Tuesday 29 September 2009

Bon appetit

Down in the lobby of the Tardis-like George Hotel in Stamford, a 900 year-old coaching inn, there is a portrait of a sweet-faced boy called Daniel Lambert who had the body of a blimp. He was born in Leicestershire in 1770 and died here in 1809, weighing 335kg, necessitating the removal of part of a wall to allow his body to be taken to be buried. Despite measuring, for example, a metre around the knee, he was charming and intelligent, and much missed by the ladies after his death.

I was put in mind of Daniel when the head waiter in the hotel's excellent restaurant, rolled back the lid of the giant silver trolley to reveal a rib of beef quite 60 centimetres long. It carved like a dream and melted in the mouth, and along with the succulent scallops and tempura-fried shaved courgettes, the prosciutto-wrapped beans, cheeses by named people and home-made chocolate truffles, it threatened to bring on a case of the Daniel Lamberts.

So much for my intentions of being prudent, just ordering the turbot. In the absence of turtle soup on the menu, I felt I had to go for this fish as just this afternoon, in the cavernous Elizabethan vault of the kitchen at Burghley House, I had admired the diamond-shaped copper turbot kettle on the long polished oak table (held together only by wooden dowels); although the dozen or so 300 year-old turtle skulls mounted on the chimney breast were a bit chilling.

The house is magnificent and well worth seeing, full of ornament and wow-factor decorations, but I enjoyed almost as much simply walking through the grounds, past herds of twitchy fallow deer and imperturbable sheep, to the town where the low sun brought out the full beauty of the creamy limestone and the rolling green hills set about by oak and ash.

It's another undiscovered gem, like Lincoln, but I'm going to shut up about it now in case you take it into your head to go there and, in finding it, change it. There's a law about that, you know. One day the details may even come back to me.

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