Walking into the Grand Hotel’s Mirabelle restaurant on an unseasonably mild and sunny late November afternoon Christmas seemed very far away.
The sun was blazing in a clear sky and a slice of cobalt sea is visible through the hotel’s vast picture windows.
But by the time we leave we are feeling as festive and cosseted as the giant Christmas tree in the hall, which was bare when we walked in but expertly decorated by the staff in shards of silver as we emerge into the dusk a few hours later.
The Mirabelle – opened in 1989 and named after its then famous sister restaurant in London which was, at the time, under the same ownership – is one of two restaurants at the Grand.
It has recently undergone a £200,000 redecoration with soothing shades of blue and silver and boasts a relatively new face in the kitchen – head chef Stephanie Malvoisin, who trained in France then worked at hotels across the south east of England, has been at the helm for a year.
Even for regular customers who come back to dine at the ‘White Palace’ week after week, the Mirabelle is a special treat restaurant, a celebratory place – ladies are dressed up, gentleman are expected to wear a jacket and the dining room is masterminded with a soothing efficiency by restaurant manager Benjamin Warren.
The Mirabelle is offering a special Christmas Season Luncheon until December 22, full of seasonal treats but not falling foul of every seasonal trope (yes, there’s turkey and Christmas pudding on the menu, but the word ‘sprout’ does not appear and there’s plenty of luxury in the form of scallops, lobster and truffles).
The crab salad starter is as pretty as a picture and as fresh as the sea outside, with little mounds of fresh crab, each topped with a slice of mackerel tartare and surrounded by spheres of cucumber and delicate blobs of avocado.
The vibrant green watercress and potato soup is served in a jug, poured into a bowl with poached quail eggs and creme fraiche nestling at the bottom.
The main course’s seared partridge breast was bursting with umami flavours – served with shiitake mushrooms, baby vegetables and a rich, savoury truffle emulsion.
As well as the obligatory festive turkey (which comes with red cabbage puree, pear tarte tatin and caramelised chestnuts), there are lighter options for those saving the traditional bird for December 25 such as soy and butter poached halibut, wild sea bass and charred tenderstem broccoli, goats cheese and quinoa terrine.
The dessert menu has the festive theme threaded throughout with eggnog cheesecake, a rich date and Tokaji parfait with a soothing mascarpone ice-cream and pecan cookie crumb with orange ice-cream, as well as Christmas pudding for the traditionalists.
The Christmas Season Luncheon, available until December 22, is £29 for three courses or £41 to include a half bottle of selected wine per person.
Call 01323 412345 for reservations.