A weekend in Cheltenham for my partner’s birthday to sample two restaurants with good reputations.
On Friday we had dinner at Lumiére. It started well, a really friendly, welcoming greeting by Lin Chapman the co-owner and front of house. The room is small, modern and comfortable - the linen tablecloths are doubled up, lots of space at the table and wine is served in appropriate Riedel glasses. The amuse-bouche was very promising, a small pot of roasted mushrooms with herbs, and we then chose from a selection of 4 entrees, 5 mains, and 6 deserts at £38 for three courses.
I had a warm grilled rabbit and bacon salad with truffle scented dressing and leg meat hotpot, my partner had seared Parma ham wrapped foie gras wrapped with potato-pickled onion salad with apple puree – she accompanied this with a glass of sweet red wine (a Rasteau from the Côte du Rhône) which worked well with the liver. Both dishes were great.
Next we had char grilled Springbok fillet with pink fir apple potatoes, thyme roasted mushrooms and port sauce; and guinea Fowl breast with oak smoked ham and potato cake and lightly curried leek sauce. Both mains had a vegetable dish which was courgette wrapped around a parsnip puree with some broccoli.
For desert we both chose a bitter chocolate tarte with salty caramel ice cream. The only dish that was not 100% perfect was the desert, great ice cream but the chocolate section of the tart was very thick and solid - a very minor complaint. The wine list is good and varied and not badly priced, we chose a South African Cabernet Sauvignon from Paul Cluver at £23 – a good wine full of liquorice and tobacco flavours. The total bill for two was £107 (including wine etc). A very good meal, good value for the standard of cooking, and a really great atmosphere. If I lived in Cheltenham I would return least once a month – maybe more often…!
Saturday dinner was at Le Champignon Sauvage, a very well respected two star. The room is quite modern with a Provence feel it has lots of original art, it is very reminiscent of a good quality “out of town” French restaurant. Again good place settings with lots of space, the one negative is that it is vert bright. My partner thought it was following the Chinese tradition as bright lights are a sign of pride in the food i.e. bad restaurants have dim lighting so you can’t see the poor quality ingredients see.
The amuse-bouche was a Moroccan split pea soup with coconut foam; it was tasty but didn’t have much wow factor. The menu has 6 entrees, 6 mains, and 6 deserts. To start I chose scallops with Jerusalem artichoke puree, globe artichokes and liquorice root. My partner had seared squid and monkfish cheeks, with hazelnut and potato mousseline and toasted hazelnuts. Both perfectly cooked and presented, really good cooking – the only slight criticism was the whole hazelnuts seemed to a dominate a bit. Next we had lamb, smoked roasted onion, and cep puree; and Zander (fresh water fish), cauliflower puree, caramelised cauliflower, girolles, and red wine and hibiscus sauce. Again excellent, complex dishes that are executed faultlessly.
We then chose to share a cheese plate, they present a very comprehensive basket with approx 20 English and French cheeses, and we selected four. These are then plated in the kitchen. Cheese, as an extra course is a £8 supplement on top of the set menu, but disappointingly the portions they serve are miniscule. The cheese was further marred by the choice of bread, a fruit and walnut loaf, a fennel lavoche and a strongly flavoured granary roll were all nice in there own right but overpowered what little cheese we had. We wondered how they kept such a great cheese selection in its prime given the small size of the restaurant and tiny portions. Maybe the lunch menu has lots of food served in cheese sauces?
The pre-desert picked us up though – a fantastic Geranium Flower and rose water sorbet, on “crumble” layer of moon rocks/crackles that explode in your mouth. For main desert I had a layered creation of salted chicory root iced mouse, vanilla rice pudding, and cholate sorbet. My partner had a bitter chocolate & olive tart with fennel ice cream – a little like a chocolate fondant pudding.
We skipped the coffee and petits fours, as we were quite full; we were also a little put off by the £3.50 supplement that again seems strange. I assume the petit fours are freshly made, and the other tables had a good selection, why not simply bump the set price a little and include them.
The supplement policy seemed even weirder when compared to the wine list; it is both extensive and outstandingly good value. Their cheapest red is on £11 and is a red from the Burgundy region; we chose a very nice bottle of Mercurey at £32, and half of Quincy at £10. Both excellent value. Why can’t all restaurants achieve this? Total bill for two including wine was £153 that is great value.
So some strange contradictions that irritate. Why not add a little to the overall bill and get rid of annoying supplements - £28 for a three course meal of this standard is fantastic value - add a few pounds and it stays very good value
It was interesting to compare the two restaurants. Whilst Le Champignon Sauvage’s cooking was far better (more complex dishes, great technique), and the wine list outstanding I felt Lumiére was a bit more fun - the service was warmer, it was more relaxed and it seemed more intimate. However, if Le Champignon Sauvage turned the lights down a bit, and the service relaxed it would be very hard to beat - although dinner for two in a two star restaurant for only £153 is pretty hard to beat anywhere in Europe.
Cheltenham seems to be very well served with restaurants so definitely a good eating town. We spied some good looking Chinese and Indian places that we would try on a return visit.
We stayed a “Thirty Two” a fabulous bed and breakfast. Quite expensive (£169 per night) but well worth it for a treat. They serve a simple breakfast made with excellent ingredients and a lot of attention to detail.
Thanks to "claireh" who recommended the Suffolks and the Montpellier Wine Bar in Montpellier - good areas to check out.