Taplow House Hotel dates back to 1598 and the Jacobean area and has enjoyed plenty of ups and downs in 400 years of being a private residence and more recently a country house hotel. Unfortunately it also only a mile down the road from the elegant Cliveden Hotel, and comparisons however unreasonable have been inevitable. The previous owners of Taplow House went into receivership despite a prosperous conference and wedding business, but the new owners from Croatia have sunk at least a million pounds into expensive bathroom and interior refurbishments. The hotel deserves a renaissance in fortunes from people who travel a lot for pleasure and not just from corporate delegates on a freebie two-day binge at a country house hotel. It is also the sister hotel of the progressive Christopher Wren Hotel in Windsor.
The hotel is surrounded by 6 acres of luscious parkland that have remained unaltered since their creation by the legendary landscape gardener, Springall. Five great trees, including two magnificent tulip trees dominate the view. One is the tallest in Europe and the other was planted by Elizabeth 1, and Winston Churchill often visited the house to view the trees in times of stress. The house was originally a gift from James 1 to Hampson, First Governor of Virginia.
What I have always liked about this 32-room hotel is the warm and comfortable feeling it generates any time of the day at prices that will not break the credit card limit. TheTulip Tree restaurant has also had a period in the doldrums mainly because of the many changes in the kitchen, but now a keen young New Zealander Chris Coubrough has taken over head chef duties. He has lots of ideas from his time in Switzerland and more recently Monkey Island Hotel in Bray (who apparently were not too thrilled with his defection), and is willing to improvise. He is quite naturally anxious to get some rosettes as soon as possible with his Continental Pacific Rim styles cuisine. Consistency remains the key in the dining room, which is a perfect place for a quiet romantic evening or celebration. The atmosphere is decidedly low key with a curious selection of music that sounded strangely like "Acker Bilk's greatest hits". However the chef's food is very light, not leaving you with the bloated feeling you sometimes get at similar gourmet hotel meals.
I tried the Masterchef Experience, which is a good example of his fusion style that relies on an unusual combination of flavours. First up was Chilled terrine of asparagus with beetroot jus with wild mushroom and goat's cheese fondant. I loved the creamy feel of the fondant and also felt that the choice of beetroot was quite inspired, and I wish that more chefs would experiment with this most versatile of vegetables. A familiar complaint however was the rather lacklustre selection of breads that preceded the first course. I suppose one gets spoilt after the range available in top French restaurants that take their breads very seriously. The wine list is fairly comprehensive and a young South African does the honours advising us on two different choices. The Montagny Cru Les Chagnats 96 from Antonin Rodet and the Crozes Hermitage 95/6 from Les Juliets were both fruity early drinking types that blended OK with the food on offer.
An exotic salad of coriander with Thai lime leaves and ratatouille with fresh water Cotswold Cray, baby lobster and scallop came up next. Very different with the baby lobsters from Cornwall a real nice touch giving the salad a touch of class. Warm crusty bread would have made it even better though. Main course of Roasted loin of lamb with spinach, polenta and on a bed of tabbululah was well served by the bell pepper infused sauce. Thin slices of lamb done rare, and again a pleasing combination.
Iced lemon parfait with praline and wild strawberry sorbet was also very different and extremely light keeping with the spirit of the chefs cooking style. I presume when the darker nights set in his menu will take on a more heavy approach, but he is certainly a chef we will be keeping our eyes on to see how he progresses.
Average cost of dinner for 2 with wine- £75
Michael Hepworth August 99