Eckington Manor is special to me because I’ve had an insight into the love, attention to detail, the hard work and the people who are behind this success story. Judy Gardner and her daughter Jane are (as Judy would say) ‘responsible’ for the luxury 15 room boutique hotel, 260 acre farm, cookery school and restaurant located in Worcestershire, but on the outskirts of the Cotswolds. In 2014 Judy had a surprise up her sleeve and at a private event in October, which I was lucky enough to be invited to, she revealed to her guests that Chefs Sue Ellis and Mark Stinchcombe had joined her. My family and I already knew Sue from her former work at Belle House in Pershore and we were a huge fan of her cooking. Sue left to take a job at 2 Michelin-star restaurant, Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and we thought Pershore had lost her for good. When we saw Sue at Judy’s event we couldn’t have been happier, she was back! Sue introduced us to her fiancé Mark who she’d met during her time at Le Champignon Sauvage.
I had the fortune of working with the Eckington Manor team delivering their social media in 2015/16 when Mark Stinchcombe entered the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals competition and went on to win it in December 2015. A very proud moment for Worcestershire and of course for Judy and Mark’s now wife Sue. Over the past 2 1/2 years since Mark and Sue have been in the kitchen at Eckington Manor, I have eaten there many times. It’s always my first choice for a special occasion as eating at this restaurant is a real treat. Nothing is done by halves; from the silk wallpaper on the walls, carefully picked designer furniture and luxury toiletries, to the meticulous and stunning creations that diners worldwide are eager to sample; Mark and Sue’s world class food.
Following the excitement of Mark winning Masterchef: The Professionals 2015, Eckington Manor became increasingly more popular and subsequently more difficult to secure a reservation for dinner. I hadn’t been for several months but decided to try and book a table for my Mum, Dad and me for lunch on Mothering Sunday in March. I did call at the beginning of February to ensure that we got in as nobody else was going to live up to a Sunday lunch as good as my own Mother’s! Thankfully we were squeezed in and had been looking forward to this lunch ever since.
When we arrived on Sunday Judy and Jane were there to greet us; warm and welcoming as ever. It was so good to be back. We enjoyed a cocktail and a catch up with Judy in the bar area and even got to say a quick hello to Mark when he nipped past us to sign a book for a guest and fan. We were taken upstairs to the restaurant that we knew only too well. It was close to 3pm and at the end of service but the restaurant was still very full. The ambience was lively as the large groups of tables chatted and caught up with their Mums! We were offered some freshly homemade white rolls and brown bread which were beautifully baked. I couldn’t wait to see the starters, they are always my favourite part of the meal at Eckington Manor. I had the salt cod & brandade with avocado, black olive & tomato dressing. I’d seen a photo of this starter that Mark had posted on Twitter a few days earlier, it was so colourful and pretty and I had to see it in the flesh. My Dad had the cod too and Mum ordered the roasted & raw beetroot, goat’s curd & fritter with spring oil. After one bite of the beetroot macaroon my Mother looked over the table at me in amazement “you have to try this” she urged me. The macaroon tasted exactly of beetroot but it was sweet, how did they do this?
After scraping the plate clean of every last molecule, I eventually let the waiter take it away. The award winning ‘Eckington beef ‘ is from their own farm and being a Sunday it was a natural choice for me. Mum also had the roast beef and Dad chose the loin & belly of pork. The huge plate of beef came out served with a huge Yorkshire, roast potatoes, swede and cabbage. It was also served with creamed horseradish and carrots. The pork loin was also accompanied by a bowl of carrots along with some beautifully presented creamed potato, apple sauce and cabbage. The pork looked like it would have been much lighter than the beef but I didn’t care about that today. I wanted to indulge and enjoy my perfect piece of melt in your mouth beef and all of the lovely rich gravy juices that came with it.
Of course we weren’t still hungry, but I was not leaving without at least a little taste of one of Mark’s incredible desserts. Mum must have thought the same as she ordered the caramelised pineapple and I decided upon the mascarpone cheesecake. Again the same look from my Mother as she tasted the lime leaf sorbet that went with her dessert. “how does he do this”? My question was the same for the honeycomb on my plate. Not a hint of baking soda, just the pure taste of honey. Dad asked for a scoop of ice cream which also came with the same honeycomb, we were just in awe. A little Mother’s Day treat had been thought out by the chefs and given to each Mum. A box of handmade chocolates, each one made by Mark and Sue and a voucher to use when booking a course in the cookery school.
Sadly all good things must come to an end, but we did pop back down to the bar and have another drink with Judy whilst waiting for my boyfriend to come and collect us. I have a sneaky suspicion we will be back for some birthday celebrations in the not so distant future.
Cost: 4 courses £38 each (food only) – Mother’s Day menu
Eckington, Worcestershire, United Kingdom – last visited in March 2017
Food hygiene rating – very good 5/5 – date of last inspection 15th December 2015