Review: The Orangery at Blenheim Palace
By Jack Rayner
For readers of OX Magazine (and, for that matter, anyone else) Blenheim Palace should need very little introduction. The Duke of Marlborough’s vast 18th century home is the only non-royal building in the country to be warranted the title of ‘palace’, and is world-famous for its unrivalled Brownian gardens, English Baroque architecture and packed calendar of concerts and events.
Food at the palace, however, has always tended to be overlooked, and I can see why lunch might end up near the bottom of a visitor’s priorities given the sheer impact and scale of the palace buildings themselves. Still, everyone needs to eat, and there are a number of options available. The Water Terrace Café serves up decent and reasonably priced meals, and the deli situated in the Pleasure Gardens, a short walk away from the Great Court, serve up handmade pizzas, soups, salads and the like. For those who are a little more serious about their lunch, though, there is The Orangery, adjacent to the Italian Garden, and this is really where you can appreciate the grandiosity of your surroundings whilst deft waiting staff serve up ambitious, modern British cuisine and afternoon tea.
The full menu is only available from 12pm-3pm, with tea and cakes stretching to 5pm. Whilst the ovens may only be on for a short period each day, the menu has been given some serious thought, displaying some culinary flair whilst remaining as ‘British’ as it’s possible for a menu to be (I’m not kidding – the words ‘Oxfordshire’, ‘local’ and ‘gin’ all appear at least once, with ‘Cotswold’ turning up several times). However, to start, I’d recommend the Devon-via-Guangzhou freshness of crab and crayfish tails with mango wonton. The shellfish are mixed into a crunchy salad and topped with chilli sauce, the fruit coming in the form of a purée, bursting from the crisp Asian pastry. For something a little more familiar, I highly recommend their tomato and red pepper soup, which comes drizzled with pesto and basil oil and accompanied by gorgeous roast onion and sourdough breads.
The combination of modern and traditional continues into the main courses, with name-checked local produce including Cotswold Bibury rainbow trout and Gloucestershire Old Spot sausages featuring heavily. I can particularly recommend the grilled half spring chicken, which arrives accompanied by an earthy truffle and potato salad and sharp, punchy homemade ketchup. Fillet steak is cooked to perfection and served alongside sautéed Pink Fir Apple potatoes and a dangerously moreish horseradish Hollandaise.
Given the setting of The Orangery I thought it was right and proper to finish up with a ‘deconstructed’ cream tea. (As an aside, is a cream tea not ‘deconstructed’ in the first place?) Nomenclature aside, the English classic is given a gorgeous Italian twist, with buttery strawberry and clotted cream semifreddo and Earl Grey pannacotta heaped generously beside scone fingers and luxurious strawberry and Champagne compote. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there is a pistachio and polenta cake with orange blossom syrup, and more deviations on English classics like apple crumble tarts with malted milk ice-cream and ginger beer, or a black forest-style trifle with cherryade and shortbread fingers baked on the premises.
It would be very easy for the chefs at The Orangery to use their enviable locale to prepare fairly average meals with an inflated price tag, but they clearly take serious pride in their work and execute their dishes with subtlety and sophistication. The food is not even particularly expensive - £7 for starters and around £14 for mains is perfectly reasonable given the level of service on display at The Orangery. If you’re planning a visit to Blenheim soon (or even if you’re not) book yourself in – lunch doesn’t get much more enjoyable.
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