When Nick was recently asked if he would like to review the new restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Cotswolds he had a key request in his reply: “Can my toddler come too please?”. Here’s how he and the young one got on…
The restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds is well fitted with smoke alarms, security cameras, fire alarms and other such devices which link to a complicated looking control panel near the entrance, providing just a small indication of the scale of a site that incorporates accommodation and a golf course. The attention I paid to such matters is purely down to my decision to dine there with my two-and-a-half year old son who was on the verge of a toddler meltdown – a tour of alarms (one of his favourite subjects) provided a welcome distraction between courses.
Taking a toddler to a smart restaurant can be stressful for everyone within earshot of the tiny mouth (and even more so for the parents) but Feldon Valley’s staff were hugely accommodating, helping me to avert any meltdowns, while our fellow diners were so relaxed that they claimed not to mind the occasional excitable shout at each new discovery of an alarm.*
We were staying at Feldon Valley as part of a weekend trip that included a tour of the Cotswolds Distillery, a 25 minute stroll away, meaning I could taste their whisky and gin without having to worry about driving. I had been planning the tour for a while as it’s en route to other family members, so when Feldon’s representatives enquired if I would like to review their recently opened restaurant it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down.
Along with our toddler, my wife and I stayed in one of the modern lodges that were only completed in May 2019 and comprise five stylishly designed buildings constructed of wood and glass with clean, angular lines that cut out from a strip of woodland and overlook the golf course to the manicured Cotswold hills beyond. Our suite was well kitted out with a kitchenette and lounge, while the terrace provided some perfect post-toddler-bedtime relaxation as we watched a hare dance in the bunkers** and bats flit through the dusky sky.
We need not have left the comforts of our lodge all evening, but I was here to review a meal, so we took our seats in the similarly wood-and-glass constructed restaurant just a short stroll across the car park. The view here was elevated, with outdoor terraced seats looking down upon the practice greens, while the interior was laid out with plenty of space between tables and a wide expanse of glass separating the restaurant from the bar.
We skipped starters (tired toddlers make you do that), despite being tempted by the watercress and bramley soup, and I tucked into a pint of Hooky from the nearby Hook Norton brewery while waiting for the main courses to arrive. The plates of food perfectly reflected the feel of the restaurant: clean and modern, yet unpretentious. They were well measured proportions with enough fine-dining expertise to feel special, but minimal fuss, making your eyes tell you to eat rather than spend an age simply staring and poking, wondering what each ingredient might be.
I went for the vegetarian option: ricotta dumplings with sprouting broccoli, peas, courgette and regato cheese at a very decent £15. The broccoli was just-cooked perfection, while the slices of curled raw courgette added a satisfying crunch to the soft, sticky and crumbly pieces of cheese. These items were assembled on a bed of pea puree, with the salty cheese exaggerating the vegetable’s natural sweetness while toasted pine nuts gave the whole meal some nutty depth. My wife’s dish of plaice, potato terrine and cabbage (£18) was served with a wonderful rich and oozy crab sauce and was equally elegant and satisfying. As for the kids, they sensibly kept things simple: pasta and tomato sauce. No frills, no off-putting bits of green, no strange flavours – exactly as our toddler likes it.***
My wife also loved her dessert – a raspberry tart, meringue and sorbet (£7) that she launched into before I could get a photo and finished before I could try a spoonful. I fully trust her enthusiastic thumbs up verdict. I followed my cheese main course with… more cheese. I find it hard to resist a good cheese board and this was exceptional (£12), featuring four local cheeses including Oxford Blue and a soft, buttery Rollright Cheese that were served with celery salt crackers, an Eccles cake and mustard fruits.
A fantastic meal was made all the more enjoyable by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere which was created not just by the architecture and ambience but also by the exceptional courtesy and friendliness shown by the staff. Eating out with a toddler isn’t always easy, but they managed to tread the fine line between making it child friendly and not allowing it to become a child-focussed environment that would be off-putting for grown up diners. And when you have such relaxing accommodation to return to, any slight stresses quickly melt away.
For more information visit Feldon Valley’s website feldonvalley.co.uk
Things we’ve learned
Dining out is for us as much about finding inspiration for what to do with our home grown veg as relaxing and enjoying a meal. Here are two tips we’ll put into practice back home…
More ways with courgettes
We’re in the midst of a courgette glut, perhaps the biggest we’ve ever known, and are serving it with most meals. So far we’ve cooked them in every way possible and chopped them into salads, but as a result of this meal we’re also finely slicing them and slipping them onto our plates raw.
When gobbling peas whole with a plate of fish and chips you don’t really notice just how incredibly sweet they are (and not always being fresh doesn’t help). Feldon Valley’s pea puree tasted incredibly sweet when paired with cheese, so we’ll be trying this combination of veg and dairy more often.
A note on the golf
I like golf. I enjoy watching the big tournaments on TV and occasionally thrash my way around municipal courses. But there’s also a lot I dislike about the sport. There are times when it becomes elitist and can attract the kind of characters I’m less comfortable around. So I had some reservations about staying and dining somewhere that was built around a golf course in a somewhat posh part of the Cotswolds.**** But while the course was obviously integrated into the accommodation and restaurant’s setting, it never felt as if the sport was intruding on our stay, with the fairways merely acting as another layer of green across the landscape. And everyone we met – with and without golf clubs – was perfectly friendly.
*Or the rather loud rendition of ‘Wheels on the Bus’
**Rich doubts this claim, dismissing it as ‘probably a rabbit’. And while I’ll admit my eyesight isn’t great at dusk after drinking beer I am convinced it was a hare.
***The following evening we ate at a restaurant where he had chicken and rice, which he was enjoying until biting down on two whole cardamom pods.
****I grew up in a less well heeled corner of the Cotswolds and would occasionally cycle with three second hand wooden clubs taped to my bike frame to a golf course that shared its fairways with cows.