Haycock Manor Hotel, Wansford
We’ve stayed at the Haycock in Wansford, just off the A1 not far from Peterborough on 3 occasions now. This pretty sleepy little village with the river Nene meandering through it and its picturesque stone houses is quintessentially English. The Hotel also built in stone I’ve personally known now for over 40 years but it is only in the last 2 years that we have actually stayed there. I have spent a number of evenings with friends in the bar there after a day’s shooting, a most enjoyable way to end a thoroughly invigorating day.
Of course, now it is nothing like it was back then, now it has expanded, adding rooms and function rooms and restaurants and conservatories, probably expanding its original footprint to around 3 times the size it once was.
Gone is the cosy bar full of locals to be replaced by large rooms with functions and weddings and a much more impersonal touch as is the way in these modern times.
The bedrooms, we have only had 2 different rooms out of the 3 visits, the ones we had were large and comfortable enough but why is it that the people that design hotel rooms do not seem to understand what needs the majority of people have? Some comfortable seating would be nice and in a large room where there is plenty of space to provide it, they don’t. Or how about making sure there is somewhere to put things down like toilet bags rather than having to balance them on the cistern or the edge of the sink?
The really large room we had, I think it must have been a quiet night for the hotel because we were upgraded to one of the biggest rooms, the Nancy Cunard Suite. This suite has a huge bathroom, with large double sliding doors, made of clear glass. So, when your wife is in the bath and the duty manager comes to the room because the TV is not working properly it is inappropriate to invite him in to watch your wife’s bathing activities while getting the TV to work. Or is that me being a bit petty?
On the two previous occasions we stayed we had breakfast each time but dinner only once, in their brasserie, this time however we dined with friends in their up-market restaurant. Well, you have to give it a go. As last time we started off in the bar for an aperitif before the main event. If you are going to be an upmarket hotel and charge upmarket prices, is it not right that one should also have upmarket service? Or is it really acceptable to leave the guest stood at the bar for what seemed like 15 minutes but was probably nearer 6? Two members of staff came and went, one telling me someone would be with me soon, sorry but that did not placate me. Then when someone did arrive, I still had to ferry the four drinks to the table myself, whatever happened to service in this country?
After we had sought out someone to let us have a look at a menu, again why it was not offered automatically defeats me, we were eventually escorted to the table. The restaurant itself is in a conservatory extension and is large and spacious, or should that be cavernous and echoey? It was noisy which then has a bearing on other aspects of the experience.
The menu, there are a number on offer, 3 course @ £40.00, 5 course @ £65.00 and 8 course @ £95.00 per person, there is also a vegetarian and pescatarian menu too, the menu of choice has to be decided at the time of booking, no change of mind allowed.
We were a table of 4 and we had opted for the 5-course option. In all cases there is a choice of meat or fish for the main course, we all chose the meat which on this occasion was venison, all the other courses are set.
The meal was preceded by three amuse each, a macaron sandwich, a velouté topped with an espuma and something between two crisp layers. Now why am I being so vague? Well firstly because they were not listed anywhere so one had to rely on our server to tell us what each one was and therein lies a problem that these young staff do/did not appreciate. We were a table of over 70’s, two of which were wearing hearing aids, in a large cavernous room (as already mentioned) which, as it had a wooden floor, echoed. The food was brought out by a waiter but was then put in front of us by a chef, who then told us what each one was, but none of us could hear or understand what this quietly spoken young man was saying. I can tell you what I think was in each one, but I shan’t, I might get one (or more, wrong) and that would not be fair on the chef. I will say they were delicious, two of them anyway, the third, the velouté with the espuma, was impossible to get out of the cup as the espuma created a lid and velouté was so thick that neither moved and we had no implement with which to shift it. We each had a spoon but as it was a dessert spoon and not a teaspoon, it did not fit into the cup. Yes, we could use the handle end to move it, I used my finger, but it kind of lost something as a result.
My first course, Cured Shetland Halibut, Chilli Sambal, Cucumber and Lemon Grass Consommé, there wasn’t enough, I could have eaten twice, three times the amount it was so good. Fresh, clean, full of zing, just a hint of heat from the chilli and the balance of the cucumber and lemongrass was superb, beautiful but could have done with possibly a few leaves, but that is me being picky to the nth degree.
Jane had the Stuffed Isle of Muck Partridge Breast, Jerusalem Artichokes, Kinloch Chanterelles, Chicken Butter Sauce. Beautiful to look at, great flavours a thoroughly lovely dish all round and a perfect use of seasonal and local produce.
BBQ Celeriac Scallop
The first course, BBQ Celeriac, Smoked Bacon and Braised Leeks was interesting, the sauce and Dill Oil was not strong and the whole thing was placed in front of us by another chef (different one this time) who then proceeded to pour the sauce onto the plates. The Celeriac was soft with a hint of BBQ the leeks were a little bland and the smoked Bacon not terribly noticeable.
The next was Roast Orkney Scallop, Butternut Squash and Crispy Kale, again brought out by a waiter and served by a chef, the sauce, poured over by the chef. I love Scallops but if they are not properly cooked, well caramelised and just cooked, then I love them less. This was overcooked and therefore tough, the butternut squash lacking flavour, disappointing all round.
The choice of main was between Cornish Cod, Cauliflower, Verjus and Coastal Shoots or Roasted Venison Loin, Salsify & Brussels Sprouts, as already mentioned we all chose the Venison. Again the dish came out with a waiter and was served by a chef who once again had the job of pouring on the sauce. The Venison, I heard him this time, was coated in Pastrami seasoning. To my mind it was also overcooked, the sauce, mainly consisting of pine kernels was a little overpowering, the meat slightly dry, a result of being overcooked, and bland even with the pastrami seasoning. One small piece of salsify was miserable and so small it was irrelevant and the Brussels Sprouts, I love Sprouts too, were just a few leaves scattered around, no actual sprouts! Why bother, it was like a few leaves of parsley as garnish – pointless.
Venison Main Truffle Crumpet
The cheese course of Truffle Crumpet, Norfolk Mardler, Chorizo and Pear was one I was looking forward to. Again, brought out by a waiter and served by a chef (yes a different one again), was, odd. Homemade crumpet, lovely, fun to make too and not something one sees very often on a menu. the cheese, soft and creamy on top. The pear 4 possibly 5 tiny squares were, like the sprouts – pointless. The truffle, overpowering big time, the Chorizo, I have no idea where that was as once you got the truffle flavour you couldn’t taste anything else unfortunately. The crumpet, too deep, too soft, and too chewy.
On to dessert, Manjari Chocolate Delice, Puffed Rice & Cacao Nib. I know you’ve guessed what’s coming at this point but hey I’m going to say it anyway. Brought out by a waiter and served by a chef. Without doubt, no argument here, the best course of the night, we all agreed, no contest. It was delightful and with its tiny little topping of gold leaf it was also the prettiest dish of the night.
I have to confess, if I was a waiter at the Haycock I would resign and go off and find a job where I was allowed to do my job. In a restaurant, especially one with pretentions of gaining awards and is also this pretentious I want a waiter to serve me and a chef to cook.
Breakfast the following morning as good as most places with the exception of the bacon. This comes as two thick slices of streaky bacon which are more like belly pork than back bacon and at least a centimetre thick, sorry I do like thick cut bacon, but I love streaky bacon.
What I have not yet spoken about was the bread. Such a contentious point with me these days especially when it comes as a course and on the menu as such. It was quite simply superb, honestly it was fabulous, I had more, then more again! I would have had even more but I was starting to feel guilty, and greedy.
There is a fair bit to like about the Haycock but at the same time there is also a lot to get annoyed about, to dislike and to be downright pee’d off about but in the end, we will return, our friends live about 2 miles away, and we will try the food again, probably.
Service Bar: 4/20
Service Restaurant: Just Wrong!
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