Dinner with friends

My normally quiet and uneventful life was crammed full of a variety of experiences last weekend. My sons finished school for the summer on the Friday and my elder boy brought home five friends, most of whom I had not previously met, for a sleepover. What a lovely group of young people these friends turned out to be. The event ran smoothly, with minimum disruption, and seemed to be enjoyed by all.

Saturday was spent cooking and clearing up before starting to sort out the many things that we would need for the camping trip that was scheduled to start the next day. Before that though, my husband and I had a dinner out with friends to look forward to. This had been arranged at fairly short notice and I had not investigated the venue beforehand. I was happy to accept whatever was on offer as the main attraction of the evening was the chance to catch up with two of our favourite people who we had not managed to see in over two years. What an unexpected treat we had in store.

Despite my dislike of being late for any appointment, I managed to run behind schedule due to my desire to be as well prepared as possible for the next day’s trip away. Had I known more about our destination I would not have allowed myself to waste a minute of the experience. From the moment we were reunited with our friends, after too long without getting together, I knew that their chosen venue was particularly special.

Whatley Manor is located just a half hour drive from our home. Having driven through the historic town of Malmesbury and out into the countryside beyond we approached the hotel buildings along a tree lined drive. We disembarked from our car and realised that it was unclear which of the low built, stone buildings housed the restaurant. Being already late arriving we decided to phone our friends for directions. They came to our rescue and walked us in; I am so glad that they did. At their suggestion we enjoyed a short tour of the hotel facilities, including the opulent Spa. It was becoming obvious that this place offered a level of luxury that we were not used to encountering.

Although my husband and I have enjoyed delicious meals at restaurants that can boast AA rosettes we had never before eaten at a Michelin Starred establishment. The Dining Room at Whatley Manor boasts two stars and offered an experience that my husband and I will be discussing for some time to come. At the suggestion of our friends we opted for the Taster Menu with wine matching. How happily we accepted their suggestion, quite oblivious to the generous offer that was being made.

Undoubtedly I enjoyed the evening all the more because I was so unaware of just what I was being given. Of course I realised that the food was delicious, the service impeccable, the ambiance delightful and the accompanying wines an experience in their own right. To enjoy all of this with our lovely friends was what made it so special though. Had I known of the exclusivity of the venue beforehand I would not have been able to relax so fully; I would have worried about foolish things such as what to wear; I would have felt cowed by the sumptuous environment.

As it was, we had an utterly delightful evening. We caught up with each other’s news while I merrily critiqued the food and wine; we enjoyed ourselves to the full. We have always valued quality food and fine wine but this evening offered us a whole new level to enjoy. Our friends have gifted us a memory to treasure.

The following day we packed our car and set off on our family camping trip. For five days we slept in a tent and lived on simple, campfire food such as eggs, sausages, burgers and beans. The wine we bought in the local supermarket was chilled in a bucket of freshly drawn, cold water and drunk from plastic goblets. We enjoyed getting back to nature but continued to wax lyrical about our fabulous evening with our friends. As a result, my elder son appears to have added ‘dining at a two Michelin starred restaurant’ to his life goals.

It would be too easy for me to feel embarrassed that I took this dinner out so easily without realising what was being offered. However, knowing my friends as I do, I feel reassured that they did not expect anything from us other than our company. Going so unprepared was ultimately for the best as it precluded the awkwardness I would otherwise have felt. The enduring memory of the evening, and of our friends, remains absolutely fabulous.

Gardens at Whatley Manor