a couple of fish-based choices and two vegetarian options.
Despite being a happy carnivore, my mate settled on the herb gnocchi (£20.50). The pillowy dumplings, green with fresh herbs, had been pan fried for a slight golden crust, and were nestled among leafy greens, mushrooms and roasted beetroot. Soft hunks of Helford white cheese were in attendance there, too; the deep, tangy flavour and smooth, gooey texture melting into the mix of earthy ingredients.
My beef feather blade (£22.50) really was ace; having been cooked nice and slowly, the fat had rendered down to impart its flavour into the tender, flakey meat, which was compacted into a cylinder and given a nice dark crust. It fell apart at the lightest touch of the fork. A serving of polenta was a good alternative to heavier potato, and came pimped with a hit of truffle, while red cabbage purée gave a subtle sweetness to the rich components.
The pastry chef here has worked in several very decorated kitchens, and the resulting skill shows. Dessert (they’re all £8) came as an impossibly light strawberry mousse with toasted cubes of marshmallow and ice cream, with a scattering of shortbread crumbs, fresh strawberries, and tiny basil leaves.
Sure, I would maybe have been initially dubious about coming to this restaurant if I’d known the extent of its family focus, but by visiting you get to see the extent of its commitment to more grown-up priorities, too – like good quality food, great wines, and ace service.