Imagine yourself on a weekend away at a British country-house hotel, and thoughts of afternoon tea on the terrace and reading the papers over a full English breakfast may well spring to mind. But those traditions have now been supplemented by some of the most modern cooking happening anywhere in the country.
Hotels including Gidleigh Park, Devon (01647 432367; gidleigh.com), Hambleton Hall, Rutland (01572 756991; hambletonhall.com), and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Oxfordshire (01844 278881; manoir.com), have been places of culinary pilgrimage for decades. But in recent years, having an envelope-pushing chef has almost become the country-house norm.
Chef Oliver Stephens spent two years at Noma in Copenhagen before returning to his native Isle of Wight to take over the kitchen at Priory Bay, Seaview (01983 613146; priorybay.co.uk). Stephens has been able to transfer Noma's extreme "locavore" ethos to the hotel, using produce from the 60-acre estate as well as the island's bounty of seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables. The tasting menu in the fine-dining Island Room includes apple and alexander (a wild celery-like plant) with grilled leek and Kemphill Farm beef with seaweed.
Coworth Park, Ascot (01344 876600; coworthpark.com), a stylish 17th-century mansion and polo estate, makes a spectacular setting for chef Brian Hughson's take on contemporary British cuisine. Here a simple-sounding dish of pea and ham is transformed into a strikingly modern plate of sliced Ibérico ham, pea purée and butternut-squash sorbet.
The Chaddesley at Brockencote Hall, Chaddesley Corbett, near Kidderminster (01562 777876; brockencotehall.com), is the epitome of the modern country-house hotel restaurant, retaining a sense of formal luxury with linen-covered tables and polished service but delivering genuine culinary excitement on the plate. Chef Adam Brown produces big flavours while still achieving true sophistication with combinations such as croquettes of salt cod brandade served with chicken hearts and garlic cream.
The intimate, family-run Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Windermere (01539 488818; thegilpin.co.uk), set in a beautiful Lake District landscape, provides the luxurious yet homely backdrop to chef Dan Grigg's adventurous way with produce both local and from further afield. Quail is paired with a foie gras "Cornetto"; salt-cod korma comes with an iced raita (yogurt dip) while pistachio partners wild sea bass and local heritage potatoes that have been prepared in a variety of textures.