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Dining in Derbyshire – Donington Manor Hotel

Dining in Derbyshire – Donington Manor Hotel

Castle Donnington is a market town in the true sense of the word as it was granted a charter for a weekly market by King Edward I in 1278. In the centuries that followed lace making rose and declined and in 1965 the airport opened close by.

The Donington Manor Hotel, situated on the high street, also has a lengthy history stretching back to 1795. Incredibly many of the impressive, historic features are untouched, as becomes apparent when you walk through the entrance. Majestic Georgian bow windows flank the doorway and flood the rooms either side with natural light.

However fascinating all this history may be, Donington Manor Hotel has entered a new era with the appointment in December last year of experienced chef Craig Riley. Craig has worked in many parts of the world as private chef to the well-heeled; as well as working with many famous names. In the middle of a steady plan of refurbishment, Craig’s flair has been given a free hand to flourish creating an impressive new menu for the restaurant and elevating what’s on offer to a new level of dining.

We met owner James Blick, head chef Craig and their team on a beautiful early September day when we were invited to sample their new menu. Sitting in the bay window James explained that being close to Donington Park race track the hotel has been host to many a racing personality. We were sitting in the actual spot where Murray Walker and Barry Sheene once sat.  As we looked out of the window all that went through my mind as a car passed, was Murray my favourite commentator saying “There’s nothing wrong with the car except that it’s on fire”. 

We were here though, to dine and started with a selection of canapés in the bar. Our favourites were the small crispy mushroom arancini and the cornets filled with smooth liver parfait. These were topped with black cherry; this was a great sharp contrast.

Moving into the elegant dining room we were served firstly with a tray of warm small breads. One being a black olive bread accompanied with an aubergine dip. The other being a cheese bread with a crispy chicken skin butter, the addition of which made the butter even richer and slightly salty.

This was followed by an amuse bouche of foaming celeriac mousse with truffle oil,  finely diced Granny Smith apples were a beautiful surprise as you reached the bottom of the dish; so tart and fresh against the creamy foam. 

My starter was cured salmon, a pretty pink from the heritage beetroot curing, strips of pickled cucumber, colourful heritage beetroot and a quenelle of creamed horseradish sorbet, a traditional pairing but one that works extremely well.

My husband chose the smoked chicken ravioli with braised endive and crispy chicken skin.  The pasta parcel was soft and the chicken within delicious. So simple but well executed. 

At this point I need to say that the menu is very well thought through, with fish, red meat, chicken and vegetarian dishes all represented, but not so extensively that you would question the freshness of each dish.

My main course arrived. On top of a pea puree sat half a chargrilled fennel, with a fillet of roasted sea bream to the side. Small roasted new potatoes were scattered on the dish with wild mushrooms. All tied together with fennel seeds which run as a theme through the whole dish. A lovely crisp skin to the fish and mild, sweet flavour with a hint of liquorice made all the ingredients come together.

Selecting the lamb, Craig explained to my husband that the rump was first poached and then roasted with a bon-bon of lamb shoulder, served with a chargrilled courgette, red pepper gel and lamb jus. The lamb, cooked in this way cut so easily and had an immediate crispy and slightly salty outer.  Accompanied by potato terrine and courgette purée this was really delicious.  

Chefs artistry really shone through in the presentation of the desserts, often just an afterthought, but here given due care and attention. Light vanilla Pana cotta, a fresh strawberry sorbet, deconstructed meringue, with a strawberry, basil parfait and basil gel all on one plate, what a selection of textures and flavour and looking pretty as a picture.

We hope this has given you a hint of what enjoying the a la carte menu at the Donington Manor Hotel can offer you. So much thought and effort has gone into this creation with the hope that it provides people who love the best of ingredients, locally sourced and prepared with skill a new level of dining. Although this is in its infancy, it was a truly memorable experience. 


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