One of the things I love most about social media is how many people you can reach in such a short space of time. Naturally for my birthday I had more plans to eat out than there were days in the week and when one of best friends offered to take me out I really struggled to decide where to eat (shocker I know!). She said I could pick anywhere, and I really wanted to go somewhere with a lovely atmosphere but I was also keen to try somewhere new (so Prime was out!). I have a billion places on my London list, but I feel like nice, independent places are much more of a rarity outside of London so I often find myself eating at a lot of the same places, and when I need to pick somewhere special I find it particularly difficult! One of the lovely people on my Instagram suggested The Glasshouse at the Grove Hotel in Watford.
As soon as I went on their website I knew I wanted to go. It’s a beautiful 5* hotel set in 300 acres of countryside with a golf course and spa, and they have a few restaurants within the hotel grounds. The Glasshouse is a buffet restaurant, but The Stables, which has an a la carte menu, also caught my eye. I love an all you can eat buffet (who doesn’t!?) but I often find that quality can be quite poor, and as I’ve grown up I’ve definitely started to place a lot more weight on the quality of the food that I’m eating (as well as the quantity of course!). When I think of all you can eat buffets, I can’t help but think back to the greasy, awful all you can eat Chinese buffets I’d stuff my face with back at University on a weekly basis.. the thought of those really just doesn’t appeal to me anymore!
The Glasshouse describe themselves as an ‘international theatre of cooking’ though, and looking at the sample buffet menu I was in no doubt. Some of the items on the sample menu include cod with caper & herb crust and parsley-lemon mayo, Chantenay carrots with Grove Estate honey and beef bourguignon, and having looked at Instagram pictures which showed the most incredible array of desserts (including macaroons and some seriously impressive cakes!) I was completely sold. When I mentioned it to my friend though, she said that she preferred the a la carte option, and after thinking about it, I thought that could perhaps be a better choice for catching up, as I’d be up and down like a yo-yo at the buffet going back for hundreds of plates of food! She booked the table though, and she actually ended up surprising me by going for the buffet option (she knows me and my greediness too well..)! Although I’d actually come round to liking the idea of an a la carte meal more (I love how good the service is at refined restaurants), the idea of an upmarket buffet is so unique that I was so excited and I couldn’t wait to see what it was like.
Firstly I’d like to apologise for the quality of the pictures! At a buffet I tend to get a ridiculously ugly/messy/haphazard array of foods (who doesn’t eat smoked salmon with chips, curry and beef brisket at a buffet!? 😛 ) meaning the majority of my plates were not particularly aesthetically pleasing to say the least! Believe it or not the pictures I’ve chosen to put up are the most pretty of the lot! But take my word for it that the food (and the whole experience!) were well worth a visit.
When we arrived it was dark, which my friend said was a shame as the grounds are beautiful and in summer I can imagine it being absolutely lovely. As you walk into the reception area, Colette’s (another one of their restaurants) is on the left and The Glasshouse is on the right. We did look at the menu for Colette’s, but we both agreed that the high prices/likely lack of food would make it a poor choice for us, but I think it would make the perfect present for my parents who love that type of place. I’ll be honest, it was nothing like I was expecting. I guess since it’s such a beautiful hotel and a refined restaurant, I was almost worried about it being too pretentious, or me being underdressed, but the fact that it is part of a hotel makes it so much more relaxed – of course there were people there dressed up for special occasions, but there were plenty of hotel guests there just in jeans and t-shirts. We were shown to our table, the different areas of the buffet were explained to us (I’ll be honest, I didn’t pay an ounce of attention – I was too busy eyeing up the food!) and we ordered some drinks. The buffet area was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but given the size of the restaurant it made sense – I don’t know why I was expecting an all-inclusive size monster of a place, where you can get lost on your way back to your table! We obviously started our tour of the buffet at the dessert section, and what a spread it was!
There was a huge chocolate fudge cake, a tray of apple crumble with hot custard, a ton of cakes, tarts, pies, mousses, jellies and some cute little chocolate cups, as well as a plate of macaroons, and jugs of cream and chocolate sauce!
There was even an ice cream cart – none of those crappy fluorescent pink and green plastic tubs that you have to dig around in to try and get a decent scoop; inside were individual tubs of ice cream and even a huge range of individually wrapped ice creams – Soleros, Twisters, Cornettos and…… DOUBLE CHOCOLATE MAGNUMS.
The chocolate fudge cake was every bit as amazing as it looked and the salted caramel cannelles were possibly my favourite cake. A soft, light sponge, with a generous salted caramel filling all the way down.. heaven!
I think it was the apple crumble that really sent me into the worst food coma of my life though. My friend and I justified picking off all of the biggest, crunchiest parts of the crumble topping by telling each other that ‘everyone does it’. They brought out a fresh tray at least twice while we were there too, so we obviously had to be first up to pick off all the best bits. Combine that with generous helpings of warm, vanilla custard and it was absolutely divine.. and completely and utterly carb coma inducing!
The rest of the buffet was pretty good too. There was a big selection of cheese and crackers, a little corner with antipasti-style things – olives, peppers, hummus, frittata, artichokes, hams, sausage and other meats. There was a cold-area with fresh seafood – mussels, prawns, smoked salmon, crayfish, mackerel, cooked flaked salmon and even little sushi pieces 🙂
The mains area had a big roast dinner section and the meat was incredible! There were three big joints, then skillets filled with roast chicken, braised pork (which was SO good!), liver and a couple of other meats.
There were Yorkshire puddings which were delicious – crispy on the outside and slightly soggy on the bottom (just the way I like them!) and a huge selection of sides. I went for roast potatoes, creamy mustard leeks, roasted parsnips and cauliflower cheese, but they had plenty of other veg too! I also had several helpings of their pasta bake – look at the topping on it!
They brought out several fresh trays of it while we were there, and since our table was just opposite, I went up and got a fresh helping a couple of times! It was golden brown, bubbling and the ultimate comfort food!
The roast beef was ridiculously good. I wouldn’t often choose roast beef but it was so soft, juicy and tender that I went back for another helping! Even the roast potatoes were pretty decent (though my friend who is potato obsessed was disappointed that they weren’t crispier). Every part of the roast was really good, with the exception of the gravy that was the most watery I think I’ve ever seen. It would even have challenged my mum’s gravy, and she uses about three gravy granules per litre of water!!
Other items in the hot buffet area included pan fried sea bass, pizza (which was pretty decent) and arancini balls (they looked pretty but were unfortunately a bit soggy and lacking in flavour).
Next to it was a stir fry section. Given my lack of desire to eat Asian-style food I didn’t bother with this part, but you could pick fresh veggies and have them stir fried with meat, prawns and noodles/rice. It’s only as I’m typing up this review now that I’m slightly regretting my decision not to try it as it was the only station in the restaurant that made the dishes fresh, but by the end of the night I couldn’t have eaten another crumb anyway, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t! There was a salad area in the middle which I didn’t really try – I know, I should be ashamed of myself! – but to be honest it was a little uninspiring. Grated carrot, piles of rocket/leaves, cous cous, potato salad – the usual, and none of it looked particularly exciting.
There was also a minestrone soup, but I may have got a little distracted by the pile of bread next to it! There were focaccias, bloomer, nachos, fruit and nut breads and a selection of little rolls. My love of bread is no secret and obviously I tried my fair share. They were a little hit and miss though and the bread went stale surprisingly fast! There were a couple of little rolls which were amazing – one was caramelised onion and one was seedy and they were incredibly soft and fluffy. They leave warmed butter on your table too which I loved – no one likes desperately trying to spread hard clumps of butter! The focaccia was disappointingly stale though and I got a couple of slices of fruit and hazelnut bread which started off being incredibly soft, but had gone weirdly stale an hour or two later. Maybe that’s not actually strange (it’s probably perfectly normal for fresh bread!) – I guess bread has never been in my hands long enough for me to realise that before 😛 The long breadstick thing was full of seeds – I think they’re caraway (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) but good grief I hate that herb. It’s so overpowering and I feel like it pops up in quite a few rolls and loaves and I really, really dislike it. I really need to learn to identify it (and not grab a second after my ‘appetiser’ plate before eating the first!!).
Finally there was an Indian corner. There were poppadums, naan breads, rice, pilau rice, one veggie curry and one meat curry. The meat curry was lamb – possibly my least favourite meat, but I gave it a go anyway. I wasn’t a fan of the sauce – we both concluded it tasted a bit like a ‘from-a-jar’ sauce and it had a strange sweetness to it too. The veggie option was a spinach dhal though and I loved that. The naans were tasty too, perhaps a little flatter and greasier than I’d have ideally liked (soft, fluffy naans are the way to my heart!) but still pretty good. There were also some chutneys and dips.
It was almost a good job that they started tidying up after half 10.. we’d been there for three and a half hours eating and chatting, and with every passing minute, if even the tiniest space cleared in my stomach I’d be back at the buffet. I was moaning about my food coma one second, and running up to get another bowl of apple crumble the next!
Obviously the food was the highlight, but it was such a lovely place to relax and catch up. The service was incredible – they couldn’t do enough for you. I even asked if I could take away a couple of bits left from the dessert table (clearly anticipating my ‘I’ll never be hungry ever again!’ ending very shortly!) and they were more than happy to pack a few cakes away in a box for me!
Needless to say, they didn’t last long…
When we got the bill, the waiter asked if it was a special occasion too. I guess a lot of people must go there for special occasions due to the price – it seemed to be everyone’s birthday! Everyone else seemed to have told the waiters upfront though, so when he only discovered that it was my birthday at the end of the night, he was horrified and ran off to the kitchen to bring me out a cupcake with a candle.. it was so cute 🙂
My friend insisted on paying for me since it was my birthday, which was an absolutely lovely gesture. To be honest I can’t decide if it’s good value or not. Even though I ate a lot, I feel like my appetite is decreasing as I’m getting older (cry) and I feel like it would be a hell of a lot to pay for people who wouldn’t eat more than two or three plates of food. The variety is perfect for an indecisive clown like me and for a buffet the quality was very, very good but obviously it’s never going to be as good as a restaurant which makes dishes to order. But let’s be honest, when you eat out you almost never ‘get your money’s worth’ if you look purely at the quantity of food you eat and sometimes (most of the time really), you just can’t put a price on good food, a lovely atmosphere and a perfect evening.
Link to their website: https://www.thegrove.co.uk/food/