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No guns at the table, please

Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds is loved by field sports fans and locals alike, but even some of them didn’t know about the newly reopened Dining Lounge. Clevercloggs Muddy did.

Admittedly, a shooting ground may not be the first place you think of for a relaxing Sunday lunch, what with all the, well, shooting and stuff going on. But with the promise of no gun-toting on this day of rest and the re-opening of its little-known Dining Lounge with a new al carte menu in the offing, this hungry Muddy girl was off like a shot. 

THE LOWDOWN

Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds are set within 130 acres of lush green grounds, but unless you’re a local, you really wouldn’t know it was there, tucked away as it is at the top of a long lane in a leafy corner of Northwood in Middlesex. Established way back in 1932, Holland & Holland has a reputation for world-class tuition in field sports, from clay pigeon shooting to lessons in stalking, but it’s the recently reopened restaurant, headed up by chef Joshua Hunter (of La Trompette and Café Murano fame) and its newly introduced a la carte menu that we’re here to try out.

As we (myself, husband and daughter) turned off the cutely named Ducks Hill Lane and headed along a tree-lined drive, we were expecting a Georgian villa or perhaps a Jacobean manor, so we gave a collective little ‘Oh’ on arriving at the modern-looking lodge. But don’t judge a lodge by its cover, because things got nicely Colonial once through the doors.

THE VIBE

The lodge, which had a £5m makeover a couple of years ago, has a variety of hospitality options, including the Sautter Cigar Lounge, where you can actually smoke cigars, indoors with a roof and everything. I didn’t even know that was legal. However, having a smoke-despising nine year old in our party (“Mummy, I can’t believe you used to smoke – you’re lucky you’re not DEAD!”), we bypassed the Winston Churchill-esque room and headed to the Dining Lounge.

Greeted by a huge tastefully adorned Christmas tree, the room has the air of a chic library, with mahogany tables, low leather-backed chairs and sofas, all nicely mismatched, and small, simple table lamps creating a cosy, lazy Sunday atmosphere. In the centre of the room was a large crackling fire, and dotted about were dark oil paintings and lovely vintage bits and bobs – I was particularly taken by a curved 1920s cabinet containing twinkling glassware.

Only a handful of the other tables were taken and made up of well-heeled slightly older couples, who all seemed to be on friendly terms with the staff. Actually, the staff deserve a special mention here because they’re a genuinely lovely, warm team, managing to be chatty without being too matey, efficient without making you feel rushed, and knowledgeable without making you feel like an ignoramus. Didn’t hurt that they each had a natter with our daughter, who knew them all by name come home time.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Truffled Tunworth cheese and cranberry croquets

The Sunday lunch is reassuringly short – with four starters and mains, and five deserts – while still offering a good variety of British locally sourced goodies. We were treated to some sharing nibbles, comprising truffled Tunworth cheese and cranberry croquets (crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside). We could’ve eaten a whole bucket of these beauties.

Pheasant and chicken liver parfait, clementine and hazelnut

To start, we shared scallops and black pudding in a vibrant green velouté; roast cauliflower, caper, walnut and golden-raisin dressing; and a pheasant and chicken liver parfait, clementine, hazelnut and toasted brioche, which was seriously gamey and incredibly rich, and all the better for it.

Roast sirloin of Hereford beef with all the trimmings

For mains, my husband had breast of guinea fowl with shortcrust pie of leg, while myself and daughter both went for the roast sirloin of Hereford beef from The Windsor Great Park Estate. My slab of this royal beef was huge, beautifully rare and melted in the mouth. Other highlights included a lone honey-roasted carrot (wish they’d been more than one, as they were delish), finely shredded cabbage with well-roasted almonds, cauliflower cheese and big ol’ pillows of Yorkshire puds. The gravy was perhaps a bit thin for our liking, and the roast pots, though golden and crispy, could have been a tad softer on the inside, but take this with a pinch of salt, as we’re known for being militant when it comes to our roasties.

Warm cherry Bakewell tart with almond ice cream

Puddings were the cherry on the cake, literally. Daughter went for a safe-sounding Bakewell tart, which she then had to fight both parents off – the tart was jam-packed with butter, had a chewy edge and a perfect pastry bottom. It also came with fat, juicy black cherries and a dollop of almond ice cream. But my pudding – a super-gooey, perfectly baked gingerbread sorbet with knock-your-block-off brandy ice cream – held its own, while my husband’s cheese plate had greedy-man-size chunks of all his faves, plus a generous basket of hazelnut bread.

When it comes to booze, Holland & Holland knows its stuff, with a well-stocked wine cellar (well, glass wall), showcasing over 1,200 seriously good wines. We started with a handcrafted Tickerage sparkling wine from a boutique vineyard in the village of Blackboys, in Sussex, which tasted like a citrus-tinged peach, and was heavenly. This was followed with a good, rich Pinot Noir, and finally a honey and apple dry white port, the perfect tipple to round off a top pudding.

OUT & ABOUT

If you want to work up an appetite pre visit to Holland & Holland, or walk off those puddings after as we did, Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve is just a five-minute drive down the road. Comprising 10 miles of ancient woodland, this is the biggest woodland in London, and home to lots of lovely wildlife, so great for little legs to explore and grown-ups to simply take the air. But if you’re not up to a jaunt, you can always cheat and jump on the Ruislip Railway, Britain’s longest 12-inch gauge railway, don’t you know? On weekends and Bank Holidays, a steam locomotive ‘Mad Bess’ pulls the train as it weaves its way through the woods and around the lake of Ruislip Lido, which has a beach and a children’s splash pool (maybe save that visit for the summer).

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Couples after a chilled-out afternoon and family get togethers with older rellies alike will appreciate the quality food, attentive service, and everyone will lap up the well-chosen tipples. The cosy atmosphere and intimate lighting are clearly made for getting quietly tipsy – it is Christmas after all.

Not for: Families with more than a sprinkling of little ‘uns. However, once spring arrives and the outdoor terrace is open, then it would be perfect for the nippers to go exploring while you tuck in.

£££: Prices are what I would expect for the quality, with the two-course set lunch at £42.50 and three courses at £47.50. There’s also a three-course set menu for children at £12.50. We were expecting the wines to be heavy on the purse, but other than the odd £1,500 bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, they were very reasonable indeed, starting at just £6.50 a glass.

Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds, Ducks Hill Road, London HA6 2ST. Tel: 01923 825 349. hollandandholland.com

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