EATING OUT; In the annexe to heaven

LORDS OF THE MANOR; Upper Slaughter, near Bourton-on-the-Water, GL54 2JD. Tel: 01451 820243. Open daily for lunch from 12-2 and dinner from 7-9.30. Three course-set menus only: pounds 19.95 for lunch and pounds 34.50 for dinner. All credit card accepted
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The Independent Culture
THERE is something about Cotswold manor-house hotels that makes you think of Eighties Yuppies: roaring up in black BMWs and floor-length green Barbours to play at being lords of the manor in a haze of nostalgia for a lifestyle that never was.

Lords of the Manor, in the pretty Glouces-tershire village of Upper Slaughter, hints at this more than most, what with actually being called Lords of the Manor and sending potential guests green-and-gold embossed brochures, with tissue paper between the pages and mad quotes from John Betjeman: "First steps in learning how to be a guest/ First wood-smoke scented luxury of life..." Nevertheless, we were excited about the mini-break, for the restaurant has a Michelin star, and the rooms in the brochure looked beautiful, with "views of the lake and parkland" or overlooking "the old courtyard".

Unfortunately, however, we had forgotten the ancient manor-house adage: "Beware of the annexe". In spite of being fierce about wanting a nice room, and the fact that anyone paying nearly pounds 200 for dinner and b&b in the country would feel they could safely assume - without having to specify - that they would find peace and quiet and a view of at least something green, we ended up in a noisy room with nothing nice to look at.

Ruched, bideted and gold light-switched it may have been but it had a view of a) a corner of the roof, b) the kitchens and c) a modern "courtyard" that was more like a patio from Brookside. We awoke to the clatter of washing up, the roar of low-flying jets, the bray of Americans en route to the car park, the warning bleep of a reversing lorry and the merry cries of what my companion decided was the Annual General Meeting of the Bouncy Castle Association.

Picture our feelings at arriving, via a bewildering series of corridors, at the manor house proper where lucky people's atmospheric bedrooms looked out over a rolling vista of pastoral perfection. "It's like a Jehovah's Wit-ness's drawing of heaven," said my companion wistfully. Had there been lions lying quietly and sensibly with the sheep next to the lake, we wouldn't have been in the least surprised.

By dinner-time, darkness had fallen, the honey-coloured Cotswold stone was softly illuminated, the sky was bursting with stars, guests were drinking cocktails on the lawns, and we were led into a candlelit dining room with French doors opening into the summer night. It couldn't have been more romantic if it had tried.

What a pity then, that as my companion sat down on his chair it should collapse underneath him, reducing us to puerile hysterics. "Could we have a candle on our table please?" I demanded. "No, not at zees table," whispered our waiter, pointing at the enormous dried-flower arrangement. "Ze last time it caught ze flowers and boufff! zere was big fire." From then on, the notion of the booby-trapped dining-room added hugely to our fun, as we waited for the legs to fall off the table or the amuse gueule to squirt water into our faces.

We knew the food was going to to be fantastic as soon as we tasted the amuse gueule (or "amuse" as our waitress called it, in a cool, slangy sort of way.) It was an unassuming looking castle-pudding shape of marinated salmon bits, startlingly tasty and precise - as we critics say - on a scrumptious oil dressing. The bread was absolutely seminal: rough, warm, freshly baked with all manner of exotica inside. Later, we cursed our dullard palates for not spotting that the butter was appellation controlee beurre d'Echire. I mean, how could we have been so blind. The wine list was large and classic and the charming young sommelier most helpful, describing our choice of a Puligny Montrachet at pounds 21.50 as "grassy".

The menu is liberally dotted with your balsamics and Parmesans, confits and crottins, but with pleasingly generous portions. Chef Clive Dixon was awarded his first Michelin star last year at the age of only 26. He is known for melting chocolate with a hair dryer, which may justifiably lead to a wider kitchen role for hairstyling implements. Heated rollers, crimping irons, Braun "Roundstylers" could all play their part in shaping wayward brandy snaps, or bringing the more unruly frisee to heel.

It was hard to know whether my crottin de Chavignol had been baked, grilled or blow-waved, but it was cooked to perfection, with the top just turning brown and the inside soft and crumbly without actually melting. Crisp French beans, grilled peppers, olives and Parma ham came in a divine dressing based on fresh herbs and the sort of olive oil that has never so much as seen a man. My friend's terrine of salmon and brill was "beautiful" and came with the best Caesar's salad he had ever eaten, dressed with superb taste and excellent Parmesan. The food deserved better service, which was slow: friendly, but slow.

My favourite item in my main course, when it arrived, was the boulangere potatoes, which nestled under a piece of John Dory served with asparagus and spring onions. Mmmmm. My friend had chosen the best, though: fillet of turbot on foie gras mash with morels. Picture the decadence of foie gras with mashed potato. It was a triumph. My apple tart was one of the best puddings I have ever eaten, consisting of many, very thin slices of apple arranged in a circle of pastry from Jehovah's Witnesses' heaven, in a perfect relationship with Calva-dos and sultana ice-cream, and caramel sauce.

My friend, absurdly, went for the cheese trolley. When it arrived, it was a tray. "I'm sorry, we did have a trolley," said our waitress, "but the last time we used it the wheel fell off."

Our meal, with wine, coffee, water and 12 per cent service, came to pounds 112.50. The place is well worth a visit, as long as you insist on a room at the front, and firmly remind the reservation's staff that lords of the manor do not take their mini-breaks in annexes.

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