I’ve spent the first month of this year totally thrown off when it comes to the concept of time; there’s something about the turn of a decade that adds to my inability to compute dates, apparently.
It’s like some kind of millennium bug, but in my brain. And 20 years late. I was certain that this incarnation of Grey’s Brasserie was new to Whatley Manor. It went through a complete overhaul recently, shedding its confidently embodied theme of wood-clad chalet in the Swiss Alps. (I remember having breakfast in there once after a stay and being somewhat confused by my surroundings and the abundance of kitsch Christmas decs. I am less bemused now, having realised that the owners are, of course, from Switzerland.)
Anyway, when I say ‘recently’, what I mean, it turns out, is 2017. And it was the year before that when the chef I called ‘new’ to my dinner date was actually appointed.
Anyway. For the last couple of years at least, a suave and elegant Grey’s Brasserie has been fulfilling the role of the all-day dining, laid-back sibling to the luxury hotel’s two-Michelin-starred Dining Room.
While it may be the hotel’s more relaxed venue, Grey’s is still upmarket, with a decor of neutral hues, banquette seating and decorative wall panelling giving off elegant vibes, and a menu whose prices still fall outside the ‘everyday’ bracket.
It’s a large space, although it’s been cleverly designed with plenty of corners and nooks to create a sense of privacy and cosiness. The service matches the laid back feel, and the atmosphere is one that happily doesn’t call for hushed tones.
Sure, I felt pretty dull ordering the vegetable broth (£12), but I’d been cold all day, thanks to a damp mist that seemed to have crept underneath my skin and into my bloodstream, so it sounded right up my street. Those thoughts of dullness, though, were promptly banished by the arrival of
a heap of pearled spelt and chopped king oyster mushroom, submerged in a hot broth on which floated a vibrant green oil. The liquor was wholesome and deep in flavour with an understated layer of umami, while the spelt and mushroom offered satisfying chew. I held the bowl to my chest and slurped noisily from my spoon (not even sorry) until not a speck was left.
There was also chestnut orzo (£9), the pasta slicked with an impossibly silky and creamy sauce. A comforting bowl of carb-based gratification, it contained a whisper of truffle and was topped with a parmesan and hazelnut crumb for a bit of textural variation and a bolster of flavour.
The beef Wellington special (price on request) was a looker, my slice presented on a plate of its own and showing off deep- red meat, surrounded by a generous layer of mushroom duxelles and thin layer of latticed, golden-brown puff pastry (crisp and flaky on the outside, although with a bit of a moist inner, truth be told). The beef was spot-on: evenly cooked, juicy and tender – I barely needed to chew it, even.
The kitchen didn’t skimp on the sides – the Welly’s arrival was followed by that of roast potatoes, vibrant green veg, braised red cabbage and crispy sprouts (which I assume had been deep-fried – how I would exclusively eat them, given the choice).
The chicken breast (£25) was local and organic, the menu told us, and arrived in pillowy soft and insanely tender hunks. The plump, white flesh was a far cry from the poultry most of us eat most of the time.
The quenelle of chocolate mousse (£8.50) with honeycomb and hazelnut was a surprisingly light end to dinner – which I was wholeheartedly thankful for, after all of the above, plus two rounds of bread and butter. (I doubt I shall ever learn to decline seconds of homemade bread.)
Don’t think of Grey’s Brasserie as the less-good Whatley restaurant: the quality is absolutely there in terms of both ingredients and skill. The two venues share a kitchen, in fact, meaning the two-Michelin-starred head chef Niall Keating carefully oversees both outputs. And it shows.
Grey’s Brasserie, Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0RB; 01666 822 888; whatleymanor.com