REVIEW: The Potager, Barnsley House, Barnsley, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 5EE – www.barnsleyhouse.com – (Evening meal – May 2018 – two people)
Your dream home in the Cotswolds…
Imagine a country house hotel, situated in a beautiful Cotswold village, surrounded by idyllic gardens containing drifts of alliums and peonies and fragrant, over-blown roses. Entering the grounds, progressing along the curved driveway towards the house, you enter a world redolent with privilege, comfort and very English country style. Welcome to Barnsley House!
The best restaurants sell a dream along with their food and Barnsley House’s dream is of an idyllic, aspirational, Cotswold country-house lifestyle. The house, which was built in the late 1690s, is built of honeyed stone and set within a gardens in the romantic, English style. The gardens are a vital component of the Barnsley House dream and, in addition to providing a beautiful setting for the house, and somewhere to wander with a pre-dinner drink, they also produce vegetables that are used in the restaurant. The restaurant is called The Potager (French for vegetable garden) and home-grown produce features prominently on the menu.
Until 2001 Barnsley House was the private home of Rosemary Verey, who started to design the gardens in the 1950s and went on to work on many well-known gardens including the New York Botanical Gardens, private gardens for Sir Elton John, Princess Michael of Kent and, perhaps most famously worked with Prince Charles to create his wonderful garden at Highgrove. The hotel still has a sense of once being a private home. Sitting in the long, rectangular dining room it is easy to make all the other diners disappear in your imagination and see how it once was a beautiful drawing room overlooking stunning romantic gardens. It is big enough to be grand but small enough to be welcoming and is beautiful in the Cotswold style – worn flagstones, open fireplaces, wood panelled walls painted in muted neutral colours and simple, but stylish, furnishings.
We started our evening with a pre-dinner drink in the bar area while we made the (difficult!) choice about what to eat. The focus on the use of botanical ingredients and locally-sourced produce starts with the cocktail menu. I was tempted by the Barnsley Refresher (St Germain Elderflower liqueur, Prosecco, Lime and Mint) and the Cucumber Southside (Gin, Lime and Cucumber). However, in the spirit of herbal investigation, I chose the Rosemary and Ginger Collins (Gin, Rosemary Syrup, Lemon Juice and Lemongrass Presse) which was superb with a subtle taste of rosemary and a fiery kick from the ginger.
A meal featuring home-grown vegetables…
Moving through to the dining room, we were delighted to be placed at a table next to one of the floor-to-ceiling sash windows which allowed us to contemplate the gardens while we ate and also to admire the vine which twines around the arbour next to the house. As anticipated, the menu included a number of home-grown products including candy striped Choggia beetroot, rainbow chard and freshly-picked asparagus. While we were waiting for our first course to arrive we were served with warm crusty bread with a choice of home-made salsa verde containing mint and coriander.
I chose a tart of home-grown shallots with blue cheese as my starter. A swirl of buttery, flaky pastry, sweet shallots and tangy blue cheese made this a winning combination. My companion’s choice of buffalo mozzarella wrapped in Parma ham with a tomato and basil salad, which of course I had to try, also managed to be both light but tasty. A perfect start to a substantial meal!
After a pause to digest and reflect, we moved on to our main courses. I chose pork loin with garden rhubarb, watercress and mashed potatoes. The rhubarb worked with the pork, which was deliciously tender and moist, in a similar way to the more traditional accompaniment of apple sauce, by providing a tangy fruitiness to complement the rich fattiness of the meat. It was a simple dish, and none the worse for that, with the peppery watercress and creamy potatoes working well with the main ingredients.
By this stage, both myself and my companion were replete but, in the interests of research, and of course greed, we valiantly considered the dessert menu. Although there were many tempting options, including rhubarb and orange drizzle cake and peanut butter cheesecake with honey and rosemary ice cream, I was not quite up to the challenge and picked the tangy home-made blackcurrant sorbet. My companion, on the other hand, was made of sterner stuff and chose the apple tart, a disk of crisp pastry topped with caramelised apple, which he said was “fantastic”. He is an aficionado of apple tarts of all kinds, so his judgement clearly demands to be taken seriously.
Following our sumptuous meal, we made our way home, back to our everyday lives, after a few hours living the Cotswold dream. The food at The Potager is not cheap but, as a treat, which allows you to step briefly into a world of country house living, I think it is worth it. The food and the ambience are wonderful but it is the underpinning philosophy of integrating the gardens, and their produce, into the hospitality provided that makes this a particularly special place.