The Sorrel Restaurant at Ston Easton Park
by Jess Carter
16 April 2018
We head out to the country for a fancy meal with a particularly show-stopping pud…
Ston Easton is a historic little village perched on the road from Bath to Wells. You may well have heard of it, thanks to the luxury country manor that it gives its name to: Ston Easton Park.
This estate – which includes 36 acres of landscaped gardens – dates back to the Tudor times, although the building as you now see it was built throughout the 18th century. It, of course, began life as the private digs of a well-to-do family, and stayed as such for hundreds of years before being turned into a hotel in the early 1980s. (In the interim, it had fallen into total disrepair and even faced demolition at one point.)
Now, though, it’s everything you’d expect from a proper old-school country manor. It’s got the handsome stone façade with classic sash leaded windows, a library which still has the original wooden bookcases, grand open fireplaces, and a generous peppering of antique furniture.
Once my tardy lunch date had arrived (driving from Bath, he’d only gone and hit Wells before even considering that he might have gone wrong), we were shown to the dining room. There was a feeling of relief when we got to our table; unlike the intimidatingly cavernous spaces that hotels like this sometimes seat their diners in – where any promise of atmosphere promptly evaporates up to the high, corniced ceiling – the restaurant here is set out across smaller adjoining rooms, making for a cosier, more amicable environment.
Still, it’s all very much classic fine dining; expect to find big flower arrangements, tables dressed with linen, and crisp cloth napkins.
To eat, there’s an all-day menu listing the likes of chicken with fondant potato, fish and chips, and burgers (which you can tuck into in the more chilled out lounge area), and afternoon teas are on the go between 3pm and 5pm.
Meanwhile, there’s also a la carte and tasting menus – the latter involving seven courses and coming in at £75 (or £95 with matching wines). If you’re just after a straight-up three-courser, though, you’re looking at £48 – or £38 for two courses.
Seafood won out for us to start. There were scallops that had been seared for that golden caramelisation and delicate crust, and came with a sweet-salty blend of honey and soy. Vanilla yoghurt was dotted carefully around the plate, too: an interesting idea but it, hand on heart, didn’t do it for me here. The chicken jus, though, was a great shout for bringing depth and richness to the delicate plate.
The sea bream with crab apple jelly, pickled daikon and brown crab mayonnaise came artfully arranged with shards of crisp black fish skin. The out-of-context addition of white chocolate threw us a little, as we’d never had this pairing before. My chum reckons that, although he won’t be reaching for a Milky Bar when he next poaches a fillet, it kind of worked. That said, the fish was fresh and well cooked enough that it didn’t really need extra sweetness.
The venison main was centred around two precisely cooked slices of blushing fillet, accompanied by creamy celeriac purée. My favourite element? A disc of soft, flaked confit shoulder topped with smooth, light mash to form a kind of tiny, rich cottage pie. (Sneaking whispers of comfort food into refined dishes is an effort – or, indeed, happy accident – that I always appreciate.) A savoury granola brought both crunch and dense chew: a pleasing contrast and thoughtful flourish.
I could see the duck breast swiftly disappearing from the plate opposite. The meat was joined by Lyonnaise potatoes, bulgur wheat, burnt onions, and blackcurrant jus. The generous pink portions of duck worked well with the dark berry flavours, the whole thing giving off a hearty Sunday lunch vibe – albeit rather more refined.
The dessert selection was classic French in style – think parfait, mousse and cremé brûlée. The grenadine parfait was a flamboyant, baby-pink sight to behold, and one that made my male mate a little glad we were alone in the dining room. Shortbread and white chocolate was layered up with the rosy parfait, while a scoop of pomegranate sorbet undercut the sweetness – both visually and on the tastebuds – to make it rather enjoyable, he admitted, in his deepest, most butch voice.
The cremé brûlée arrived with a delicate torched-sugar crust, and sat alongside chunks of fluffy pistachio sponge and tiny quenelles of the silkiest vanilla ice cream.
The team here know what they’re doing when it comes to classic fine dining – so if that’s what you dig, their professional service and precise cookery should tick all your culinary boxes.