Buxted Park, The Dining Room (February 2013)

Buxted Park is an absolutely beautiful hotel, a grand Georgian style-building with opulent interiors set amidst extensive grounds. Being only an hour or so from London, it is also a highly convenient location for a weekend break. However, my dining comrade and I did feel somewhat disappointed with the dining experience. In brief, Buxted perhaps tried too hard in some respects and paid not enough attention to detail in others. Taking the latter point first, my comrade and I were surprised by the ruse sprung upon us where we were offered ‘complimentary’ canapes in the bar (which you have to pass through) prior to dining. Clearly it was difficult to refuse, but a nice money-spinner for the hotel since we felt obliged to have a pre-dinner drink. This in itself was not a problem, but since I had telephoned from our room earlier to reserve our table in the restaurant and mentioned that my partner would require the vegetarian menu for dinner, we were hence surprised that the canapes were offered to us as if designed for two omnivores. A swift return to the kitchen and we were then offered a piece of cucumber with some form of onion relish on the top as one of the ‘alternative’ canapes. We could not help thinking this was a clear after-thought, something rustled up on the spot rather than with loving care. While the furnishing of the bar is very much in the style of the rest of the hotel (think large pre-Raphelite style pictures and deep sofas), the restaurant is designed in a much more modern but austere fashion. It did seem full and lively and yet our table was well-placed, affording us the opportunity to enjoy conversation without the intrusion of staff/ other diners. We had no problem ordering the food (despite the earlier canape mix-up), but I was somewhat disappointed that the original wine I had selected was sold out. A 2009 Macon is not a particularly obscure wine and that there was no mention of this from the sommelier (who took our order rather than just a waiter), nor a mention in the list itself, nor a suitable alternative French Burgundy (other than a Chablis) is not necessarily what one would expect from a restaurant in a four-star hotel. In terms of the food, our conclusion was simply that it was too rich and rather over-engineered. My smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade was overwhelmed not only by the cream cheese, but also by the dill and garlic mayonnaise. I tasted little fish, and that which there was effectively ended up being obliterated by a fatty white splodge. Despite the somewhat complicated-sounding red wine poached pear, stilton panna cotta and candied walnut powder, this starter met with more approbation from my partner with the red wine well-integrated among the other ingredients. The mains were less promising on both sides. My chicken breast was marred by the saltiness of the mashed potato, the addition to which chorizo (in the mash) only detracted. Meanwhile, my partner's goat cheese pithiviers dominated the other ingredients in her main. It is a pity that the food at this meal let down what was a thoroughly enjoyable stay at the hotel. Breakfast was also a clear success, with better food and drink all round. We would definitely return, but the dining is not the key reason to do so.