Diners in search of a slice of luxury, seasoned with history and spiced with scandal need look no further than Cliveden, the mansion estate that was the birthplace of the Profumo affair.
Now it is home to André Garrett at Cliveden, one of the most gorgeous places to dine in the UK. The mansion on the banks of the River Thames has had many famous guests in its more than 350 years, but it is best known today for the affair that brought down a British war minister.
In 1961, Secretary of State for War John Profumo met model Christine Keeler at the pool at Cliveden, where, by her account, she was swimming naked. She was also, crucially, sleeping with a Soviet spy. Profumo later resigned after he lied about the affair in the House of Commons; Prime Minister Harold Macmillan stepped down a few months after that.
(Last week, the U.K. government said that dozens of files from the investigation into the affair will be sealed until at least 2047.)
These days, that pool, hidden behind a high red-brick wall, is part of a spa at what is now the five-star country house hotel in Taplow, a pretty village less than an hour west of London.
The ornate, high-ceilinged dining room at André Garrett at Cliveden looks out across the South Terrace to the formal gardens and the river beyond.
The prices are less scary than you might imagine. The lunch menu is £33 ($43.70) for three courses and there is a weekday dinner menu at £55. A la carte is £72.50 and the seven-course tasting menu £97.50. There is afternoon tea at £37.
The food is classic, with first-class British ingredients and beautiful presentation by André Garrett, who was previously chef at the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows, in London. He trained with Guy Savoy in Paris. It's very posh comfort food for the comfortably off.
I went for the £33 market menu, starting with "Ajo Blanco" white gazpacho, with grapes, cucumber, almond and frozen oil. It was creamy and sweet—a little too sweet.
Other options might include raw south coast mackerel with Isle of Wight tomatoes, strawberry, wood sorrel; or guanciale (cured meat) salad, with grilled white peach, blue cheese and candied walnuts.
A whole-roasted quail was beautifully cooked, the meat soft and moist, served with glazed turnip and blackberry in a rich sauce. An alternative, braised Cornish cuttlefish with octopus and bouillabaisse, was a true taste of the sea.
The desserts included English cherry clafoutis with lemon ice cream, but I went for seasonal berries followed by cheese, for which there was an extra charge of £14.50. A cocktail in the clubby bar next door was £18. The wine prices are not too greedy. A carafe of English white (Kenton Estate 2014), which tasted like New Zealand sauvignon blanc, was £24. There is a Canadian pinot noir—yes Canadian: Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve (Niagara Peninsula)—at £63 for a bottle whose lightness was perfect for a summer's day.
It's an extra £7 to explore the Cliveden estate, which is owned by the National Trust. You could spend a week enjoying it. There are fountains and a maze, and there is a rose garden with more than 900 plants, or you can take a boat on the river. It is beautiful on a summer's day, a world away from London.
Cliveden traces its history to the mid-17th century. Over 350 years, it has been inhabited by many colorful characters, including William Waldorf Astor, who created the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The original house was built by the second Duke of Buckingham, who acquired the estate in 1666. Two years later, the duke killed his mistress's husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, in a duel. Astor bought Cliveden for $1.25 million in 1893.
Before World War II, the house became a center of European political and literary life, with guests from Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin, according to the National Trust, which now owns the estate.
If you are thinking of getting into the countryside while the sunshine lasts, it's difficult to think of anywhere near London that combines such beautiful gardens with classic cooking.
It's just a shame that you no longer party in the pool.
Article by Richard Vines, Bloomberg's chief food writer