Just book me into the Dickens Room

This weekend I spent a night at Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire in the Charles Dickens Room. On Saturday night, instead of standing out in the cold watching a fireworks display (something that I do actually relish), I was dining in the somewhat grand settings of Rushton Hall. I must say that it has a very fine drive indeed which is something that I do look for in a property.

Rushton Hall reminded me very much of Combe House near to parents’ house in Devon where the set up is quite similar; pre-dinner drinks and canapes whilst perusing the menu in front of the fire in the drawing room (or in the case of Rushton Hall, the Great Hall), before going through to the dining room for dinner and then retiring once more for coffee and petits fours. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we did not get down to the Great Hall in time for pre-dinner drinks and went instead straight through to the dining room. I don’t think that canapes were on offer so we didn’t miss out on anything; not that I think that I would have needed them as I was quite satisfied after my meal.

The menu at Rushton Hall was excellent with plenty of choice leading to a rather difficult decision. Torn between the pheasant and the halibut for my main course, I eventually swung in favour of the halibut, even if it did mean “double fish” in order that I might just have room to share a pudding.

I feel that I chose wisely, as apparently did the maitre d’, but then he probably tells at least one person on every table that. Although tempted by the blue cheese souffle, I had my favourite and chose the scallops with cauliflower textures, curry oil and pork popcorn. Before I got to try the intriguing pork popcorn, we were presented with an amuse bouche of pressed pineapple with whipped goats cheese and pancetta. And it was delicious. As always when presented with something that even hints at goats cheese, I approached this one with caution and was thanking the over lords that approximately two weeks ago I decided that I did in fact like pineapple. Once again, I was faced with a mild goats cheese that was perfectly palatable and its creaminess was a perfect counter-balance to the acidity of the pineapple.

After polishing that one off, queue the scallops. This was a delightful dish of two perfectly cooked scallops with cauliflower puree, curry powder, thinly sliced blanched cauliflower, pea shoots and of course, the pork popcorn. The pork popcorn was something completely new to me; it did indeed look like popcorn and it also had the same squishy texture as popcorn although it didn’t squeak. I think that it was essentially crackling, cooked but softened, instead of the usual very hard, crunchy crackling that we are used to. I could happily have eaten more of this dish and didn’t regret for one moment choosing the scallops over the souffle and was also glad that I had overlooked the parsnip veloute.

Onto the halibut. Sublime. Meaty, chunky flakes of white fish with the slightest crunch on the outside served with cockles, capers and a brandade croquette, (a croquette with salted cod), with some baby vegetables and a delicious sauce. James went for the lamb dish; an ensemble of different cuts of lamb, (a cutlet, the loin and the shoulder), and a fondant potato. A dish definitely more suited to the season than mine but I wouldn’t have changed my choice. I did have a little taste of the loin and the cutlet and I have to say that the cutlet was excellent.

We shared the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream for dessert which was equally lovely. I am definitely going to have to invest in a tarte tatin dish; although I feel that I should really put it on my Christmas list which currently comprises the standard, and never yet realised, items of a panda and a pony. Despite having already eaten two courses and an amuse bouche, the tarte tatin did not last long and we retired to the Great Hall, (it really was rather impressive and deserved the title), where I had a post-meal cup of tea with a selection of petits fours. The white chocolate fudge was the clear winner here.

All in all, it was a wonderfully satisfying, beautifully presented meal with very pleasurable company and incredibly attentive staff. More than worth enduring the never-ending average speed section on the M1 to get there.

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