Walk first, then dine like a lord

Jim Ainsworth visits an old manor in the heart of the Cotswolds where Sunday lunch is great for palate and pocket

The Cotswolds are made for gentle walking. Less than five minutes away from the jostling coach parties in Stow or Broadway are open fields, peaceful except for the bleat of sheep and lambs. In an ideal world one might spend the morning walking up an appetite, then relax in one of the white-stoned 16th-century manors with which this part of the country is awash. But there is no law against just turning up at one of them and leaving the walking for another day.

Over-visited it may be, but Lower Slaughter is one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds and attracts its share of families who potter among the daffs and gaze into the stream that winds through. On the other side of a wall too high to peep over sits Lower Slaughter Manor, an imposing place dating from 1658, although it looks more recent by perhaps a century. Any manor worth its salt hereabouts must have a gravel drive, and a flunky who comes out to greet (some even valet-park the car) and guide you through the portals.

Inside, the furnishings might have come straight from a theatrical wardrobe. Here is a grandfather clock, a baby grand piano, comfortable sofas, good carpets, big fat table lamps, pink wallpaper, and staff who walk around in smart morning suits as if ready for anything, from a wedding to an embassy reception. It feels swanky, and would feel formal, too, were it not for Peter and Audrey Marks who do a lot of "mine-hosting" in an easy- going proprietorial sort of way.

They used to own Rookery Hall in Nantwich, Cheshire during the mid-Eighties, bought after Peter Marks decided that, at 50, he wanted to fulfil a dream and run his own hotel and restaurant. Then they sold up, retired to Monte Carlo for a while, then Arizona, but missed the business so much that they dived in again, buying Lower Slaughter Manor out of receivership in 1992.

Chipping away at refurbishment for a few weeks each January, they have now restored the whole place to a comfortable house, and last December they installed Michael Benjamin - who used to work at Gidleigh Park with Shaun Hill - in the kitchen. Given all the fol-de-rol, you might expect a three-course lunch to set you back about £30 plus wine. But it costs £17.95, and the Marks have just introduced a cheaper, light lunch menu as well.

The cooking is an assured and confident run through a repertoire that draws on British, French and Italian basics. We began with home-made noodles in a light buttery sauce, on to which slices of smoked salmon had been laid at the last minute, just to warm through rather than turn colour and cook, and a tart of tomato and black olives, which may well be a clich, but when it is done well that hardly matters.

The thin puff-pastry circle, 6in across with a raised edge, was covered with razor-thin slices of tomato, then anointed at table with Provence olive oil poured from a jug, to aromatise gently as it warmed. Underneath was a smear of mild-tasting olive mush, too gentle to call tapenade, and on top was a small pile of shredded basil leaves. The acidity of the tomatoes nicely balanced the richness of oil and pastry to produce an accomplished, carefully judged and well executed first course.

Luxury items are not thrown around to try and impress, not for £l7.95 anyway, but they do crop up. Three springy fillets of baked Dover sole came with short lengths of green asparagus, a strewing of wild mushrooms that included morel and chanterelle, and another lightly buttery sauce: no arresting flavour combinations, perhaps, but a perfectly satisfying and reassuring dish of the sort that virtually any member of any extended lunching family might be happy with.

The Sunday joint was roast leg of lamb which, because we were eating late, may have passed its point of sweet pinkness but was still tender, with a surprisingly rich and slightly gamey flavour, bathed in a dark sauce of meat juices. Early in the season the lamb comes from Cornwall, later from Scotland. About now it should be local, although Mr Marks does not blindly accept what is on his doorstep. He imports honey from Provence, he says, simply because it tastes so much better than Cotswold honey.

A rhyming trio of raspberry desserts - sorbet, parfait and souffl - was eclipsed by an apple tart, supposedly hot but barely warm, otherwise a triumph, served with calvados ice-cream and flecked with artfulsplashes of caramel sauce.

Mr Marks brought back from the States a love of American wines, particularly Californian, and all on the list are personal choices. Our bottle of Acacia Pinot Noir 1989 at £28.50 was wonderful although, along with a glass of house wine to start and a bottle of mineral water, it helped to nudge the bill up to £71.40 for two.

Lower Slaughter Manor, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire GL54 2HP (0451 820456). Open all week 12 to 2pm (2.30pm Sun), 7 to 9.45pm (10pm Sat). Set lunch £17.95; light lunch £12.95 (not served Sun). Set dinner £29.50. Service not included. No smoking in dining room.

Jim Ainsworth is editor of the `Good Food Guide 1995'.

Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor