Ashridge House: fine dining, great setting

ah house

Quite the setting for an evening out.

Ashridge House, best known perhaps as a business school, started offering ‘dining events’ last Autumn – and last week saw the first of this year’s evenings: a tour of the house, an interesting menu paired with fine wines, and live jazz.  I passed Mr C his smartest jacket, dug out my heels and off we went.

ah terrace

It was warm enough to sit outside. In April. Cheers!

Sitting on the terrace at Ashridge House enjoying the early evening sunshine and a view of the ornamental garden surrounding  the fountain, glass of Chapel Down Brut NV in hand, was about as perfect as an April evening is going to get.  It’ll be even more glorious, though, as the summer goes on and the evenings get longer (and warmer).

ah interior

I appear to have been standing on a slant — and I’d only had one glass by then. Honest.

The tour of the house that drew us inside was great.  The extremely welcoming and knowledgeable Nigel, who was overseeing the evening, led us all round some of the highlights and managed to make all that history very palatable – helped by the army of waistcoated staff who appeared in each room, as if by magic, bearing trays of delectable bite-size nibbles and – hoorah! – more fizz.

ah fireplace

Ooo, I think my rhododendrons need seeing to.

The dining room was beautiful – we really did feel like we were eating in a stately home, with the elaborately painted ceilings and not one but two enormous marble fireplaces, each with the mantelpiece held up by near-to-life-sized and close-to-naked marble figures.  These were modelled, Nigel told us, on the estate’s gardeners at the wishes of the lady of the house at the time – who, if I may say so, clearly had excellent taste in horticultural staff and, er, an admirable insistence on attention to detail.  Mr C made me sit with my back to them, mind you, which did seem a tad unfair.

ah starter

Snow crab, crevettes, guacamole, lobster mayonnaise. Yes please.

The dinner was all we’d expected it to be: beautifully presented, utterly delicious, and matched perfectly with the wines.  Crab and crevettes to start, a palate-cleansing green apple and lime sorbet, herb-crusted rack of lamb – perfectly pink and tender – with roasted shallots.

ah sorbet

The sorbet, sitting on jelly and wearing a rather jaunty sesame and honeycomb hat.

The service, too, was fabulous – the sort of service that seems effortless but is clearly very practiced and extremely professional.  Things just sort of appeared and disappeared at just the right moment, and with just the right degree of restrained flourish.

ah main

Nearly forgot to take a picture of this one…

The dessert – ‘a tasting of rhubarb’ – sounded very tempting and looked utterly beautiful, but it wasn’t really my favourite of the night.  Mr C liked it, though, and happily polished off mine as well as his, while I, er, ‘shared’ his Sauternes that was paired with it.

ah pud

Mr C even ate the flowers, even though I’m not convinced he was supposed to…?

And anywhere that offers you a separate cheese menu has me won over straight away.  The choices on cheese board – not that I chose to leave any un-tasted, mind you – were fabulous: a mild soft blue, a proper stinky one that had been washed in mead, the best Cheddar I’ve had in a long time, and so on.  I was in fromage heaven – and seeing as Mr C didn’t finish all his, I thought it only right to help him out with them.

ah cheese

Fourth from the left — you can probably smell it from where you are even now.

We ended up, chatting over coffee and properly intense truffles, feeling thoroughly spoiled and happy to have been so.  The setting was stunning, the jazz trio that had provided the background throughout had set the relaxed mood beautifully, and the meal itself had been brilliant.

ah truffles

The little dark round ones were the best — dark choc with salted caramel insides. Sigh.

The Muddy Verdict:

Good for: a special occasion blow-the-budget night – or a serious date night.  One of the larger tables – like, 4 people – when we went was celebrating a birthday.

Not so great for: They call them ‘dining events’ for a reason – the emphasis is definitely on the event.  Not your everyday ‘let’s eat out, honey’ casual sort of thing at all.

££££  At £100 per person, it’s definitely on the pricey end – but definitely worth it once in a while.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Hertfordshire