The Grove is an 18th century mansion and luxury five-star hotel set in 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside. Situated just 18 miles from central London it was the former home of the Earls Of Clarendon, as well as Queen Victoria’s weekend getaway destination as one of the leading hotels of the world. It proudly boasts a championship golf resort, award winning spa and is a breathtaking venue for weddings, celebrations and meetings alike. With three mouthwatering restaurants, a walled garden and urban beach, the venue fuses contemporary design with exceptional period elegance, and I was most fortunate to dine in The Glasshouse restaurant and international theatre of cooking.
Upon entering the gates of The Grove I was pleasantly greeted by rolling countryside, manicured lawns and a meandering drive crossing a brook and golf-course into an immaculately tree-lined and twinkling evening carpark. The Glasshouse restaurant is situated adjacent to the reception and furnished with sparkling white marble floors, grand floral displays and impeccably dressed staff who greet you with a smile and tend to your every need.
Waiting in the bar before being seated in the restaurant I perused the cocktails menu for a pre-dinner tipple, with the bar and terrace being a delightful spot to enjoy the elegant surroundings and sample the drinks menu, apéritif and digestifs, coffee and cake. The Crown Colony cocktail tickled my fancy, inspired by Lord Palmerston, and is a deliciously Asian fusion of Grey Goose and Malibu, shaken with fresh lemon, pineapple juice, coriander and a home-made lemongrass and ginger nectar costing £15.50. It smelt divine and tasted just as wonderful with a generous kick of Grey Goose and Malibu balanced by the tangy ginger, fragrant coriander and sweet pineapple that both cleansed and tantalised my taste buds.
The Glasshouse buffet-style restaurant overlooks the formal gardens of The Grove where a team of chefs freshly prepare the food before diners in an open kitchen. I dined from the Glasshouse Winter 2014 Menu as a vegetarian, also avoiding fish due to personal preference. A waiter introduced himself before seating us at a table on the balcony of the modern red and cream restaurant besides contemporary shard-droplet chandeliers and sparkling silver cutlery and candles. He then explained how the buffet-style menu is presented. Across several stations food from across the world is aesthetically displayed over sparkling platters, tumbling baskets and sense-invoking live-cooking stations, serving a mouthwatering selection from caper and parsley butter Seared North Sea cod to a full roast rib of grain-fed Yorkshire beef to cater for every taste and fancy.
We were invited to help ourselves to however much we liked of whatever we liked from the open kitchen. I simply adore food and have a surprisingly unrivalled appetite which led to my selection and clearing of five generous courses. To start with I skipped the tradition of a modest starter and headed straight to the Asian selection live wok station. An enthusiastic chef greeted and invited me to take a white porcelain bowl and fill it with whatever vegetables I desired from the vibrant display of green-grocer style baskets. Using the silver tongs I chose a mix of pak choi, sliced peppers, water chestnuts, beansprouts, broccoli and mangetout. The chef flash fried it in a wok in front of me, asking if I would like fresh ginger, garlic or chilli for which I requested all in abundance along with a dark soy sauce and egg noodles. The wok sizzled, flamed and crackled as the chef banged his ladle, tossed the vegetables and addressed a wave of mouthwatering aromas directly to my appetite, which he plated up within minutes and served to me with a smile. Despite the kitchen being open, the industrial ventilation ensures that all steam, heat and smells are completely extracted leaving you to soak up the ambiance of the candlelight and piano-pattered restaurant without distraction.
My stir-fry was divine, with the fresh, crisp and flavoursome texture of the vegetables complimenting the glossy softened egg noodles lightly coated in a perfectly seasoned dressing of soy, ginger, garlic and chilli. After finishing my plate the waiter arrived to clear the table and I returned to the Asian section to sample the curry. Curry is a massive part of my vegetarian diet and my ultimate weakness. The curry section was self-serve for which I helped myself to steamed white basmati rice, a green Thai jungle curry, vegetable spring rolls and toasted cashew nuts. The curry was incredibly fragrant with a punch of lime and hot chilli, and the vegetables literally melted in my mouth, falling apart with succulence and flavour without compromising their identity. The roast cashew nuts added a creamy crunch and contrast tying the dish together beautifully. By the final forkful my lips were tingling from the heat and my eyes slightly moist, a fantastically moreish delight for every spice and flavour fan.
I then returned to the salad section for my third course of new potatoes, vegetable cous cous, a trio of tomatoes, caramelised walnuts, beetroot, orzo and mixed leaves. It was both refreshing and invigorating, from the juicy sweet tomatoes to the cool crisp mixed leaves. The creamy new potatoes literally crumbled apart in my mouth, with the caramelised walnuts crunching against the tangy and vibrantantly sweet beetroot in unison.
For my fourth course I stalked the dessert table for a generous selection of oven baked rice pudding with a devilishly sweet and sticky caramel sauce, fruit jam, whipped cream, fruit salad, lemon meringue tartlets, artisan sesame and pumpkin seed crisp breads, Brie de Meaux and white grapes. Oh my goodness was I in heaven! From the cool palette cleansing cubes of melon to the warm, thick gooey baked pudding rice, the opulent caramel sauce, sumptuously light whipped cream and crisp seeded artisan breads with a hearty rich Brie. Taking a nibble from each the flavours exploded on my tongue leaving me ooh’ing and ahh’ing over every complimentary mouthful, and a fully satisfying mouthful each were at that. Despite having four very generous courses I couldn’t resist returning for a fifth to fill a bowl with a final helping of the heavenly baked rice pudding.
The waiter returned to the table astonished as he cleared yet another plate, merrily suggesting that I try the chocolate sauce with double cream as a final topping for my pudding. And I’m elated that I took his advice as I finished the most incredibly indulgent evening licking my lips as my spoon came to rest in a triumphantly satisfying and empty bowl. From start to finish my dining experience was exquisite; the staff at The Grove and Glasshouse were highly attentive, polite, welcoming and helpful throughout and the food was out of this world. As a true lover of food there is nothing more rewarding for me than a meal that utterly excites and ignites my senses. The selection of delights available from the buffet-style menu were second to none, as the freshest ingredients were used and prepared by such highly skilled chefs just to my liking in the quantity and consistency that I preferred which is a priceless dining experience for all. I cannot compliment the restaurant and staff highly enough for such a fantastic evening, from the stunning surroundings to the spectacular service, it is clear to see why The Grove’s reputation is so highly commended.
The Glasshouse buffet-style evening menu is priced between £39-£49 per person depending on which days you wish to dine and it is recommended that you book in advance in order to avoid disapointment.