Nestled in the Avon valleys on the border of the Cotswolds in Worcestershire, you’ll find the rather beautiful Eckington Manor. Boasting a top of the range kitchen and cookery school, their restaurant is headed up by husband and wife team Sue and Mark Stinchcombe. If Head Chef Mark’s name sounds familiar, you’re most likely a dedicated Masterchef – The Professionals viewer – Mark won the series in 2015, after wowing the judges with his impressive culinary talents. As Adam and I had heard rave reviews of Mark’s food from foodie friends, we jumped at the opportunity to visit Eckington Manor for dinner and an overnight stay last weekend.
We started with an amuse bouché of melt in the mouth blue cheese and walnut sables. This was followed by mushroom pannacotta, served with truffle jelly and topped with pickled and fresh mushrooms. It was deliciously umami, almost like a liver paté; I could have eaten this over and over again. We were also brought warm, freshly baked bread – white, and wholegrain with fennel with plenty of sea salt butter.
Adam opted for a seafood starter of plaice, mussels, leeks, sea herbs and a buttery sauce. Topped with crispy sage leaves, the fish was perfectly flaky and complemented beautifully by the rich, delicate sauce. Adam ended up mopping up the sauce with his bread as he couldn’t bear to leave any. My choice of chestnut gnocchi with crisp Jerusalem artichoke and thyme ricotta was definitely a good one for me. The textures and flavours married exceptionally well together and the gnocchi were perfect, pillowy soft clouds that melted in your mouth. I saw several other diners order this after I had finished and kept getting food envy; I could happily have eaten this again and again.
The main event
Moving on to mains, Adam went straight for the home farmed Eckington Manor short rib of beef with heritage carrots, parsley and charcoal emulsion. He’d already seen one go past him to another lucky diner and after that, he really didn’t need to see the menu. The rib was perfectly pink and the shin ridiculously tender. Adam’s eaten lots of beef over the years but really rated the flavour of Eckington’s meat. Obviously keeping it super local is paying dividends for them.
As I so often do, I chose the vegetarian main and boy was I pleased I did. My white onion tart was light, fluffy and topped with delicious comté cheese. The pastry was just right too; no soggy bottoms here thank you. The tart was accompanied with a clever cigarello of thin, crispy pastry containing pickled walnut and spring onion. Lovely.
Main courses devoured, we chose our desserts. I immediately settled on the apple crumble soufflé with custard and cinnamon ice cream, having seen one delivered to another diner. It looked amazing – a decent amount of rise in the souffle, which kept it’s height even when cut into – and tasted even better. This dessert is easily in my top five I’ve eaten this year, keeping good company with dishes from fellow Masterchef contestant and Cheltenham restauranteur Koj.
Adam went for a vanilla & mandarin parfait, tart clementine sorbet, sat on a moist pistachio cake. This was perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and a dehydrated mandarin segment added some crunch. It looked stunning on the plate and was a pleasant, citrussy counterfoil to the meaty beef dish he had previously.
After all that deliciousness, we simply couldn’t make room for a cheese course, though we did enjoy a coffee and some petit-fours. Even those come in a lovely presentation box, with a raspberry jelly, a dark chocolate filled with properly salty salted caramel, and a chewy macaron. Outside of Laduree’s in Paris, these were some of the best macarons I’ve had. Top marks Eckington!
As you’d expect, service was polite and friendly, with each dish explained succinctly as it was served. The ethos is stated as relaxed rather than formal, although it’s hardly Pizza Express. Expect to have your first glass of wine poured for you but after that, you’ll be left to it unless you specifically request otherwise. Personally it felt about right for us; engaging but not intrusive.
Staying at Eckington Manor
Whilst it is clear that food is an incredibly important aspect of Eckington Manor, it would be a shame to not look beyond dinner. Its rural location provides blissful peace and tranquility, and the main building, Lower End House, is full of rustic charm. There are 17 rooms in total, five located in Lower End House, four in the Cyder Mill, six in the Milking Parlour (including one suite) and two in the Grain Barn.
We stayed in room 18 upstairs in the Grain Barn; a fabulous old barn, now glass fronted and full of light, which would be ideal for a function. Back over in Lower End House, you’ll find a spacious guest kitchen and dining room for your use. Handily, there’s also a fully-stocked honesty bar beside a roaring log burner, where we spotted a few guests settling down on comfy leather sofas late after dinner. The honesty bar selection is slightly generic e.g. Beefeater gin, but it doesn’t matter as the main hotel bar is far more interesting with Chase Blackcurrant Liquer and Cotswolds Distillery Gin.
Our room was accessed via a private staircase and certainly had the wow factor. Think exposed beams traversing sloping ceilings, dual aspect VELUX windows, a king size bed and a bedroom bathtub. The bed was incredibly roomy and splendidly comfy, easily passing the Sarah test; with two slipped discs, I often struggle to get comfortable in any bed other than my own. Those of you without my (long list of) allergies will be pleased to know that down bedding comes as standard. Sadly I am allergic to feathers but a quick advance call in the afternoon meant we arrived to light, fluffy and most importantly, non-allergenic bedding. Tea and coffee is also provided in room; sadly it is instant (but local) coffee and UHT milk. Hopefully they may switch to fresh coffee and milk in the future, as some of their contemporaries have also done.
The bathroom was equally impressive with a rainfall shower and deluxe Fired Earth suite. I drew a relaxing bath after dinner and can confirm it was particularly comfy, with luxury toiletries provided. Adam decided to wait until the morning for his bath though, which turned out to be a terrible idea. Unfortunately, a fault with the boiler meant we were greeted with freezing cold water and no heating when we woke up; a fact which Adam only discovered when he got into the bath, and very swiftly jumped out again! A shame for him, as it really was a lovely bath. Once reception had been informed they quickly got it fixed, though we’d had to check out by this point.
Breakfast is served in the restaurant and is a traditional affair with both continental and cooked options. Warm, flaky croissants with mini jars of jam, Greek yoghurt, homemade compote, fresh fruit and juices fill a long table. The cooked menu is traditional and you won’t find smashed avocado here; however the ingredients are home grown, homemade, excellent quality and cooked very well. The homemade sausages are a particular highlight. It’s not quite the smorgasbord on offer at The Pig near Bath, but it more than does the trick and there are only so many different foods you can eat in one sitting; I could always go for some breakfast brie though.
Eckington Manor is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are a foodie. There’s a cookery school too, so that Mark can turn you into a master chef too. Eckington Manor also have the largest collection of AGAs in the UK to cook on if you have one at home and need some tips.
And let’s face it, if you are visiting for lessons or dinner accompanied by a decadent bottle of wine, why wouldn’t you want to stay over in luxury surroundings? Sunday lunch also looks fantastic and there are often offers on; keep an eye out and maybe we’ll see you there!