Swinton Park – Restaurant Review
by Paul Howard
An essential part of the Swinton Park experience is in the restaurant, known as Samuel’s after Samuel Cunliffe-Lister. He acquires the estate for the family in 1882. It was he who commissions the magnificent Victorian dining room. The approach is either from along the broad picture-lined main corridor or by regally descending the main staircase from the bedrooms above. Either way, this creates a sense of anticipation for the visual and gastronomic treats to come.
Tall windows on three sides of the dining room give airy views over the parkland. They lead the eye up to a spectacularly ornate gilded ceiling. At one end of the room a mirror set over an enormous marble fireplace adds to the sense of space and light. Each dining table is simply but effectively set. A tall elegant vase of lilies is the main decoration on crisp white linen. This table theme wisely does not attempt to compete with the room’s opulence. This really is a space worth dressing up for.
It is also worth arriving thirty minutes before the allotted dining time. That way you can sit at the bar to enjoy an apéritif while mulling over the menu and wine list. The bar itself is a wonder. This octagonal space is designed to house artistic trophies acquired from European Grand Tours before it became the family Chapel. It adapts well to its contemporary role. Over Champagne cocktails and nibbles we discover that Samuel’s offers three menus; a seven-course Tasting menu, plus the three course Classic menu and a Garden produce menu featuring vegetarian dishes. The Classic and Garden menus can be mixed together, so take plenty of time to choose from the delights on offer.
“Less formality than these beautiful surroundings might imply”
The cuisine is best described as Modern British, featuring the seasonal and the local. Much of the produce is either from the four acre kitchen garden or from the estate. This is a rich source of game, fresh water fish and wild ingredients. Food miles and ecology are high on the agenda here, and the kitchen has several awards for sustainability to add to its formidable culinary reputation. Head Chef Simon Crannage has been Executive Chef since 2007, maintaining his three rosettes standard with considerable talent.
We mull over then order fish and game before the highly polished parquet floor echoes our footsteps to the table. Thankfully, all is not quiet in the dining room. Instead, there’s a relaxing atmosphere and less formality than these beautiful surroundings might imply. It is neither stuffy or intimidating despite the luxurious setting.
The extensive wine list offers rich and interesting pickings. There is a sommelier on hand to give excellent advice. We express a preference for a full bodied white wine, and a bottle of Tahbilk’s Marsanne 2005 fits the bill nicely. This Australian winery is famous for growing this under-appreciated grape, one capable of richness and power. Mineral aromas and acacia flavours make for a versatile partner. Armed with a selection of delicious individual breads, we enjoy an impressive courgette velouté with parmesan foam as a pre-starter. It’s a herald of things to come.
“Trout is excellent but the sole was a tour-de-force”
The starters arrive. Both present superbly, the fish dishes marrying flavours and contrasting textures. The estate trout is artfully assembled with pickled garden vegetables and peppery watercress on a bed of fennel toast.
The poached lemon sole is served on a bed of finely chopped leeks. A velvety potato velouté circles it and Mrs. Kirkham’s extra mature Lancashire cheese tops it off. Verdict: the trout is excellent but the sole was a tour-de-force.
Now for the main courses. First, halibut fillet, glazed with broccoli purée, with smoked garlic and toasted almonds to accompany it. This also includes the most exquisite cube of Crab cake. Perfectly cooked, perfectly balanced.
What could be more evocative of Swinton Park than grouse? Melt-in-the-mouth and beautifully pink, dabs of butternut squash and lemon caramel purée surround it. A side board contains portions of braised red cabbage, fondant potato and brambles, while a sprig of flowering purple heather adds a visually playful twist. An exquisite signature dish.
“A sumptuous and romantic setting”
Pre-desserts are served as the light outside fades. An apple Martini makes a nicely sour plate cleanser. That it comes as a jelly makes it as amusing as it is refreshing.
For dessert, a warm pistachio and olive oil cake with a white chocolate ganache and a portion of raspberry sorbet juxtapose hot and cold. However, the star turn of the entire evening is the Granny Smith dessert from the garden menu. The presentation is delightful. The greenest apple mousse is cut by mandolin-thin slices of crisp apple. It is incredibly pure and light, set off by a bergamot syrup and lemon sorbet.
We are both still marveling at this Granny Smith finale over coffee and petit fours in the drawing room. This sumptuous and romantic setting is a fine place in which to end any meal. We revel in its Palladian splendour; big bay windows, powder blue and gilded decor, chandeliers and family portraits all contribute to a rare ambience. With comfortable sofas to lounge in, goodwill emanates from all. Time then for an Armagnac before retiring.
Samuel’s Restaurant, Swinton Park, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 4JH