When I heard that Willington Hall had a new chef, I couldn’t wait to get there and tell him how lucky he was!
It’s rare these days for somewhere to be a well kept secret, but Willington Hall, albeit a beautiful country house hotel in Cheshire, has remained a hidden gem. I think it’s a wonderful place for any chef with aspirations to be able to really make their mark.
We arrived late in the afternoon, checked into our lovely room with views across the countryside and helipad (I sooooo need a helicopter!) and waited patiently for dinner time.
This is not the first time we’ve stayed at Willington Hall*, (it was Adam’s third visit and my fourth), and it certainly won’t be the last because we both absolutely love it there. It’s hard to explain how I feel about the place without sounding all gushy and overzealous, but for me it’s just the most lovely, friendly, comfortable, homely, welcoming and delightful place to be. Home from home, properly.
We sat in the bar and ogled the menu. Soft light fell through the windows. It felt like a Sunday. It was a Sunday, but you know, it felt like one too. We ordered from the bar menu.
There are two sides to the menu at Willington Hall – the regular bar food of great quality and firm favourites, and the a la carte menu which exceptionally showcases the seasons with it’s more inspired dishes.
The ham hock terrine was pleasant, mild in flavour, with a good consistency, and nicely textured with mustard seeds and chives. The picalilli was tasty but not hot, the vegetables could still be recognised by flavour, and it was easy to eat, working well with the crispy rye toast and lightly dressed salad.
The smoked duck hash was a rather rugged dish, with hunks of bread and a portion size to match. Not the kind of ‘hash’ that we’d imagined. Chunks of duck, potato and carrot in a rich sauce, like a country stew, with a soft fried duck egg sitting on top.
The new chef, Paul-Anthony Smith, has a vision shared by Willington Hall – to bring the countryside to the table in style, by using local, seasonal produce to create honest but beautiful dishes.
Last time I sat in the bar at Willington Hall I held my onion ring high, towards the chandelier, and rejoiced in its beauty (I was tired, hungry, and I knew I was about to enjoy a great onion ring!) This time I didn’t have time for that, I just had to eat it and discover that they are still just as good… even better! Soft sweet onion in a crispy salted batter – it’s the simple things!
As I arranged my burger, ready for eating, I looked up, Adam was staring at me with bulging eyes, ‘This is a good burger!’ he exclaimed. He was right. Beefy burger, good texture, nicely seasoned with fine chopped white onion, and not too chunky (it’s got to be able to fit in your mouth, right?) The perfect pile of soft brioche bun, juicy red tomato, crisp fresh little gem lettuce, fine sliced red onion, chunky gherkins slices and rich melted cheddar with an excellent meaty burger. The relish was sweet and tangy, and the chips were good, although I only had room for two of them!
I know I said I only had room for two chips, and this is true, but my pudding stomach was completely empty and willing to receive the Manchester Tart, so I gave in to it immediately.
We moved through to the Study Bar, because we could.
Chef Paul had already described the Manchester Tart to me earlier in the day, based on a recipe his grandmother made him, it sounded sturdy, and nostalgic, and I’m both of those things, so it seemed fitting.
Adam opted for the Chocolate and Pineapple, with no idea what to expect, it was prettily presented, rich and clean in flavour, and light enough not to make him pop!
The tart itself was less decadent in appearance, but still bloody lovely! A cakey base, hard to describe, somewhere between a sponge, a steamed pudding and a shortcrust pastry, with a layer of homemade jam, a layer of sliced banana, topped with cold set custard, and sprinkled with shredded coconut.
The cakey base gave a good weight to the pudding, not heavy, but traditional. Delicious brown sugar parfait, creamy, light and smooth, like butterscotch. Amazing honeycomb pieces that were chewy, crispy, light and with the delicious after taste of really honey. The piece of fresh banana, under it’s caramel shroud. The thick caramel sauce. All very lovely.
This is the kind of food to make or evoke memories with. This is a story shared without words. Good and honest (and very filling!)
* Just in case you want to read some past posts about Willington Hall (and see stacks more photos) here are some links:
Return to Willington Hall (more background on the house and history, and lots of pretty pictures!)
The last time I was at Willington Hall (I visited the University of Chester and stayed in an awful hotel nearby too.)
Oh, go on then, another one? How about these lovely cocktails?