We always warm to distinctive restaurants that befit our food-loving readers, so to discover one with a B&B that carries the food theme into the bedrooms is doubly agreeable. Read our Olive Branch and Beech House review.
The smallest county in England, Rutland is an appealing combination of rolling farmland, stone-built market towns and tranquil waters. It’s a mere a two-and-a-half hour, 100 mile drive from London. Unfortunately, ours was rain-then-roadwork-ridden but when we finally reached Clipsham, a hamlet just off the A1 near Grantham, the sight of the cheerily-lit inn through the drizzle was as much a relief as the apocryphal shining light in the castle.
The Olive Branch
A watering hole since the raucous estate pub was moved in 1890 so Clipsham Hall’s lord of the manor could get some sleep (its name derives from that offering), the pub embodies a cosy local: an open fire, wooden tables and pastoral prints on the stone walls. The food was not so unassuming. A perfectly proportioned starter of Coronation guinea fowl terrine with lime and coriander mayo sounded confused, yet the subtle curry flavour gave a charmingly cheeky kiss rather than a overpowering bear hug to the delicately-flavoured fowl, while the zesty mayo kept things interesting to the last mouthful. On paper, my roast breast of wood pigeon and braised Puy lentils in Madeira sauce sounded hearty, even manly. On the plate it was the most succulent bird, flavourful on the palate, light on the stomach, while the sauce – a harmonious balance of sweet and sour – cut through starchy lentils. The odd pea shoot gave the dish crunch.
My main course of bream fillet, with its crunchy skin and unctuous, soft flesh on a bed of fresh pasta ribbons was soothing; the wild mushrooms and sweet pepper slithers infused the dish with an earthy tang. Across the table, hubby gleefully savoured venison casserole with juniper, bite-sized chunks of sweet roasted root veg, and creamy, crispy fondant potatoes. Fondants have always sounded rather coquettish for a vegetable – naughty and nice – and these lived up to the connotation. The venison was lean and flavourful. And local. We were informed mid-mouthfuls that the man who shot the deer was at the bar enjoying a pint. We gave a solemnly grateful nod.
To finish, hubby’s blackcurrant treacle tart was a great way to have a traditional dessert and get one of your five a day (in Rutland, you can have your cake and eat it). The yogurt ice cream was light, sharp and arguably better suited to a pastry pud than a dollop of indulgent vanilla. Not having the stomach capacity of Daisy the cow, I sampled the superb banana sorbet with a hint of cloves… and then succumbed to the supersoft piquant marmalade ice cream.
Welcoming and serene, a cheerful checked carpet adorning the stairs, the elegant Georgian simplicity of Beech House is the essence of fine country living. The six spotless rooms are painted in tones that evoke food: Aubergine, with its muted mauve tones, carries an art deco theme; the convivial Chocolate suite has a comfortable sitting room and two separate bedrooms; while the crimson and pink Berry has its own dressing room and private patio. There’s also the chic Biscuit suite and Apple room. We stayed in Double Cream, the epitome of calm – soft off-white walls, warm lighting, an eclectic mixture of antiques and a large upholstered bed. The roomy luxurious en suite has the added bonus of rural views from the bath. Like the cuisine at the Olive Branch opposite, Beech House blends classic styles with prevailing fashion, while the attention to detail extends right down to the artisan tea bags.
The impressive breakfast, like dinner, was one of bucolic unfussiness. The baked egg and bacon en croute on pumpkin seed toast was as fresh as the farmyard, and pub-smoked salmon with scrambled egg fantastic fodder; the sharpness of the flush-pink salmon offset by creamy egg and a dainty doughy muffin. Moreish home-made marmalade and raspberry jam (with seeds, so retro), juices and freshly-made bread were conscientious touches.
The Olive Branch does something different with food without over-complicating it. This is carefully judged rustic cuisine, brought up to contemporary speed: traditionally heavy dishes are given the light touch so a filling meal is not a taxing one. Chef Sean Hope’s beautifully executed dishes parade regional produce and there are local food trails on the back of menus, an inspired way to promote local companies and encourage diners to dig deeper. Staff is well-trained and courteous, the accommodation top-notch. The East Midlands may not be the first place you consider for a break, yet it’s pretty, bursting with fresh produce, in easy access of London and Manchester, and it has the Olive Branch. Go.
The Olive Branch’s friendly and relaxed sister pub, the Red Lion Inn in Stathern, near Melton Mowbray, offers a two course lunch for £12.50.
Summer Dinner, Bed & Breakfast offer
Standard Room – 1 night £190.00 2 nights £310
Superior Room – 1 night £220.00 2 nights £370
This offer is based on two people sharing a Standard/Superior Double Room, a 3 course dinner from our Set Dinner Menu (or the same value towards our a la carte menu) & Full English Breakfast. Available Sunday to Thursday inclusive, from the 1st of June until 31st August 2010. Prices include Vat. To take advantage of this offer when booking on the
please enter ‘DBB’ into the additional comments box on the bookings information page.