There is a sense of otherworldliness at Lucknam Park, and that’s because it’s an uplifting escape. The restaurant’s outstanding fine-dining service and its tasting menus also reach for the stars, but it’s all real, says Emma Clegg.
“When you sit here now and everything is back to normal, it’s almost like everything was a dream, after all we went through. But we’ve come out of it – since we opened the hotel last summer we’ve been absolutely non-stop.”
Executive chef Hywel Jones utters these words as we sit outside in the grounds of Lucknam Park enjoying pre-dinner drinks in the halcyon, golden warmth of the evening. ‘That’ time does indeed feel a world away, but the practical reality of the now – watching a family play inexpert croquet and horses caper joyfully in the distant fields of the 500-acre estate – is dreamlike, too. That’s what Lucknam Park reliably does (in all its forms); it transports you to another place, away from traffic noise, business disputes and circling anxieties and allows you to un-crowd your mind and reconnect with yourself and the restorative environment around you.
The food offering here is no different. Hywel has been at the helm of his eponymous restaurant at Lucknam Park for 18 years, just two years later in 2006 achieving the Michelin Star that has been maintained ever since. Hywel admits that the importance of keeping a Star is ever-present, but that, “The minute you stop worrying, you stop caring.” He is also at pains to emphasise that carrying a Michelin Star is not just about providing exceptional food and drink, but also ensuring absolute consistency – every food offering must have the same quality: “If you come to a hotel like Lucknam, it’s not only about the dinner – it’s also about the shortbread that’s provided in the rooms, the sandwiches, and the cheese straws for pre-dinner drinks.”
That’s where having a great team is so crucial, and Hywel’s current team of 18 includes Brasserie head chef Alex Greene, restaurant head chef Benjamin Taylor and pastry chef Darryl Rolle-Jackson. “In common with the rest of the industry there is a massive shortage of staff, but I’m fortunate in having a very strong core,” says Hywel. That core is strengthened by Lucknam Park’s most recent recruit, Hywel’s eldest son Leuan Jones, who has joined the kitchen at the Brasserie. Leuan represented Wales in the Young Chef Olympiad in 2020, competing against young chefs from across 55 countries and won Best Dessert Creation for his Pear Bourdalou with Sauce Anglaise. “When he’s at work he’s not my son, so I’ll let the lads look after him,” laughs Hywel.
As the evening became fresher we left our outdoor seats and made our way to the restaurant – a bright, traditionally furnished room with soft seats and high ceilings hung with pelmeted, draped curtains. Faced with two seven-course signature menus, one of them vegetarian, we decided to take a representative view and have one tasting menu each and share. (Seven in fact became eight as desperately moreish rustic baguettes and spelt rolls with delicate creamy butters descended.)
The first two courses of our respective menus – each one served from a hand-held silver tray – saw us move through Cured Duck Liver with Spiced Plum and Chamomile, and Orkney Scallops with Bramley Apple, Horseradish and Smoked Eel for the Signature.
The Vegetarian made its case with Wye Valley Asparagus with New Potato Mousse and Wiltshire Truffle followed by Bromham Cauliflower with Hazelnut Pesto. The artfully designed plates had poise and delicacy, with the clean flavours of leading ingredients such as asparagus and scallops cutting through robustly. The result? A guaranteed close-your-eyes-with-ecstasy experience.
It’s not just about providing exceptional food and drink, but also ensuring absolute consistency
The Burford Brown Egg with Spring Vegetables, Caper and Brown Butter Dressing was my star of the vegetarian show. Was it the crispy potato circle balancing on top? Was it the golden yolk that oozed into the vegetables? I couldn’t be sure, but there was a primal connection, which vied with the plate’s elegance. Kidderton Ash Ravioli with Heritage Beetroot and Smoked Pinenut Vinaigrette was the fourth vegetarian course, while the meat signature saw Line-caught Cornish Seabass with Artichoke, Morels, Caremelised Lemon and Truffle Butter and (in my view) this signature’s star, Wiltshire Lamb with Wye Valley Asparagus, Spring Peas and Wild Garlic. The two pieces of lamb were cooked two ways, one roasted, one seared, and the colours of the golden gravy, the pink meat and the green peas made them as uplifting to behold as to consume.
With three courses to go, the cheese menu was welcome, a selection of five, with notable inclusions Brie de Meaux (intense, buttery and musky aromas) and La Gabarre, a salty chalky raw goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley. Then came a cleansing dish (for each menu) of Wye Valley Rhubarb, Buttermilk and Sorrel Granita, followed by the final courses, Caramelia Chocolate Bar with Peanut Butter and Popcorn Ice Cream, and Strawberry Cheesecake with Muesli Biscuit Base and Toasted Barley Ice Cream.
Here is the grounded magic of this place in Hywel’s words: “My culinary style has always been about sound, classical cooking and good local ingredients, which is why coming to Lucknam was a giant beginning for me. In London I used to pay £10 a kilo for wild garlic and I arrive at Lucknam and it’s everywhere.”
Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park is available for evening dinners from Wednesday through to Saturday, specialising in tasting menus, including seasonal, vegetarian and signature menus. Seven-course tasting menus are priced at £125.