Chartwell, Aldwark Manor Estate – Restaurant Review

Chartwell, Aldwark Manor Estate – Restaurant Review (1)

By Roger Crow, June 2024

If heaven really is a place on Earth, Belinda Carlisle, I’d suggest it’s also in the food we eat. While many of us settle for ultra-processed nonsense, which is a crime against the tastebuds, you, dear reader, deserve better, and so does your palate. Great dining experiences have to be tracked down, but fear not. I’ve done that for you.

I’ve been lucky to sample some of the best restaurants in Yorkshire over the years, and finding one that’s relatively new, but attached to an historic country pile is my idea of heaven.

So, after an hour’s drive, my culinary co-pilot and I are at Aldwark Manor Estate, a luxury hotel and golf resort around 16 miles from York.

Chartwell, the £3million restaurant with Winston Churchill-themed touches which opened in early May 2024, is a tastefully decorated mix of 1940s-themed reception and main dining area.

After a glass of welcome bubbles, we visit Clem, the exquisite wine-tasting room (named after Winston’s wife Clementine), where diners can help themselves to a glass from an elegant vending machine. The prices are illustrated, and just for the experience alone it’s worth a go.

By 6:45pm we’re seated, and as the sun starts its slow descent on a perfect summer’s evening, it feels like our wedding anniversary and joint birthdays rolled into one.

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“Thrill of surprise”

The taster menu, when done right, is a thing of beauty, and this proves to be no exception. We’re each given a different menu, so the first goal is to ease the envelope open without damaging the seal.

There is an introductory blurb written in a fancy script, which is a bit too fancy at that size for my tastes. A sans serif font when dealing with a lot of copy in a small space works better. And I’m of an age where I need to read most things in a ‘pinch and zoom’ tablet because it makes life easier. Thankfully the dazzling menu itself is perfectly legible, though I don’t like to study it too hard as I want the thrill of surprise to greet me.

I know we’re in safe hands as Chris O’Callaghan, who previously worked at Heston’s The Fat Duck, and more locally two of my favourite restaurants, Goldsborough Hall, and The Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey, is Executive Chef.

While Rachel opts for a crisp New Zealand White Sauvignon, and later a Californian Pinot Noir, I go for a zero alcohol beer, and then the first of the beautifully presented dishes starts arriving. The restaurant has 24 covers when full, and luckily we’re the first diners, so we can fully soak up that feeling of royalty.

The dishes are exquisite, each of them no doubt assembled and teased with tweezers under almost laboratory-level conditions. You can see a live feed of the kitchen in a framed video screen, which is a nice touch.

Chartwell, Aldwark Manor Estate – Restaurant Review (5)

“Beautifully arranged”

I savour every mouthful, because when a dish has taken that long to prepare, and with that much care, it’s almost a crime to eat it. The flavours do not disappoint.

There are crisp tartlets and tiny morsels of this and that. Minute edible flowers and micro helpings of tastebud-tingling wonders.

Rachel’s seven-course vegetarian menu begins with snacks, including beetroot, wasabi, and nori (dried seaweed) which goes down a treat. The bread is a melt-in-the-mouth experience: St Andrews Cheddar brioche with cultured butter.

The simply named ‘Carrot’ course consists of a baked version of said veg, with hazelnut milk and golden raisin. Though beautifully arranged like all the dishes, her weakest link is charred Yorkshire leek with celeriac and grape. “It’s a little flat, which is a shame because it looks stunning.”

Thankfully the hand-rolled garganelli (pasta) with asparagus girolle and smoked butter generates plenty of positive vowel sounds, as do all of my courses.

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“Sour counterpoint”

I begin with a couple of large coin-sized snacks the same as Rachel’s, though the difference is chalk stream trout. The flavour lingers like your favourite sunset, as does the same bread, though my butter uses moreish chicken fat.

And then comes the beef course: salt-aged Yorkshire beef tartare with caviar, and smoked eel with celeriac. The tender beef also tickles the tastebuds, and though I’d never normally opt for eel, that’s another win. Taste menus can often be about straying out of your culinary comfort zone, and we all need to do that.

My favourite is the hand-dived scallop, which has been barbecue-seared and comes with a frothy bisque. Minute Granny Smith apples offer a sour counterpoint to the scallop; it’s an instant palate cleanser, which ensures a fish lover like me enjoys the experience even more.

I don’t normally eat duck these days, so this salt-aged version is an exception, and don’t worry, I’m not going to do a gag about ‘the bill’, though if you insist. At a little under £100 per person, excluding drinks, the price is spot on, especially when you think a decent burger in an average restaurant these days can set you back around £16.

We enjoy a refreshing palate cleanser: passion fruit curd with mango and marigold, which looks as good as it tastes.

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Dessert is a strawberry cheesecake made with brie. Now as Rachel’s fear of cheesecake is up there with a vampire’s distaste for garlic, when the delicate, creamy and moreish flavours win over even her taste buds, you know you’re into a winner. The strawberry ‘glass’ is a lovely touch.

We finish with a 70% dark chocolate treat which goes down a treat with a perfect latte.

The muzak, a weird sort of soft jazz meets techno, gets on the nerves a little, but I’m sure some diners love it.

It hardly matters. The food is so perfectly proportioned that my fears of staggering from the restaurant like Python’s Mr Creosote after one too many after dinner mints is unfounded.

The whole experience takes around 2.5 hours, and each stage of the meal is an array of revelations. ‘Compliments to the chef’ doesn’t seem like praise enough, but safe to say it’s one of our finest dining experiences of the last decade, not least thanks to Restaurant Manager Matthew and Operations Manager Philippa, who ensure the whole night is perfect.

If, like me, you love a good glass of vino, just make sure you’re not the designated driver as this place has such an impressive array of wines, it’s a shame I don’t get to enjoy them.

Regardless, whether booking for a birthday, anniversary or you just love a great taster menu prepared by experts in a gorgeous location, Chartwell is one of those experiences you’ll never forget.

Chartwell, Aldwark Manor Aldwark, Alne, York, YO61 1UF
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