If I had a good mooch around the UK and asked one hundred people the first thing that came to their minds when I shouted BICESTER at them, I’d put a nice fresh £10 on them all saying shopping.
In full transparency for this review, I did spend approximately a month prior to this visit calling it “BYE-SES-TER”, not “BISTA”, and I can confirm that will be the only bit of this review incorrect (though a part of me still believes my pronunciation is correct).
Bicester Hotel and Spa is a four-star resort set among beautiful acres of Oxfordshire countryside. With 52 spacious rooms and suites, decorated in four various contemporary styles this family-owned estate is surrounded by quaint gardens and a glorious 18-hole Golf Course offering a backdrop to some seriously beautiful views.
Nestled in the hotel is Grays Restaurant headed up by Executive Head Chef Alan Paton, whose career has notable highlights including working in five-star hotels, three AA rosette and bib gourmand restaurants. Establishments include Hotel L’Horizon in Jersey, a five-star game lodge in South Africa and on The Seabourn Pride cruise ship, Turnberry Golf Hotel, the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon and Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa.
Do a brief google of Alan and you will find two things: one, a South African author, or two, a chef highly regarded for his love of all things pork alongside his notable achievements working alongside the Craft Guild of Chefs and Master Chefs of Great Britain. I suggest you follow the latter.
When I set off on my merry travels to Grays Restaurant, I wasn’t assuming that my night would be a celebration of all things pork, but boy it was. Now, if like Alan (and now me) rejoice in all things pig, then this will be the review and venue for you. If not, keep reading, it still gets very good.
The restaurant visually is all you expect of a hotel restaurant nuzzled around a love of golf in the countryside. It is warm, welcoming, with an array of fabrics, uplighting, dark wood and colour. If you prefer your dining in stark white walls and minimal furniture, then this isn’t probably for you, but if like 98% of the population you enjoy something more soothing, then I think you’ll like it here.
So let’s get to it. The food and drink, and why at one point I was so indulged I felt I would never get my clothes off, let alone on again.
I know I am here to review the food offering for you, but I always like to raise a point when I have great service - and on this night, I had great service. I felt fully welcome as a female diner on her own, the service was polite, attentive but not overwhelming, so I was comfortable before I had even begun.
The menu is set up like most menus, with a solid mix of snacks, starters, mains and desserts. The snacks include pork crackling with apple sauce and olive mixes.
For starters, you can choose from seven starters including cider and maple poached mackerel, a chicken liver pate with sweetcorn butter, smoked haddock fishcakes and black pudding bonbons.
Mains cater for every taste with dishes including roast cod with merguez sausage and a burnt lemon jam, the menu includes every day favourites such as ribeye, rump and a Bicester burger, and a baked onion with baba ganoush and spiced pistachio.
If you have the capacity for pudding then some classic favourites await including apple crumble, treacle tart and bread and butter pudding. The menu also throws a slight dessert curveball (and obviously I chose that) which we will get to very soon.
For my meal, I kicked off with a selection of snacks including a bread basket, hummus and pork crackling. The bread basket comes with ample portions which include a slice of Alan’s signature white chocolate and stilton bread that is as astonishing as it sounds. I managed to grab the recipe (available here if you wish to try and recreate this in your own home).
The bread comes with a portion of homemade butter, and I had the pleasure of trying two, a moorish chicken butter and a new one for me - pig butter. I can only describe it as a marriage made in heaven between a pork scratching and a lump of good quality butter, and so may the marriage last.
The hummus was sweet, fresh and not claggy, and was accompanied with a selection of crispbreads. The pork crackling was what all pork crackling should be; crisp to the point you are concerned about your teeth and dunked in a homemade apple sauce.