Hotels are funny places, aren’t they? It’s the lack of permanence, I think. I’ve stayed in a fair few, from luxury to budget, but rarely have I dined in one. On previous occasions, my visits to hotels were to enjoy the surrounding area rather than the hotel itself, with the hotel just providing a convenient base for my travels. However, it seems that I have been missing out on a vital part of the hotel experience.
I was invited to dine at the Marriott’s Hollins Hall to try out their new menu, born of a partnership with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage and designed to celebrate and support local and sustainable food. It’s not often that I would drive a half hour out of our way to try a restaurant, but the promise of something unique – and sustainable – was enough to tempt me.
As you drive up to the main entrance, you get some stunning views of the building – a truly stunning place, which no doubt has seen a few picturesque weddings in its time. It was pitch black by the time we arrived, but a sneaky peek out of the window allowed a glimpse of a pretty garden with plenty of chairs and tables for outside dining. Once inside, it was decorated much like any other luxury hotel – there are just some fabrics which bely your surroundings. It was all very sumptuous, as I’m sure you can imagine.
As lovely as the hotel itself is, the purpose of my visit was in fact the menu. Seasonal, sustainable, local – it was everything it promised and more. Not perhaps one for the fussier eaters, there were some wonderful dishes on offer that foodies are likely to go wild for. Given the feel of the hotel, I was expecting the prices to be similarly lavish – but a main course was just £16.00, not too pricey for the quality on offer. My favourite part, but one which it was difficult to take a picture of, was the chalkboard above the fireplace detailing the local suppliers used to create these dishes.
The starter was really the standout piece for me – a light, fresh parsley salad with crab and a soft boiled egg (cooked to perfection). I’m not usually one for starters; if there’s a choice I’d usually rather have a dessert than a starter. However, this was truly beautiful and I would make the trip just for this dish.
The other two dishes paled in comparison, although that may be because I was suffering from severe menu envy. True to form, I ordered the fish dish – steamed whiting with mussels and thyme in a delicate chowder. Whilst it was certainly delicious, the soup in particular was beautiful although the fish itself could have used more flavour, I couldn’t get over the fact that it wasn’t the Swillington Farm slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine jus which was sitting opposite me on Paul’s plate. He gave me a piece to try and I practically went green with envy; at the end of the meal, he proclaimed that he could eat that meal every day and never be bored, so tender was the meat and rich the flavours.
Whilst side dishes don’t often get a look in, the ones on offer at Hollins Hall deserve a quick mention; it’s not often that Paul proclaims vegetables to be tasty, but the roasted carrots were dripping with flavour and went down a treat. The chips were boiling hot – so be careful if you order them, I almost burnt the top of my mouth! – and although crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, were a little bit chunky for my liking. Personal preference, I hope you understand.
At dessert, I suffered similarly menu envy; when we’re trying somewhere for the first time, I like to order something different to Paul so that we can get a taste of a couple of different dishes. Whilst he opted for the rich chocolate cake with cider brandy cream and ginger snap, I went for the vanilla panna cotta with spiced apricots and biscotti. Again, mine was delicious, the panna cotta particularly, but the chocolate cake was a standout dish.
The River Cottage collaboration has only just been launched, and Hollins Hall is the test restaurant, with plans to roll out the concept across Marriott’s other top hotels in the coming months. This is just but a taste of what’s on offer, as the menu is subject to frequent change in order to maintain the seasonal feel to the menu.
Chris Griffin, Head of Education at River Cottage, says: “This is an exciting project for River Cottage because of the substantial changes we can help Marriott make in procuring and cooking food. The new menus embrace our SLOW philosophy – Seasonal, Local, Organic and Wild – and we are delighted that local food heritage is being celebrated at each hotel. This is the first phase of a project that we hope will grab the attention of the hospitality industry.”
I hope so, too!
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