We visit Lucknam park near Bath for a country getaway. A mile-long, sun-dappled drive, lined with beech and lime trees swaying gently in the breeze and stretching as far as the eye can see, is a sight to make any city dwellers’ shoulders drop.
Just six miles from Bath, five-star Lucknam Park is super-swanky without being stiff and attracts everyone from young couples looking to live it up to groups marking milestone birthdays and impossibly glossy families. With its cookery school, equestrian centre, wellbeing centre, spa and informal brasserie, all bases are covered for anyone wanting to spend a few days here.
Restaurant review: Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park
Most notable of late, though, is the property’s newly re-launched Michelin-starred restaurant, Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park (the new name is a nod to the Welsh chef’s impressive 13-year tenure here).
It’s not just the restaurant presentation – lovely wonky-edged artisan crockery and cool tea-light holders, hand-cut flowers, and a more friendly and relaxed vibe from the staff – that marks a more contemporary direction but Lucknam, as a whole, seems to have dialled down the formality a notch, in a good way.
Doors are thrown open to the terrace in the drawing room, pretty posies intersperse the plush surrounds, and smart denim is no longer banned from the dress code.
What hasn’t changed is the sense of experience. Drinks and canapés precede our à la carte dinner so you still get that pinch-yourself feeling of being somewhere really special with that first sip of cold, crisp Henriot champagne.
There’s a nod to Hywel’s roots with lava bread focaccia, which comes in a chunky silver bread bath, accompanied with super creamy Welsh butter.
A tiny yet delicious amuse bouche of poached quail egg, with delicately pickled veg and a pea emulsion is served before a dish of dressed Cornish white crab, with Exmoor caviar and violet artichoke. The crab comes perched on sesame tuiles for textural contrast, while dots of lemon gel add a wonderful acidity.
As you might expect, each dish is vibrant, clean and so meticulously practiced that it looks exactly like the pictures on the hotel’s website. The only marginal miss was my friend’s Brecon lamb, which wasn’t as pink as the waiter suggested it might be.
We both agreed that my line-caught seabass, served with an intense shellfish emulsion, cooked baby gem, slivers of cauliflower and a more-ish brown shrimp butter, won the night.
We were also taken with a cloud-like rhubarb soufflé with ginger ice-cream, and a punchy calamansi palate cleanser, which was a more sophisticated take on a sherbet Dip Dab. Any turophiles need also to experience the many and varied delights of the cheese trolley.
Drinks-wise, there’s a tome-like list, so while we were tempted by a classic bottle of picpoul, we loved the crisp, delicate floral notes of the recommended Danebury Madeleine Angevine 2013, which comes from the brilliantly-named Nether Wallop in Hampshire. It’s also refreshing to see classical five-star establishments championing great British produce, such as cheese and wine.
Hotel review: Lucknam Park
Among the hotel’s 42 individually designed bedrooms (they include 13 suites) the feel is all about refined English luxury.
Antique furniture, a four-poster bed, neutral colour palettes, killer views and a huge marble bathroom with roll-top bath are conducive to respite and relaxation, even if you won’t find many contemporary quirks. Instead, sit and write a letter at the bureau Jane Austen-style, or soak up the verdant vista in the window seat or curl up with your kindle.
Breakfast at Lucknam is formal. The team will bring you everything you desire, from baskets of warm pastries and exotic fruit salad, to bright-yolked Burford Brown eggs benedict with proper ham.
If you’re visiting in summer, don’t miss the opportunity for a turn around the walled gardens and sprawling grounds, which look especially lovely in full bloom.
And, if you want to brush up on your culinary skills, courses in the cookery school cover everything from healthy Japanese to the modern man’s kitchen, street food and a masterclass with Michelin-maestro Hywel himself. Whatever your plans while you’re here, wallowing in the spa pools is another must.