You can't help but be drawn in by the grandeur of Great Fosters. A former hunting lodge with a history that goes back as far as 1550 AD, its 50 acres of sprawling grounds, grassed amphitheatre and lake make an impressive impact. Quite comical then that we made our way into the hotel through the tinniest of doors. Grandeur soon resumed though as we were met with the heartening site of a huge fireplace with a crackling fire, glowing away to counter the downpour outside.
Although this hotel is steeped in its fair share of history, we were there to sample something new: The Estate Grill, one of two new restaurants unveiled in April 2013. The more relaxed of the two new eateries, The Estate Grill still has the large serving of style that you'd expect from a five star establishment. I'd been expecting a bistro feel, but the restaurant had a slicker, more polished feel to it. Crisp white table cloths, plush heavy chairs and artwork from Jeremy Houghton hanging on the walls (one of BT’s official artists for the London Olympic Games, with a portrait of the Queen under his belt).
Having whet our appetites with a glass of Champagne and some satisfyingly fat and juicy olives, we took a look at the menu while we waited to be seated in the bar. It's a refreshingly concise one, with plenty of variety but no call for you to spend twenty minutes of your life deciphering everything and deciding what to have. By the time we sat down in our plush, heavy chairs, we knew what we wanted. Starters of sea salt baked baby beetroots, goat cheese curd and Great Fosters honeycomb (£8), and a plate of steak tartare (£16) arrived soon enough at our table.
As the designated driver, I was passing up the offer of wine with the meal, but my Dad and designated dining partner for the evening was getting to grips with the wine list and encountering a small dilemma. Having seen a Riesling he particularly liked the look of, which wasn't available by the half carafe, what should he do? Choose half a bottle of something else in an attempt at a compromise, or try to sweet talk the sommelier into letting him have half a carafe of the Riesling? *“Well Sir, you could order the whole bottle of Riesling, and take home anything you don't drink?”* suggested the sommelier. One second later, my Dad has raised his eyebrow in approval and nodded in acceptance. Sometimes the answer to a dilemma is just to let someone else decide.
Before long our starters made it to the table, along with the very decent Riesling. The baked beetroot was tasty enough but with no honeycomb to be seen. A real shame as I'd ordered this dish especially to sate my sweet tooth and my love of honeycomb. Meanwhile the steak tartare upstaged everything, arriving at the table on a glass platter, complete with capers, Tabasco and shallots to season. The hand cut aged fillet had just the right amount of satisfying juicy beefiness to it and was generous even in starter form. Our mains of Dover sole meunière (£28) and seabass with fennel (£26) had us sitting contentedly at the table in silence, as we got to grips with more generous portions, and a delicious serving of lemon, caper and parsley butter.
It's worth noting for carnivorous types, that Great Fosters currently rears its own pigs on the grounds of the hotel and estate, with plans for long horn cattle and sheep to follow. A good portion of the fruit and veg used on the menu is sourced from the hotel's own gardens and Great Fosters has its own apiary too, with a view to sourcing as much of its produce from its own grounds in the future as possible.
Largely titled by their star flavours, the puddings on the dessert list all looked tempting enough, but it was 'Cherry' and 'Raspberry' that won us over at that point. The raspberry dessert arrived on the table, with the poached fruit sitting on a bed of white chocolate cream, with a twist of hot pink moreish marshmallow weaving its way through everything. Dotted with dark chocolate it was hard not to love this sweet-toothed fix and I wolfed it down, wishing it had lasted slightly longer than it did. The 'Cherry' dessert meanwhile was not such a hit on the other side of the table. The plate boasted a decidedly forest-like colour scheme – no splashes of cherry red were to be seen, instead green and brown were the presiding hues and not entirely eye-catching with it. Granted there were a handful of cherries, topped with gold leaf, but the cherry tea pannacotta has to be one of the oddest I've tasted. Decidedly short on sweetness (confirmed by my not so sweet-toothed Dad), the dessert definitely had taste but it erred towards a more muted spectrum of flavours and shunned any bursts of cherry into the bargain. The green matcha cake was pleasantly subtle and the bitter chocolate ice cream was suitably rich, but definitely not a conventional crowd pleaser of a pud. For those that love the unusual, the unexpected and the un-sweet, this might be just the dessert.
We should have been full by that point, but there was still room for petit fours which slid down far too easily with coffee to round off the meal. The waitress came by to check whether any leftover wine in the bottle needed taking home, and quickly ascertained that it didn't. The Estate Grill may be the more relaxed of the two new restaurants at Great Fosters, but it's still very much in keeping with its surroundings. Well-matched for special occasions and open to residents of the hotel and intrigued diners, this is the kind of spot where you take your time to soak up the food and of course, the wine.
**The Estate Grill:** Great Fosters, Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 9UR. Tel: 01784 433822. For more information, visit Greatfosters.co.uk
**Reviewed by:** Helenka Bednar