The newly-renovated Talbot Hotel in Oundle is almost impossibly beautiful; it could have come straight from a film set.
It re-opened in June after work that must have set its owners back a million or two and is already gaining a reputation for the quality of its food.
Ade and I visited on a bitterly cold night, but the two roaring fires in the bar soon warmed us up. An old picture on the wall shows one room in the hotel that was nicknamed The Icehouse because icicles used to form indoors, but luckily those days are long gone.
The renovation work has kept the old character of this historic building while adding modern touches, including some impressive glasswork.
The restaurant menu is just long enough to give you problems deciding what to choose and short enough to give you confidence it has been well-thought out by the chef. Starters range from soup of the day to chicken liver parfait and there are a couple of sharing platters, while mains include dishes such as sea bass, steak and homemade burgers.
There is also the option to have some of the dishes as either small or large, including the dish Ade chose to start, crab linguine (£8). Although all the meal was excellent, this starter was the stand-out. Generous chunks of moist, tasty crab, a mound of perfectly cooked pasta and a delicate dill and creme fraiche sauce made a stunning dish. My starter of pumpkin and chickpea falafel (£6) was easier on the tastebuds than it is to pronounce. It came on a bed of dressed leaves, roasted peppers and chunks of feta; the salty cheese an ideal accompaniment to the beautifully light falafel.
The mains we chose could not have been more different from each other; Ade going for the nine-hour confit belly pork (£15) while I went for the scallop and monkfish skewer (£19). Ade’s pork came with crackling, a mound of creamy garlic mash, greens, black pudding stuffed baked apple and cider jelly. The pork was cooked to perfection and fell apart as Ade cut into it; flavoursome and filling, it was a dish ideally matched for a winter’s day. My skewer was altogether lighter and a work of art on the plate, the white fish surrounded by red pepper salsa, chargrilled slivers of courgette and lemon and caper roasted potatoes. Scallops are something I refuse to cook at home; misjudge the cooking time by the merest moment and they are ruined. Needless-to-say these were expertly prepared and retained their bite and taste. The dish was a treat to look at and eat. We had been given a complimentary plate of seeded bread and, being a bread fiend, I was delighted it wasn’t whisked away with the empty starter plates. I used a slice to mop up the delicious juices of my main course.
My meal had been deceptively filling so I passed on dessert while Ade decided he had just enough room to fit in lemon tart served with blueberry compote (£6). No soggy bottoms here, the pastry was thin and crisp, and the filling tangy and refreshing. A lovely end to a memorable meal.
The bill, with a glass of wine and a beer in the bar beforehand and a bottle of wine with the meal came to £82.20, and was worth every penny.
VALUE: Very good
SERVICE: Friendly and professional
DISABLED ACCESS: Yes
COST OF OUR MEAL
FINAL TOTAL: £82.20 (including drinks)
Janet’s star rating: 9/10