Saturday, 8 January 2011


Copthorne Hotel
Copthorne Way
02920 599100

Meal for two + tip = £55

I'm a bit obsessive and nerdy when it comes to reading menus. I often despair at those people who read heat magazine, and get excited about what celebrities are up to, but I never tell them that I’m the same about menus. I keep that to myself; it's my secret shame.
I read the menus of places I’ll never get to visit, and get all excited. The menus of places I’ll never afford to eat at get poured over almost pornographically, but it's the ones that I can visit that really get my attention.
Online, Raglans menu titillates people like me. The suggestion of eating salmon and broccoli terrine with soused cucumber or potted barbary duck and candied belgian endive gets my juices flowing, and we haven't even got to the mains yet. Fillet of halibut in a fine herb butter crust or duo of lamb neck fillet and confit shoulder rillette leave me sweating in anticipation. Therefore, I was a little disappointed when we were presented with the actual menu.
That's not to say it was bad, as some things still excited me. Sadly, when it was presented with a copthorne classics menu of fish and chips, burgers and pies it slightly lost its appeal. I'd had the wind knocked of my sails a bit as I realised that I’d been slightly naive in expecting so much from a place that wasn't so much a restaurant with rooms, in the style say of The Hardwick, but more, rooms with a restaurant.

I settled on a starter of wood pigeon breast on puy lentils, whilst the misses ordered the twice baked cheese soufflé with grape jam. Mine was fantastic. The breasts were as rare and tender as I’m sure it's possible to get them, and they sat atop just the right amount of puy lentils so as not to be considered healthy. However, it was the red berries that came with the dish that really set it off. The acidity was just what was needed to liven up the puy lentils, and really did justice to the pigeon breast.

The misses on the other hand wasn't so pleased. The twice baked part of her soufflé had been overlooked and she was given what looked like a cheesy deflated yorkshire pud, that was completely stone cold. It was duly sent back and she watched me spend the next ten minutes smiling as I tucked into my dish. When I was finished, the maitre d' came and plonked her now warm soufflé on the table and wandered off without saying a word. I was annoyed at the bad manners, but I doubt as annoyed as the misses was with the miserable looking little dish she had been given. I think she worried we'd already caused enough of a scene by sending the first pile of crap back, so she made the most of it. I say this as not only did the dish look shit, to me it tasted worse, almost rotten.

Anyway, after that sorry little episode we sat waiting for the mains and studied our surroundings. Raglans is half wood and half window. The wood half is boring, the only adornments being plates with past AA rosettes, tacked up here and there. It has a real golf club feel to it. The window half is slightly less boring, with excellent views over PC world and "the hairy blokes discount furniture store" (honestly, it exists). Worse of all, the other diners looked bored or boring. Middle aged men dressed like Jeremy Clarkson sat alone reading, or in pairs loudly discussing business. The misses (who bless her, had dressed up for the occasion) and I, sat talking in whispers about the food so as not to be overheard. Ambience is not something Raglans does well.

The mains arrived and I gave up on enjoying the night. We'd only had a glass of wine each as the winelist is so incredibly overpriced, and I really needed to be drunk to enjoy this meal. My dish of grilled woodland pork chop had been ordered partly as a test. A good kitchen can keep a pork chop moist, partly with correct cooking, but also by choosing the right cut. A fatty piece of pork will take a lot of the strain off the chef by keeping itself nice and moist. The pig I was served though had spent its life working out in the hotel gym. I was sad that I met this pig in death, but meeting such a lean, mean fighting machine in life would have been almost as bad. It was huge! I mean Herculean and had not a single piece of fat anywhere. The grilling it had received added a burnt taste that only made it drier. It came with some of the fattiest, tastiest bacon I’ve ever eaten, but that just wasn't enough to save the dish.
The misses had ordered ham wrapped chicken and was none too impressed. She tried desperately to find the rosemary in the advertised "rosemary jus" but was left perplexed by the sauce on her plate.

We sat back considering dessert as the staff started bringing out toasters and laying out the tables for the breakfast service. I know hotels need to be prepared for the morning rush, but couldn't they at least wait until the dinner guests have left? It didn't really matter though as by now, dessert at Raglans just wasn't what we wanted. What we wanted was the bill and as sharp an exit as possible.

I've made it a point of principle with this blog to try to avoid reviewing a place after just one visit. However, if that one visit makes a return trip completely unlikely I feel I should. It's a shame the place feels so sloppy, as my starter really was great, but I can't recommend a place on the strength of just one dish. Especially as all the other dishes annoyed me so much. If you're staying at the copthorne hotel and you've money to burn, then by all means head to Raglans, and for those of you who get as turned on by menus as me, heed this warning. Raglans is a siren best avoided.

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