Gin Created By A Michelin Star Chef And A Meal In His Restaurant? Why You Need To Staycation In The Cotswolds This Year

We all deserve it after the year we've had.

whatley-manor

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

Lord knows 2020 has been the year of the staycation: perhaps you were one of the five billion people who seemed to cram onto campsites in Cornwall, or maybe you squeezed onto beaches on the South Coast. It was the year we rediscovered how much beauty and talent there is in this country: it's scenic; our chefs are gifted; and you can get some pretty special alcoholic drinks, all of which we might have missed had we jetted off to Spain or Italy like we normally do.

Treats and fun experiences have been in short supply, which is why it makes sense to do something exceptionally noteworthy on your staycation, and I’ve got just the thing. I doubt you need convincing when it comes to visiting the Cotswolds – a standard first port of call when holidaying in England - but just outside the picturesque town of Malmesbury is Whatley Manor, where the hotel’s two Michelin-starred chef Niall Keating has joined forces with a distillery to create a very special gin.

‘Restless’ is the fifth limited-edition release in the Voyager Series from Salcombe Gin, and the hotel's 'Restless' experience - where you can try the drink and a Michelin star meal in Niall's restaurant - is not to be missed.

salcombe-gin-whatley-manor-staycation
Niall in the kitchen ©Whatley Manor

In normal times, many wouldn’t consider a night away in a fancy hotel in the English countryside and a Michelin-star meal for their holiday (for obvious reasons – it’s pretty spenny). For me, my holiday money is usually spent on Ryanair flights, cheap cocktails on the beach and nausea-inducing boat trips. But seeing as that's off the table right now (and those who have been lucky enough to hold onto their jobs have a bit of cash spare due to cancelled plans), this unique food and drink collaboration makes a great ‘something special’ trip away this year.

I arrive at Whatley Manor on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, stressed and tense from months spent hunching over my desk (aka my dining room table), having barely left my postcode in half a year. First up, I have a full body massage in the incredible spa, which immediately relaxes me and resets my mind and posture. Then I sit down with star chef Niall, to hear about his creation, which has caused a huge amount of buzz in the drinks world.

‘Restless’ is inspired by Niall’s passion for Asian cuisine and has been distilled with kombucha, using Niall’s very own blood orange kombucha, marking the first time a gin has been created with a liquid botanical.

‘Food and drink obviously go together and gin is very fashionable right now. I love gin and got the opportunity to do it,’ says Niall, who says the drink has brought gin lovers flocking to the hotel.

‘We wanted it to be a real representation of me and my travel experiences: I’ve been to San Francisco, Korea, Japan, Copenhagen and eventually back to the UK and wanted to embrace a bit of everything from all those different places and cultures and make something very unique,' he says.

The exclusive gin – which has had a small production of 3,500 bottles, only appearing in Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, online and at the hotel - is now the signature house drink at Whatley Manor.

‘It took a lot of time developing it,’ Niall adds. ‘It’s very interesting gin, it’s beautiful. I absolutely love it.’

Just before dinner, I meet Angus Lugsdin, Co-Founder & Director of Salcombe Distilling Co, to finally sample the drink, and I have a confession to make: I’m not normally a huge gin fan. Vodka, lime and soda is my go to (blasphemy to a gin connoisseur, no doubt). But Restless quickly converts me: it’s rich, aromatic, smooth, fresh and full of interesting flavour, so much so you can drink it neat, and we do, before settling in for a classic G&T.

We leave feeling like we’ve been on the trip of a lifetime.

‘95% of gin is still drunk as G&T, but increasingly it’s staring in cocktails, and if a gin is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy it as an after-dinner drink or during dinner,’ says Angus. ‘We had the challenge of developing this one in lockdown,’ he adds.

This meant Niall would send packages of weird and wacky ingredients down to Salcombe, that they would then start to distil with. ‘We had everything from perilla leaves and Chinese black dates to Japanese salted plums,’ he says. ‘One key ingredient Niall wanted to feature was kombucha, but I wasn’t too sure what we’d do with it in a gin.’ Trusting the chef, they distilled it. ‘The aroma and spectrum of flavour over the distillation process was remarkable,’ he says.

salcombe-gin
Salcombe Gin's 'Restless' bottle, created by Niall Keating. ©'Restless' to Salcombe Distilling Co.

Next up, it was time for our Michelin-star dinner in Niall’s restaurant. The experience was exciting and extraordinary, every course exquisite and impressive. From halibut, yuzukosho, black truffle to smoked cream tofu, marinated salmon, trout roe and a risotto with chorizo and scallop, it is food that leaves you in awe of the human race – how can anyone make a few ingredients taste so spectacular?

READ MORE: Fancy A 'Workation'? These Cottagecore Gems Are The Perfect Change Of Scenery

We leave feeling like we’ve been on the trip of a lifetime. Ok, so nothing is going to replace your cancelled holiday to The Seychelles, but a trip away sampling gin designed by a Michelin Star chef, and then dinner in his restaurant, is surely a close runner up. A staycation doesn’t have to be a week in a shabby AirBnb – how about one proper treat night experiencing the best food and drink England has to offer? We all deserve it this year.

The whole 'Restless' package at Whatley Manor is available until the end of February and excludes Sunday 14 February.

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