And breathe… | Tudor Farmhouse Hotel and Restaurant, High St, Clearwell, Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire GL16 8JS
Take a couple of testing weeks at work, mix in the stress and expense of preparing for my son’s first day at ‘big’ school. Then sprinkle on an injured knee (a long and boring story) and you have all the elements required for a mini meltdown! The antidote for said ‘episode’ was (or at least we hoped would be) a chilled weekend at The Tudor Farmhouse. We risked the potential blood-boiling drive through the M25’s ‘permanent’ road works to spend a couple of days in the picturesque village of Clearwell, in The Forest of Dean.
Our journey from the outskirts of south-east London ended up being just a little over three hours. In fact the only surprise was the £6.20 toll to get over the Severn Bridge, luckily you can pay by card and it’s only a one way charge. It’s worth it though if just for the views and to say that you’ve popped into Wales for about 10 minutes. FYI, the nearest train station to The Tudor Farmhouse is Lydney, a fair few miles away.
The hotel was easy to find, there’s not much else in Clearwell, the Sat Nav takes you right to the door and there are plenty of parking spaces round the back. The actual farm building isn’t your typical Tudor style, no wooden beams or whitewashed walls. There has been a working farm on this site since the 13th century but it wasn’t converted to a hotel till the 1980s. The current owners, Colin and Hari Fell (and Gromit the family cat) took over in 2007 and now has 23 beautiful and individual rooms.
The farm is set on 14 acres of protected land which you are free to wander around. A word of warning, beware of the ultra ‘friendly’ pony that charged me from the top of the field. I had to vault over the gate to escape – this gymnastic burst of energy tested my dodgy knee and Saff’s bladder (she was laughing at me a little too much!)
The staff at reception were welcoming and full of advice about what to head for and what to avoid in the local area. We checked in and were shown to our room via a small bubbling stream and past a pretty courtyard garden. And when we say room, it is actually a self-contained seperate building. The Loft suite is one of the higher end rooms (£210.00 a night including breakfast). An immaculately decorated, high-beamed space, we felt instantly at home. The bathroom is really rather special – modern yet traditional, bright yet cosy. If the roll top stand alone steel bath takes centre stage, then the huge walk through shower is definitely the best supporting actor. Add the White Company toiletries and you have the perfect cast.
What we should have done before dinner was go exploring the local area. But what we actually did was pop next door to the Butchers Arms for a gigantic baguette, local cider and another local warm welcome. Then it was back to the room with a couple of cocktails to escape the wasp epidemic, we docked an iPhone in to the stereo and drifted off to sleep. When it’s time for a kick-start to get you up and running again, then there’s always the Nespresso machine to give you a caffeine boost. (Although we did have to look up how to use it on YouTube – doh!)
We could have quite happily ordered room service and watched the X Factor in the comfort of our room, but we had a reservation in the restaurant to get to. The hotel’s two dinning rooms couldn’t be more different. The Garden Room is a bright, modern conservatory (this is where we had breakfast the following morning). Whilst The Tudor Room, in the oldest part of the property is more formal – formal but homely, at last there’s some tudor beams and period features. It reminded us a little of a smaller version of the restaurant at Tuddenham Mill.
Their 2 AA Rosette restaurant is headed up by Martin Adams, who’s recently had a stint on Masterchef the Professionals 2012, making it to the quarter finals. They obviously use the abundance of local fresh, free-range and organic produce from The Forest of Dean and The Wye Valley. Their vegetables are plucked from their ever-increasing kitchen garden, plus many herbs and wild mushrooms are picked by a local forager, if you fancy it the hotel organises foraging trips. You can see why they were recently awarded ‘Cotswold Life Hotel Restaurant of the Year 2013’.
The wine list is fairly short but very varied, prices start from a very reasonable £16 for a 2012 Chardonnay or Merlot. Even the top end wines will only set you back £38, we had an £18 bottle of very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon Inspira Reserva from Chilli (2011). The bar also has a good selection of locally produced ale, cider and perry.
The food menu was varied too, busting with local ingredients packed full of freshness and flavour. All the dishes were very flawlessly presented and service was attentive and polite. One waiter should moonlight doing voiceovers, he had such a deep voice it was almost inaudible to humans. I imagined whales deep in the Atlantic Ocean picking up this sub-frequency and getting all excited when he read out the daily specials.
Before our starter arrived we were given an amuse bouche of a rich earthy ‘Chicken of the woods’ pâté (a fancy way of saying free range?) dressed with the prettiest edible flowers and sunflower seeds.
First up I ordered the Rabbit terrine, piccalilli, cured ham, sunflower seed dressing £8. Ham wrapped around a soft terrine wrapped around a core of rabbit breast, a dense texture but a light, delicate taste. The fresh and crisp piccalilli went perfectly with the salty cubes of breaded cheese. Saff picked a plate of Pickled Pollock£8 – try saying that after a couple of glasses of wine! The pollock was served with potato salad, cucumber, flowers, and a sweet pepper syrup. So sweet in fact that we thought it was strawberry juice.
My main course was an easy choice – Smoked rump of local lamb, braised shank, crushed peas, red onions, celeriac purée, and basil oil £18. The lamb rump was cooked pink, whilst the shank was served inside cabbage leaves, looking like a giant brussel sprout. The celeriac purée was so good I could have happily eaten a bowl of the stuff. Cutting through but not overpowering all the other flavours was the delicious basil oil.
Saff had a strikingly similar chicken dish to the one she chose at Chapters, Blackheath earlier in the week. A roasted breast of Madgett’s chicken, with truffle gnocchi, broad beans, runner beans, white onion soubise and a red wine reduction £18. The foraged mushrooms were woody and packed with so much flavour, the golden gnocchi pillow-soft with just the right level of truffle.
Dessert should have been an easy option for me – Chilled chocolate délice, peanut butter parfait, burnt orange caramel £8. All the elements were there to end the meal on a real high. But as good as the choc/peanut combo was, I came down with an almost fatal bout of food envy, as Saff’s choice was special. Her Banoffee “Pie”, banana parfait, toffee, banana sorbet, chocolate biscuit, lime crème fraîche £8 was incredible. This deconstructed pudding was a sweet tooth’s wet dream and obviously too good for Saff to share any but the smallest of tasters with me. A banoffee pie is a much-loved dessert choice for Saff, and she’s not usually a fan of deconstructed dishes but this was an exception.
And so a little annoyed with myself for my ‘afters disaster’ we wandered back to our room and sunk into our uber comfy bed. In the half-light of the night, Saff had decided that the dark ceiling beams reminded her of the Blair Witch Project. Not happy with simply putting the image of this terrifying film into my mind, she thought it appropriate to show me the trailer too. But as a testament to the beds comfort, I still had a completely rested night’s sleep.
Morning came for too quickly but at least it meant we could use the walk through shower and freshen-up with the White company products. And at least it meant we could have a wonderful full English breakfast with eggs that couldn’t be any fresher and yes, locally sourced sausages and bacon. Add to this fresh Ragman’s Farm apple juice, homemade freshly squeezed orange juice and local home-made yogurt and we’d be set up till lunchtime. The only negative was another guest who obviously loved the sound of her own voice and spoke so much and so loud it was starting to curdle the milk in my coffee!
So that was that, we checked out and said goodbye to our room, the frisky pony and the cutest little white chicken we’ve ever seen. We headed to check out Clearwell Caves in another attempt to avoid the pesky wasps, and discovered we were the only ones in there, pretty scary! From there we nipped into the hippy Secret Forest where Barbie dolls dressed up as fairies are dotted amongst the trees, slightly odd being there without children, my daughter would have loved it however. A quick pit-stop at the very cute and great value Lime Tree restaurant in Chepstow and it was time for the journey home and that dreaded Sunday night feeling.
I know my children would have loved staying at the Tudor Farmhouse and exploring the surrounding countryside, weird fairies and all. But what we enjoyed the most was the relaxed, friendly atmosphere, excellent quality food and much needed peace and quiet… And breathe!
Restaurant opening hours: Lunch: Noon – 2.00pm,
Afternoon tea: 2.00 – 5.00pm, Dinner: 6.30 – 9.00pm