With a former MasterChef winner at the helm and a menu of hyper-local ingredients, this hotel is serving up a taste of the Cotswolds countryside. Lisa Jenkins pays a visit
Eckington Manor, situated in the Avon valleys on the border of the Cotswolds, originally opened in 2008 as a state-of-the-art cookery school with five guest bedrooms.
Owner and founder Judy Gardner (who started the Gardner’s pickle business from her kitchen) has expanded the hotel to include a 38-cover restaurant, 17 bedrooms, a self-contained wedding and conference venue, as well as arable and cattle farmland. She was joined by co-head chefs Mark and his wife, Acorn award winner Sue Stinchcombe (currently on maternity leave) in 2014.
Mark is classically trained and started his career as a chef in the kitchens of the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath. From there he moved on to Ston Easton Park hotel in Somerset, where he worked for two years before moving on to the then Michelin-starred Driftwood hotel in Cornwall. He went on to complete stages at the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire and the Square in London. He settled at David Everitt-Matthias’s two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham for two and a half years – where he met Sue. The couple set off travelling to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
It was in 2015, after just six months in the kitchen at Eckington, that Mark applied for and went on to win BBC Two’s MasterChef: The Professionals, when he was just 28.
In June this year the manor celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party and a special 10-course tasting menu. Gardner invited 140 guests, including many of the manor’s suppliers and supporters from the past 10 years.
“This coincided with us winning the Best Hotel for Food at the Luxury Lifestyle Awards in August,” says Mark. “So our anniversary tasting menu went down a storm.”
The menu included dishes such as chilled tomato consommé; Eckington Manor garden salad, fresh ricotta and courgette; short rib and fillet of beef, heritage carrots, parsley and charcoal; and apple and blackberry meringue. The menu is still available for diners at £90 a head.
Mark says his favourite dish was the first course salad: pickled vegetables selected from Eckington farm and served with fresh ricotta. The dessert was made with apples from Gardner’s orchard, chosen for their creamy flavour and used in an apple sorbet served with a crumbly granola, tart blackberries and crème pâtissière.
The restaurant’s dishes use produce grown on the 260-acre farm, the orchards and herb garden, with 60%-70% of the menu using home-grown produce on a daily basis. The manor also breeds Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle, which are used in popular dishes such as the Eckington beef tartare, corned beef, marmite mayo and pickled onions. Also on the menu are Evesham tomatoes, lobster, seaweed cracker and tomato consommé; and fillet of sea trout with celeriac linguine, mussels, apple and samphire.
Outside of the ingredients offered by Eckington, the chef has his pick from hundreds of suppliers in the Vale of Evesham, including microgreens and tomatoes from Westlands and cheeses from Simon Weaver’s organic dairy.
The restaurant serves a dinner menu for£48 per person for three courses, a lunch menu at £32 for three courses, as well as Sunday lunch and afternoon tea for £19 per person.
Although the dishes on the menu are classics with a twist – “that’s my background,” Mark says – the restaurant is relaxed rather than stuffy. “Our customers come from all over the world and they feel comfortable here,” he says. The chef even teaches courses in the cookery school. They also get a lot of families on repeat stays, locals in the bar, shooting parties and year-round wedding bookings in the barn.
Even though Eckington has been thrust into the limelight by its many awards and it has a MasterChef winner heading the brigade, Mark prefers to stay in the background, even though “he does get recognised and dragged out of the kitchen for photographs,” says Gardner.
From the menu
Olive oil-poached cod, fennel, saffron potatoes, garlic
Fresh ricotta, garden salad, courgette and basil, buckwheat
Short rib of beef, braised shin, red onion, parsley, yeast flakes
Leg of lamb, sweetbread, heritage carrots, yogurt, chervil
Parmesan gnocchi, three-cornered garlic, baby leeks, roasted salsify
Coconut parfait, mango, rum-poached pineapple, lime leaf
Dark chocolate, caramel mousse, mascarpone, coffee ice-cream
Seven-course tasting menu, £75
Hammock Road, Eckington, Worcestershire WR10 3BJ