The Lawns @ Thornton Hall Hotel – the best meal of my life?
Last year, I took a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of London and drove up to the Wirral with a friend, where we enjoyed living in the lap of luxury for a couple of days – a world-class spa, a beautiful hotel, and one of the best meals of my life. It was such an incredible experience that one year later, I was eager to repeat it, particularly when I found out that said restaurant had a new and exciting young chef. And in return, I received the absolute best meal of my life.
Thornton Hall Hotel, once again, treated me like a princess. Their 3 AA rosettes are well deserved, with beautiful surroundings, a gorgeous spa, and impeccable service. With good service, I always love the small and personal touches. When I realised I had forgotten the adapter for my camera charger, somebody personally brought up everything they had to ensure I got the right one!
So how did the tasting menu at The Lawns Restaurant measure up to last year? I didn’t think it could get any better, but with Ben Mounsey at the helm, it had. The menu presented had only one word per course, breeding huge intrigue. We also took a slight step up this year, as we opted for the wine pairings along with the menu, something I have only done once before, at my friend’s Fancy Ass Dinner Party. And the pairings were flawless. Every single wine complemented its dish so perfectly that even my red wine aversion was overcome – a true feat.
The dining hall was just as gorgeous as last year, with the mother-of-pearl ceiling and beautiful chandeliers providing the perfect backdrop to the stunning food. The service was absolutely flawless, and we really appreciated our waitress’ advice that we shouldn’t order any drinks to start, as we had ‘a lot to get through!’ After the champagne, she also gently suggested that we could go down a size on the wine pairings, which we scoffed at to begin with. Looking back on it, going down to 75ml from 125ml may have saved us falling up the stairs on our way back to the room!
We sampled so many flavours, ingredients, and textures on this incredible night, and I shall now do my very best to describe them all. The more I think about it, the more I am sure that it was the best meal I’ve ever had!
Snack 1: Smoked crackers with chunky olive tapenade
A perfect combination.
Snack 2: Cured (in-house) bresoala
Just the right combination of salty and sweet, oily without being too oily, with a lovely mild herb crust.
Palate-cleanser: Thornton Hall Tonic (cucumber and mint foam)
It was a somewhat odd sensation to suck foam through a straw, yet it really did cleanse our palates!
Snack 3: Confit cep, truffle, and onion
I couldn’t taste the truffle, but the cep was gorgeously sweet and tart, and went down an absolute treat.
Bread: Treacle and rye loaf with brown corn butter
The butter was exactly the right temperature and texture, and the loaves were adorably sized and crusty, with silky soft insides.
Course 1: ‘Vichyssoise’. Paired with champagne
Our first ‘real’ course! This deconstructed cold leek and potato soup had snails and pancetta in it, and every flavour shone through like an absolute beacon. The champagne was outstanding, and reminded me of the one I had at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant earlier this year. Why do I ever drink cheap cava?
Course 2: ‘Tartare’ – Wagyu beef tartare, brined in Guinness, served with Bloody Mary consommé, textures of tomato, and horseradish cream. Paired with 2014 Montepulciano
Quite possibly the single best dish I’ve ever eaten in my life. The brining of the beef made it very different from other beef tartares I’ve had (e.g. Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows), combining the savoury meat flavour with the rich sweetness of the beer. There were also some hidden nigella seeds, whose flavour burst through in an unexpected way, and everything was rounded off beautifully with the Montepulciano wine, which was full, sweet, and dark. My companion particularly loved the tomato textures, as every part of the tomato was used in a different way. I adored the quirky way of serving the consommé in a glass on the side, with just two drops of vodka added with a pipette.
Course 3: ‘Tagliatelle’ – Sous vide squid with tagliatelle, squid ink crisp, and razor clams. Paired with 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand
When Ben Mounsey came out to talk to us later in the evening, he said this was his favourite dish, and the easiest to put together. The tagliatelle wasn’t actual pasta, but rather incredibly thin squid, and also what felt like pickled cucumber? The squid ink crisp was sweet, and the razor clams absolutely melted in my mouth. A perfect combination with the superb Sauvignon Blanc, and I cursed myself for ever buying cheap white wine!
Bread: Tomato and olive focaccia, with French salted butter
Simply stunning. Again, the butter was the perfect temperature to spread liberally upon the loaf.
Course 4: ‘French onion’ – French onion sauce with smoked eel and apple, plus lamb sweetbreads. Paired with 2013 Chardonnay
Once again, the flavour of nigella seeds hidden within the eel shone through without being intrusive. I loved the onion boat filled with sauce, and the pan-fried lamb sweetbreads, which I was skeptical of at first, tasted like superbly tender chicken thigh. This was the first time we felt we had to chew something, and even then, not really!
Course 5: ‘Fish n Chips’ – pan-fried turbot with artichoke fries, quail egg, and seaweed jelly. Paired with 2014 Pinot Grigio from Sicily
This dish was the only one I found fault with, simply because the fish was too salty. I adored the artichoke fries and the seaweed jelly in the shape of a seashell, along with the dish’s presentation. The slightly charred lettuce was unusual, and one of my companion’s favourite ingredients of the night. The saltiness of the fish was unfortunate, but washing it down with the beautiful Pinot Grigio wasn’t too bad a fix…
Course 6: ‘Duck’ – Gressingham duck with cranberry jelly, potato crisp, and red onion. Paired with 2014 Pinot Noir from New Zealand
I think we had to expend ever so slightly more energy to cut the red onion than the duck, which just proves how incredibly tender the meat was! I loved the gorgeous sweet notes in this dish, and was fascinated by the razor-thin potato crisp.
Pre-dessert 1: ‘Egg’ – lemon and elderflower, apricot, and treacle tart
I remember that last year, the mention of a ‘pre-dessert’ made me chuckle, but this year, I was ready for it. Quirkily presented in a broken eggshell, this mouthful was mild, lemony, and fruity.
Pre-dessert 2: Roasted dark chocolate with strawberry and cucumber jam
I had expected a pre-dessert. But I sure hadn’t expected two! Looking back on my notes for this one, I discerned only two words: ‘TOP NOTCH’ (yes, it was all caps).
Dessert 1: ‘Cereal’ – Rice Krispies, banana parfait, and mascarpone cream
This dish was served, explained, and topped by Ben Mounsey himself, the head chef at The Lawns Restaurant. He told us it was based on his childhood memories of eating cereal, and then gave us a generous dollop of mascarpone cream on top. I adored this sweetish cream, and though the dessert was interesting, it didn’t blow me away (this might be because I am not a huge fan of bananas).
Dessert 2: ‘Blueberry Cloud’ – Blueberry and licorice sorbet, freeze-dried blueberries, and blueberry meringue. Paired with 2014 Black Muscat (Elysium) from California
To describe this one, I will use the words of my eloquent dining partner: ‘My mouth is pulsating with deliciousness.’
Dessert 3: ‘White chocolate’ – tempered white chocolate with passionfruit and sea salt, ginger oil, carbonated passionfruit sorbet, passionfruit cheesecake, burnt white chocolate. Paired with Le Fage Montbazillac
My notes say: ‘BEST. DESSERT. EVER!’ and ‘I had to lean back in rapture’. This dish was also explained to us in great detail by Ben, and I absolutely adored every single bit of it. I couldn’t taste the ginger oil, but the white chocolate and passionfruit combo was one that I couldn’t get enough of. And as I washed it down with our last wine pairing, I grew increasingly sad that this was our final course, but also unbelievably happy to have experienced such an incredible meal!
Check out a slightly tipsy video of me breaking open the white chocolate, only to find more passionfruit inside!
Just like last year, one of the best things about our dinner was that it lasted four hours, with absolutely no rush or stress – something which is difficult to find in London. Having just received a massage in the wonderful Thornton Hall Spa, we were already so relaxed, and this meal was simply the highlight of a wonderful weekend at a brilliant establishment. The thought behind every ingredient, flavour combination, texture, and dish was perfect, and I have the utmost admiration for Ben Mounsey in creating not just a menu, but an entire experience.
My only thought after this evening was the wish to go back in time and eat it all again. And again. And again!
I was a guest at Thornton Hall Hotel and The Lawns Restaurant, but the opinion that this was the best meal of my life is completely and utterly my own!