Restaurant review: Ravenwood Hall Hotel, Rougham - 'Has everything going for it - but the food could be so much better'
Mark Heath and his wife Liz headed to the renowned Ravenwood Hall Hotel near Bury St Edmunds for a festive lunch. Here's what they made of it.
First things first – a confession. I have a soft spot for Ravenwood Hall. I enjoyed my two school sixth form proms there, and attended an excellent wedding there in more recent times, celebrating the marriage of two very good friends.
So, it’s a location I was very much looking forward to returning, with the added bonus of a three-course meal!
First impressions are much the same as ever - a beautiful old building, which retains both a feeling of grandure and coziness as you enter the bar/dining room.
With our visit coming on a December Saturday, the Christmas decorations around the place made it feel very festive and pleasant indeed.
As we settled down it was, however, a little odd to find ourselves only joined by one other couple in the grand dining room. On a Saturday lunchtime....
Anyway, to business. With it being December, we were ordering off the festive menu. Both Liz and I ordered a pint of Grolsch, and perused the menu - a three course lunch at the very reasonable price of £29.95 each.
For starters, I chose the panko crusted smoked haddock fishcake, served with a lemon and parsley aioli and rocket, while my better half went for the parsnip and apple soup, served with parsnip crisps and curry oil.
What followed was a surprisingly long wait – did I mention there were only four people in the dining room? Some bread eventually arrived – warm, but a little dense – accompanied by butter which was too cold to be spread, a major bugbear of mine!
Just as I was contemplating chewing on one of the table decorations, our food was finally presented.
Was it worth the wait? In a word, no. My fishcake was tasty, but a little on the small side and served with way too much aioli, which drowned the flavours of the fish.
As for Liz, much like mine, her dish was OK but not spectacular – the balance of flavours wasn’t quite right, she couldn’t taste the curry oil and the sweet apple tended to overpower, which left it feeling like more of a dessert than a starter.
This wasn’t helped by the thick texture of the soup, which in itself was reminiscent of apple puree – but was helped by the contrasting crunch of the parsnip crisps.
Still, our mains awaited – and you can’t go wrong with a Christmas dinner, right? Roast British turkey, served with a pig in blanket, roast maris piper potatoes, Brussels sprouts, honey roast parsnips, chatenay carrots, bread sauce, roasting gravy and grummets. Bring it on.
In stark contrast to the wait for our starters, we’d barely put our cutlery down and the meat was upon us. First observations was that we’d been served a huge portion, but it is Christmas!
Sadly, again the food failed to capture the imagination. It was a perfectly acceptable meal, but something one could easily have knocked up at home – and probably improved upon.
The turkey was on the dry side, our vegetables and side sauces arrived without a serving spoon – another no-no when it comes to good service – and the sprouts were undercooked to the point of being inedible. Perhaps the worst I’ve ever been served in a restaurant.
So, one last chance to impress – it all came down to the desserts.
Again, they arrived almost as soon as I’d finished chewing my last bit of turkey which, after such a large main, was a bit disappointing.
Anyway, once more unto the breach we ventured. I ordered the dark chocolate tart with morello cherry sorbet, a kirsch cherry reduction and a basil tuile.
Flavour-wise, the tart was the best of the day for me. Very rich and decadent, and worked well with the cherry reduction – a classic flabour combo, of course. Sadly, the sorbet was too cold to properly enjoy, and one just got the impression that you were chewing flavoured crushed ice.
As for Liz, her spiced English apple cheesecake, served with caramalised apple and sultana compote, was pleasant but, again, not memorable. The compote added a nice seasonal touch, but overall nothing was done to elevate the dish beyond anything which a competent home cook could achieve.
And thus our festive feast was finished. More Boxing Day leftovers than a Christmas cracker, sadly.
Ravenwood offer Grolsch and Cobra as lagers on tap, plus a good range of real ales and ciders.
The wine list is also ample and varied, with several reasonably priced options in the region of £20-£40, climbing up to a £210 bottle of 2009 Moet.
Our waiter was friendly and welcoming but, as previously noted, the service was either slow or too fast. All a bit confusing considering there were only four diners in the dining room. And the lack of serving spoons with the vegetables and side sauces was a sloppy oversight.
Ravenwood Hall is a beautiful setting for a meal, and the dining room is at once grand and cosy. It conjures up images of old Scottish halls and fine banquets. I’d imagine the atmosphere in there could be fantastic – if full.
There’s a large car park to the side of the venue, which should ensure you always get parked. Which is good, because access to the hall is down a long, winding driveway. Two fine Christmas trees stood proudly at either side of the entrance gate when we visited, which was a nice touch.
Very reasonable. £29.95 for a three-course lunch can’t really be criticised, even if the food itself can be.
Our desserts were probably the best courses of the day – but calling them a ‘highlight’ would be a stretch.
Underwhelming. In terms of setting, Ravenwood Hall has everything going for it – but the food could be so much better. We won’t be returning.