Shaun Rankin, Grantley Hall: Quite possibly the most opulent place I have ever dined

Do you know what woodruff is? No? Me neither. Shaun Rankin does, though, and he has ingeniously utilised the foraged herb’s vanilla flavours for an ice cream on his Taste of Home menu at Grantley Hall. This substitution is because Rankin endeavours to source everything bar the seafood on the menu within a 20-mile radius of the hotel, and much of it from his kitchen garden at the rear of the grounds. This ethos results in a multitude of surprises throughout the 10 courses, and a reliance on seasonality – chervil featured throughout our meal.

Grantley Hall opened in 2019 and was hosting guests for just six months before the pandemic hit. Originally built around 1680, the estate passed through a number of owners and purposes before being purchased by Valeria Sykes, who put a quiet £70m into the subsequent renovation. Pre-stay research, alongside tidbits from various staff, quickly made it apparent that Sykes is aware she’s never going to make that money back, and isn’t bothered by it. The renovation was apparently a “gift to Yorkshire”.

You might wonder how on earth someone sinks £70m into a renovation, but you will no longer be asking once you’ve visited Grantley Hall. Most of the building’s original features have been preserved and revived, including wood panelling on the walls of the Norton bar, and ceiling detailing depicting various instruments in what was the music room, but is now Shaun Rankin’s restaurant. The spa is on another level, with a hydrotherapy pool, thermal experiences including a sauna, steam room and snow room (yep, really) and a cryotherapy chamber. Don’t even get me started on the gym – it’s the same size as your friendly neighbourhood workout spot, but with about a tenth of the clientele, and boasts a cardio space, spin studio, strength and conditioning area and an underwater treadmill – this I didn’t actually see, but based on everything else, I don’t doubt its existence.

A lot of communities would hate the arrival of such an ostentatiously expensive hotel, which attracts footballers, celebrities and everyday billionaires to this previously sleepy corner of the country. The residents of Ripon and its surrounds, however, seem to have the exact opposite view of Grantley Hall. Our taxi driver from Harrogate station is not even formally employed by the hotel – although he undoubtedly gets a lot of business from them – and spent much of our drive waxing lyrical about the various ways in which the hotel has benefitted the community. “She’s a billionaire, and she could have kept all that wealth in the family,” he says of Sykes. “Instead, she chose to give us all a piece of it.”

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Jerusalem artichoke ice cream cones

(Molly Codyre)

This attitude seemed to be common to everyone we interacted with. Staff anticipated our every need, but this professionalism was underpinned by a deeply welcoming and friendly presence, meaning someone was just as likely to hold every single door open for you as they were to have a laugh about the formality of it all. At dinner, especially, things ran like a well-oiled machine. So much so that when I tried to top up my water glass myself, someone quite literally intercepted me, insisting on doing it for me. This was probably the only moment in which the attention to detail felt overbearing; everything else just felt like a joyous desire to make sure everyone was having as good a time as possible.

I have just binge-watched HBO’s White Lotus (if you haven’t seen it yet, please do), and while it left me hyper-aware of my interactions with every member of staff, it also seemed to highlight that they felt comfortable having a personality – no interchangeable units here (and, thankfully, no drug-guzzling manager hidden in an office somewhere planning the downfall of difficult guests. Just the lovely Andrew, who not only left a selection of local honey, house-made jams and chocolates in the room, but also checked as we were leaving that we had room in our overnight case to take them home).

Anyway, back to dinner, the real reason for our visit. While there are about four separate places you can eat, the grande dame has to be Shaun Rankin. It was, quite possibly, the most opulent place I have ever dined. The space felt like a setting from Bridgerton. Or Downton Abbey, depending on your preferred cultural reference for the historical upper echelons of British society. Plush furniture, corniced ceilings, formally dressed staff and a string quartet soundtrack had a sort of full-circle effect – Grantley Hall may no longer be a private residence, but it felt like getting an insight into what life here might have been like as a lady or a lord in the 1800s.

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Crab crumpet

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(Molly Codyre)

As previously mentioned, the menu centres around Rankin’s childhood in Yorkshire. The theme makes itself known in the crab crumpet – flaky white meat set atop a crumpet made from a butter infused with the brown meat. It was a delightful mouthful, the crab flavour having soaked seamlessly into the stodgy crumpet. It also pops up with the bread, served with dripping and a beef tea (alongside a moreish Jersey butter) – a homage to the north’s strong affinity for both. Outside of that, however, the concept seemed to relate more to the locality of the items on the plate, and the aforementioned 20-mile radius. Rankin endeavours to pilfer his sizeable kitchen garden as much as possible, making in-house alternatives to things that are necessary for cooking but don’t usually grow in the area, for example, vinegars in place of the acidity you might get from lemon or lime juice.

The standout dish of the night happened to come right at the beginning. Labelled “summer garden”, what emerged was an entirely edible allotment. A chervil, sorrel and spinach espuma (salty, silky, brightly herbaceous) was topped with edible dirt, made from broccoli and mushroom, and the entire thing was filled with root vegetables from the garden outside. It was an ingeniously playful take on crudites – especially as the veggies were lightly cooked where necessary – and pushed the boat out in a way I wish we had seen more of throughout the rest of the meal.

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Woodruff ice cream with raspberry, hazelnut and sorrel

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Woodruff ice cream with raspberry, hazelnut and sorrel

(Molly Codyre)

Another memorable course was the venison, a tribute to how wonderful the meat can be. The loin was like butter in the mouth, deeply tender and full of the intensity you would expect, without being overpowering as venison can sometimes be. The blackberry gel it was paired with brought a punchy level of sweetness to mingle with the intensity of the meat, while girolles finished off the autumnal metaphor. The addition of celeriac was unnecessary, albeit delicious, lightly charred and tender. A dish of flash-fried scallops with tomato, rosehip and pineapple weed was lacking, and probably could have been removed from the meal entirely. The tomato consomme slightly too closely resembled tomato paste, while the broth lacked a spark of something to counter the delicate nuttiness of the scallops.

This was the only disappointment in what was an otherwise, honestly, almost unbelievable meal. The entire 24 hours was unlike anything I have ever experienced before, or may ever experience again. I know this review is littered with superlatives, but that is because Grantley Hall is a superlative place. I feel like I spent our whole stay looking around in awe. If this is how the other half live, then it’s no wonder they’re hoarding so much of the world’s wealth. Who would want to give up all that?

Counter culture

This week’s food and drink news

Nopi celebrates its 10th anniversary

Yotam Ottolenghi has had a lasting impact on the spice racks and cooking repertoire of Brits since opening his first deli in Notting Hill in 2002. Now representing something of a culinary empire, the Ottolenghi name is synonymous with reshaping the face of London – and British – cuisine. Nopi, his first foray into more formal dining after the expansion of the delis, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with a special menu formed in collaboration with chefs who have been integral to the development of Nopi over the years. I can’t think of a better reason to make the pilgrimage to Soho.

The River Cafe launches a podcast that is sure to make your office commute a hungry one

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Stephane Delourme of the Rick Stein Group pops up at Sam’s Riverside

Elsewhere in Hammersmith, November sees a slice of Cornwall come to the Thames, with group head chef of the Rick Stein Group, Stephane Delourme, hosting a series of events at Sam’s Riverside. The ticketed series will see guests dining on a seafood-focused four-course menu that highlights seasonal, Cornish produce like turbot and razor clams.

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