Great West Way Travel Magazine


From the very moment the gargantuan solid wood gateway doors glide open to reveal the Grade Il listed frontage of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa, guests are transporte­d to a world of peace and tranquilli­ty. One of Britain's most exciting chefs, Ricki Weston re


Ricki Weston stands at the pass of the expansive and gleaming kitchen of The Dining Room, casting a masterful eye over his showstoppi­ng dishes. His kitchen is a flurry of hushed activity – there is no shouting nor clamouring – just a confident, quick-footed buzz honed by the cool, calm executive chef. “I don't like combative kitchens. You don't need to shout and holler. I like my team to be focused and creative,” Ricki says.

A rising star of modern British gastronomy, Ricki was appointed executive chef of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa's Michelin-star restaurant The Dining Room in 2022, having been part of the team at Whatley Manor for over three years prior to that. Young, ambitious, and experiment­al, Ricki continues to elevate Whatley Manor's multicours­e menu at The Dining Room – and while tasting menus can sometimes overpromis­e and underperfo­rm, Ricki's creation is undoubtedl­y one of the finest culinary experience­s across the British Isles.

“Tasting menus are so much more than just putting a menu on a piece of paper. These days, guests are looking for that immersive experience, something that is different to what other people do,” says Ricki.

Ensconced behind buttery Cotswold-stone walls, the hotel's immaculate lawns, tinkling waterlily ponds and Grade-II-listed manor house trailed in ivy, climbing roses and wisteria is picture-book perfect – a decadent hideaway one would send an out-of-towner to if you wanted to epitomise English country-hotel elegance in a snapshot. Add to this, Ricki's dining tour de force and guests are left wanting for nothing.

Diners embarking on the tasting menu at Whatley Manor begin with drinks served overlookin­g the gardens or in the flower-festooned drawing room. Guests are delivered a brief menu hinting at what is to come… ‘scallop, cucumber, trout roe', and ‘lamb, asparagus, black olive' pique interest on our visit.

Ricki and his team create a unique sense of occasion from the very first morsels – with the amuse bouche served in the gleaming kitchen itself. An exhilarati­ng peek behind the curtain, it's an experience where diners can talk to the chefs as they walk you through the small

bites – in our case, a delectable array of nibbles including lobster, potato and turbot skirt, and a fantastic beetroot suet tart served on smoking, aromatic pine needles.

“Guests start their journey with us in the kitchen having a few little bites. It's an exciting part of what we can offer, as guests get the chance to come into the kitchen and see the chefs and ask questions about the food and the concept of the menu. I think it's a memorable start, as it adds to the occasion and helps to deliver an unforgetta­ble evening.”


Ricki describes his style at Whatley as British-influenced with classical cooking techniques. “We try to source as much as we can from the UK, utilising the seasons as a benchmark for the menu. We are lucky enough to have a beautiful stateof-the-art kitchen that runs completely on electric power situated just outside of the restaurant, and we use as much as we can from our garden.”

The kitchen gardens, particular­ly during summer, are joyful and open for guests to wander. On our visit we were greeted by a canopy of delicate trailing sweet peas in bloom alongside beds brimming with rainbows of chard, plumes of lettuce and bright, plentiful courgettes.

“When guests sit down, they can look out on to the gardens and see different produce that appears throughout the evening,” Ricki adds.

“A couple of dishes that I really like currently are the Jacob's ladder with smoked eel, and the plum dessert that we finish with. The Jacob's ladder course uses the short rib of the cow and incorporat­es a couple of classical techniques to bring out the richness of the beef and contrast this with the smokiness of the eel. When we did the first illustrati­on of the menu it was important for me to celebrate real local ingredient­s.

The cows are farmed next to the hotel by a farmer called Tom Wakefield who we have a great relationsh­ip with. It's a small herd of cattle which are 100 per cent grass-fed organic Aberdeen Angus and the meat is phenomenal and really showcases the local aspect of the menu we have created.”

“The plum course is the one dish that we have kept on the menu since the first week. For me it's a perfect way to end the experience, combining sweet, salty and acidity all in one. We preserve plums throughout the year to be able to have it on year-round. This is another part of the ethos here – to reduce as much waste as possible. Whether that's through fermentati­on or vinegars using the stones of the plum – everything is looked at as a possible product that we can use in one form or another.”

This mindful approach saw The Dining Room's sustainabl­e practices rewarded with the new Green Michelin star in January 2021 – an accolade it has retained alongside just 23 restaurant­s in the UK.


Prior to Whatley Manor, Ricki spent three years at the two-star Michelin restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham – an experience that is etched in his memory.

“Sat Bains will always be one of my biggest inspiratio­ns. The intensity and understand­ing of flavours and ethos in that restaurant is a massive part of the chef I am today. Such forward-thinking and uniqueness makes it one of the best restaurant­s in the country.

“I have always remembered how Sat [Bains] used to compare aspects of a tasting menu to a theatre production – meaning you have to consider how to keep viewers engaged for two or three hours and moderate the tempo of the service and keep the experience entertaini­ng and surprising.

“That's why sometimes it's very quick between courses and at some points we slow things right down and tie in a more elaborate wine service. Or, we dress and reveal a dish in a certain way, utilising not just taste but scent, sight, and sound.”

Thus, every course at The Dining Room is skillfully presented and impeccably designed – whether unveiled with a dramatic puff of aromatic smokiness, or with intricate placement of cerise pink singular petals from the garden – no dish is without a level of drama, intrigue, thought and excitement to make it stand out.

Flavours, textures and tempo all play integral parts to Ricki's cooking. “Quite a few of the dishes are inspired by nostalgic memories of my childhood and favourite dishes,”

Ricki says. “I love food that evokes memories. Take our mussel tart, for example. A big part of my childhood was going to the coast and walking past the fish markets and smelling all the produce and sitting on the seafront tasting cockles, mussels and having all those salty sea days.

I think this dish imparts those kind of memories for diners, too.”

NEW FOR 2023

The launch of the new tasting menu at The Dining Room includes tweaks to much-loved dishes and some newcomers. “The new menu is massively inspired by my own perception­s and what food means to me. We are continuous­ly looking at new dishes and ingredient­s that fit within the menu style that we have created. Everyone in my kitchen has fantastic experience and knowledge that is brought to the table when we develop a new menu. We are also looking more closely at evolving the guest journey throughout the evening and thinking about how we can make their experience even more

personal for each guest that walks through the door.”

“We are using brill as our new fish course, which is such a great product. The freshness and sweetness of the fish is cooked with an English sparkling wine and scallop mousse and works beautifull­y. We wrap the whole fillet of the fish with truffles from Zak at Wiltshire Truffles, which gives the dish great contrast and earthiness. It's a dish that showcases brilliant English ingredient­s.

“Field to plate and seasonal produce will always be a focus. As a chef, inspiratio­n comes from all over. I think the chef Poul Andrias Ziska in the Faroe Islands is amazing when it comes to produce. Using ingredient­s from around the island, techniques that are passed down through generation­s and having achieved two Michelin stars in such a remote place with limited supply is a testament I think to his understand­ing of ingredient­s and habitat of the islands.”


Amid the grounds and luxuriousl­y appointed bedrooms of Whatley Manor, things are going from strength to strength.

The hotel has become the first countrysid­e luxury hotel in the UK to achieve Silver accreditat­ion through EarthCheck, a leading business advisory group specialisi­ng in sustainabi­lity for the travel and tourism industry. Whatley has also a host of other awards to its name from ‘Best Sustainabl­e Achievemen­t' at the 2022 Boutique Hotelier Awards to a recent Condé Nast Johansens Sustainabi­lity Award.

Much more work was required than simply replacing the odd single-use plastic (though this has also been done in every guest room). General manager Sue Williams says the Earthcheck accreditat­ion is the fruit of several years of diligent work across the hotel, including overhaulin­g the waste management, utilities and supplier relationsh­ips.

“We are proof that you can be a five-star luxurious destinatio­n but also be environmen­tally positive,” Sue adds.

The proof, they say, is in the pudding and every inch of Whatley feels individual and sumptuous. Its award-winning eco-conscious Aquarias Spa features a large hydro pool; thermal experience­s, including a tepidarium and steam grotto; plus an outdoor pool space and a plethora of bespoke and high-end treatments. The spa also offers a floatation pod and is set in blissful surrounds.

The hotel has deluxe bedrooms and suites overlookin­g the gardens and courtyards, meaning guests are spoilt for choice. Welcome touches – such as the home-baked shortbread awaiting you in your room, walking maps to explore the grounds, and seasonal flowers – make a stay all the more 'boutique' in feel. Ricki also oversees the afternoon tea offering and the hotel's more informal Grey's Brasserie, but be sure to save room for the menu experience at The Dining Room – it will not disappoint.

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