JULIE VOYCE eats at the Hartwell Spa Café, Hartwell House, Oxford Road, near Aylesbury Telephone: 01296 474 444
HARTWELL House recently refurbished the Hartwell Spa Café which overlooks the swimming pool at this beautiful stately home just outside Aylesbury.
I went for lunch with my sister who was staying for a couple of days without my nieces, the perfect opportunity to be 'ladies who lunch'.
The house, which became the property of the National Trust in September last year, stands in 90 acres of unspoilt countryside.
As you drive towards it you can't fail to be impressed and a little excited about what the hides behind its exterior.
We were booked in for lunch at 1pm and had decided to treat ourselves to a massage at 3pm.
The Spa Café, now open on Friday and Saturday until 9pm, has a modern, stylish interior and an informal atmosphere without losing its exclusive feel.
The menu should cater for all tastes, and appetites, with lighter dishes such as a Thai coconut soup and a continental selection of meats, cheese and Mediterranean vegetables to the more filling dishes of fish and chips and venison and blackberry sausages with goats cheese mash, greens and crispy onions.
We decided to have a starter. I opted for the mussels in a white wine cream sauce (also available as a main) and my sister chose Butternut squash and Parmesan risotto.
One thing I liked about the menu is the salad option. You can choose from a selection of three different leaves, main items such as grilled chicken or tiger prawns, then four garnishes and finally your choice of dressing.
I decided to give the salad a go and chose chicken with rocket, avocado, tomatoes, beetroot and parmesan with olive oil and balsamic dressing. My sister went for the grilled seabass fillet with roasted vegetables, polenta gallette and tomato reduction.
We sat back with a glass of chilled white wine and, as any lady who lunches should, caught up on all the latest in each other's lives. We were not alone as there were several other tables of people doing exactly the same thing, as well as one brave soul enjoying lunch on the terrace with a book.
Our food arrived quickly and we tucked in. My starter size mussels were huge and would certainly be more than enough to have as a light lunch. The mussels were lovely and juicy and the sauce not too thick and sickly as some can be.
The risotto, from the forkful I was allowed to sample, was full of flavour and nice and creamy.
My salad arrived and I was really pleased with my choices. You can also add more items to your salad if you desire at an extra cost, but I think mine made an ample lunch. The chicken was succulent and was served warm which I felt made the salad feel more of a meal.
My sister's seabass was cooked to perfection as was the polenta, which really can be hit or miss.
There are a selection of puddings to choose from, all priced at £3.95, which include a dark Belgian chocolate tart with chocolate sauce and raspberry sorbet and a warm sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
I was full but was talked into sharing a rhubarb and golden rum ginger cheese cake with rhubarb compote. It was delicious. I could have found room for a whole one if pushed!
For more details about the house people visit www.hartwell-house.com