My recent visit to England coincided, for the first time in what seems like years, with clear blue skies – providing the perfect opportunity to try the newly opened Westonbirt Restaurant in the Westonbirt Arboretum, near the town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire. Having heard that Calcot Kitchens had been appointed by the Forestry Commission to oversee and manage the project, I had high expectations, as I have always eaten exceptionally well at nearby country-house hotel Calcot Manor.
I wasn’t disappointed. Not only was the range of food on offer broad – a necessity, I should imagine, with over 35,000 visits a year – but what we tried was deliciously executed and presented. A light and sunny spring vegetable risotto with asparagus, Parmesan and rocket salad matched the mood, with the sun streaming in through the full-length windows, while the chicken and ham hock pie and quinoa, pea and broad bean salad prompted satisfied noises of approval from the rest of the party. Prawn mayonnaise baguettes, BLT sandwiches, local goat’s cheese paninis and a Cotswold platter of Woodchester honey roast ham, Melton Mowbray pork pie and Smart’s double gloucester, as well as ice creams and cakes, were all being served.
The interior of the restaurant has a woodland feel, with natural materials such as oak, granite and slate all prominent features, and muted colours. Huge frosted leaves climb the large windows, which reach to the arched wooden ceiling. Designed by Sims Hilditch, the whole room sits harmoniously within the landscape, while from the terrace some of the arboretum’s 16,000 trees – which embrace 2,500 different species from Britain, China, North America, Japan and Chile – can be seen.
The restaurant is a hugely valuable addition for all those who walk the 17 miles of paths at the arboretum, which was planted in the mid-19th century and is particularly famous for its spring rhododendron, azalea and magnolia displays, and its rich, jewel-like colours in autumn, when the Acer Glade is absolutely magnificent. The restaurant also means that what was once a brisk walk – or a gentle stroll (depending on the age of my companion) – will now turn into a pleasant, full-day affair, with the added attraction of being able to work up an appetite and walk off the indulgences.
The Westonbirt Restaurant is open from 9am to 4pm seven days a week.