Restaurant Review: Calverley Grill at Oulton Hall, Oulton, Leeds

NEW Year's resolutions have never really been Oliver's strong suit.

But, after a festive period packed with rather more food and drink excesses than could reasonably be justified, it was time to grab the bull by the horns.

There was to be no more of the hedonistic indulgence that had characterised the celebrations which had marked Christmas and ushered in 2011.

January was to be a month of hermit-like abstinence which would inevitably see the pounds drop off and a triumphant return to full fitness by the time spring rolled around.

Unsurprisingly, and perhaps setting some sort of new record, I'm afraid all those good intentions were quickly brushed aside in favour of a trip to Oulton Hall's rather splendid Calverley Grill barely a week in.

But, as I always say, if you're going to fail, at least fail in style.

And style was certainly the order of the day here as, arriving in the breathtaking hotel grounds, I felt not even the tiniest iota of guilt.

Negotiating a series of suitably impressive rooms in the hotel, which was converted from a mid-18th century mansion, we half expected a tuxedo-wearing butler to spring up at any given moment.

In the restaurant, the low lighting and the lack of noise combined to make the atmosphere initially slightly intimidating, but that impression was swiftly swept away by a very friendly member of staff who offered the warmest of welcomes.

Looking around as we made our way to our table, the word that sprang instantly to mind was 'sumptuous'.

Decked in rich tones of black, red and dark wood, and with low-lighting and chandeliers throughout, the interior has a decadent, boudoir-like quality which contrasts with the starched, white tablecloths.

And the soft, plush velvet seating adds to an intimate, seductive and, dare I say it, almost sexy look.

Even the slightly odd selection of paintings – at least one of which featured what appeared to be a crocodile skull – did nothing to dampen its charm, in actual fact only adding to the restaurant's darkly romantic, gothic charm.

All this combined to leave us both in little doubt that, based on first impressions, this would be a wonderful place for a special anniversary or Valentine's meal.

The menu is a good size, with enough tempting-looking selections without being too large.

And, refreshingly for what's clearly a rather high-end venue, as well as the la carte menu, there was also a seasonal selection, offering three courses for 30 per person.

Simplicity

What impressed us most, however, was the menu's relative simplicity, forgoing gourmet pretentiousness in favour of a wide selection of solid, British classic dishes.

But the food selection is dwarfed by the wine list – or rather the wine book – which offers a quite dizzying selection, with page after page to satisfy even the most ardent wine buff.

We chose a crisp and fruity Australian white to accompany our meal.

After some deliberation, my companion decided to start with a spiced parsnip soup.

Rich, thick and with just the right amount of spicy parsnip hit in each mouthful, the dish was a real pleasure and the perfect winter warmer.

For my own starter, I opted for a chicken liver parfait served with an apple pure chutney. The parfait itself was tasty enough, with a strong, simple flavour and in a generous portion.

The problem was, it was served with a single, very small, very thin piece of toast which wasn't enough to accommodate even half of the parfait.

This left me having to use the pre-starter bread so I could finish the dish – which I definitely wanted to.

Other options included a traditional prawn cocktail and a salad of pickled mushrooms and pine nuts.

For main course, my companion ordered a delicious-sounding fried pork medallions with a time-honoured accompaniment of glazed apples as well as mini buttered potatoes.

Hearty, tasty, well-cooked and with a decidedly down-to-earth quality, the dish was faultless.

For my own main, I ordered roast lamb rump with creamed potato and glazed carrots

Beautifully presented and cooked relatively rare, the lamb was soft, juicy and completely without fat, the potato was smooth and creamy and the vegetables crunchy and tasty, completing what was another absolute triumph of simple, big, traditional flavours done exceptionally well.

Also on the menu was a poached salmon fillet and a wild mushroom and tomato omelette.

For dessert, my companion decided to stick with the traditional theme and ordered an indulgent jam sponge, served with a double cream custard- although it was a tough choice between that and the dark chocolate terrine with raspberry sauce.

Sponge

Ending a big meal with such a heavy-sounding dish was always going to be a challenge but what arrived was a light, easy-to-eat sponge in a deliciously sweet custard.

The only fault was that it could have done with a bit more jam for more of a fruity flavour.

For my own dessert, I ordered a vanilla panacotta, served with a spiced plum compote.

Served in a fairly dainty portion, the dessert was the perfect way to round off such a hearty meal.

Sweet and creamy and with a fantastic texture and just the right amount of vanilla flavour, the plums gave it that little something extra.

And sitting enjoying a couple of coffees to finish, with our stomachs straining against our waistbands, it was hard to feel any real regrets about abandoning New Year's promises so readily.

But, mark my words, Oliver will definitely be in shape for the summer.

Almost definitely.

FACTFILE

Calverley Grill at Oulton Hall, Rothwell Lane, Oulton, Leeds LS26 8HN

Telephone: 0113 282 1000 ?

Website: www.devere.co.uk/ our-locations/oulton-hall

STAR RATING

FOOD............................. ****

VALUE........................... ****

ATMOSPHERE................ ***

SERVICE ...................... ****

***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD

*** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR

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