Many of us relish the intensity of the metropolis, but sometimes it's great to get away. Put the roof down on the car, and head out of town to one of our recommended destination restaurants, in the heart of the English countryside.
The Oxford Blue, Old Windsor, Berkshire
Once you're off the M40, drive through Runnymede, site of the Magna Carta and Berkshire's leafiest ward, and head to The Oxford Blue in Old Windsor, on the outskirts of the Great Park. This marvellous restaurant-cum-gastropub was originally two old gamekeepers' cottages, later joined together by proprietor and chef patron Steven Ellis, formerly of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The Oxford Blue employs a patriotic theme, but it's exceptionally gracefully applied in the form of British sparkling wines like Bolney Bubbly, or the Tregothnan Earl Grey Soufflé with biscuit ice cream, created by Ami Blakey, Ellis' partner and ex-Restaurant Gordon Ramsay pastry chef. Absolutely top-hole.
The Still Room at The Swan, Southwold, Suffolk
After 'restaurants with rooms' comes the next big experiential dining trend: 'distilleries with rooms'. This pub and restaurant's been owned by the Adnams brewing family since 1872. Both the Adnams business and The Swan itself have been reinvigorated by the artisan brewing phenomenon, and the pub's authentic credentials are still proudly on display, in the form of features such as original copper light fittings. You're hardly in Hackney Wick, though: Southwold is a traditional Victorian seaside resort, and while the menu isn't seafood-dominated, there is a choice of poached sea trout, Szechuan mackerel and squid to be sampled in the cosy townhouse-style dining room. Enthusiasts can also distill their own blend of gin to take home.
The Mash Inn, Radnage, Buckinghamshire
The aficionado's choice for gastronomic adventure tours. "We forage, pickle and cure every day… and we cook over wood felled nearby," says proprietor Nick Mash. The kitchen uses an open fire, and there are no dividing walls or doors between it and the diners, who are encouraged to get up out of their chairs and enjoy the spectacle, as the flames lick their orders.
The Mash is adamant that the inn is not suitable for children under 16, and that it offers 'grown-up hospitality'. So it presents an oasis if you're looking to retreat as a couple, or with a group of friends. There are five rooms if you'd like to make a weekend of it, and perhaps embark on one of the foraging expeditions.
Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, Oxfordshire
The undisputed champion of out-of-town fine dining restaurants has held its two Michelin stars since 1984. Raymond Blanc (for it is he) runs not only cooking, but gardening courses from here too, if you fancy an especially agreeable country weekend. The quietly confident menu is slightly different for lunch at weekends and on Bank Holidays – we recommend a long Friday afternoon if you can make it – and advance booking is of course mandatory. Highlights include wild garlic soup and Le Comté cheese, served at three different stages of maturation.
Lickfold Inn, Petworth, West Sussex
This casual dining project from chef Tom Sellers, the chap behind Restaurant Story in London Bridge, won 'Best New Pub' in Waitrose's 2016 Good Food Guide – among a host of other accolades. It proudly declares the ground floor of the Grade II-listed building to be 'a proper pub', while the menu in the restaurant upstairs puts a contemporary spin on gastropub favourites – chicken skin with yoghurt and pine from the bar snacks menu, for example, or partridge pot-au-feu. There's a garden terrace too, for lingering over the menu al fresco.
If one of these charming restaurants takes your fancy, now the fair weather's with us, why not contact your Lifestyle Manager for help with getting the nicest booking.