Blenheim Palace is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, and is certainly a jewel in Britain’s crown nestling in the Oxfordshire market town of Woodstock.
It’s this class of structure that entices tourists from around the globe and the general public alike to visit, eager to step foot in the building that welcomed Sir Winston Churchill into the world and was itself built as a royal gift from Queen Anne to the first Duke of Marlborough back in the 18th century.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a Grade I-listed building and sits on more than 2,000 acres of parkland and formal gardens. So between wandering around the Great Lake and passing through the gilded State Rooms, visitor hunger is likely to set in. And with a backdrop of refined British historical culture to relax in, people expect to be catered for in world-class venues.
Sights and smells of summer
Thankfully, Blenheim Palace houses a delightful selection of eateries that doesn’t disappoint. With diverse venues offering everything from takeaway snacks to a full champagne afternoon tea, occasions like family picnics and intimate dates can all be enjoyed on site.
The iconic Orangery restaurant, operated by Searcys, has marked the summer season by asking Michelin-starred chef John Campbell (from Berkshire restaurant and cookery school The Woodspeen) to work on a new menu.
The summer menu is a result of the collaboration between the Orangery’s head chef Billy Bush and Campbell, who launched the new dishes in late June at a champagne reception. Also served across the two-day launch was the three-course tasting menu with wine pairings and insider tips from Campbell himself to recreate each dish for those who were lucky enough to attend.
“Seasonal produce is at the heart of everything we do with our menu at the Orangery,” explains Rhian Billington, head of marketing at Searcys. “We source within the seasons to ensure things are as fresh and local as possible. This particular season is a favourite for many chefs, with such an abundance of amazing produce, so it is a particularly exciting menu launch.”
Searcys prides itself on sourcing local produce from the Blenheim Palace Estate, looking to the changing calendar of meat, game, fish, woodland, hedgerow, fruit and vegetables to create new dishes for guests using the best of what’s available.
“Brilliant ingredients are at the heart of every great dish,” continues Billington. “If we start with the best seasonal vegetables, meat, fish or fruits we work with that ingredient to enhance the flavours and combine flavours in exciting and different ways. Without the brilliant ingredient to start with we would need to be magicians to create something special, and we are not magicians – we are chefs!”
Co-working chef culture
Do too many cooks really spoil the broth? In reality, look around the country and you’ll find some fantastic examples of collaborative kitchen work. None more so than the summer menu in the Orangery, which is the direct result of two chefs putting their heads together to create delicate dishes that are a product of their surrounding environment.
“John Campbell works at The Woodspeen, which is nearby and has a Michelin star,” says Billington. “Because of John’s incredible reputation, Billy was keen to learn and work with John on this menu. The combination of Billy and John was great as they are both passionate about great sourcing and sticking to seasonality as the guide, and then collaborating on ideas for recipes and flavour combinations worked very naturally.”
Bush visited Campbell at Woodspeen, working with the team there on ideas, and then received support with training to put the final menu together.
“The lamb dish is exceptional,” says Billington, who also informs me that when it’s available, the lamb is actually reared on the estate. “The lamb is slow-cooked, and is so rich and tender. It’s then combined with a delicious wet garlic polenta – the wet garlic actually comes from the gardens at The Woodspeen – and the fresh minted broad beans with pea salsa is the final touch. The whole dish says ‘vibrant summer’ on a plate.”
It’s not only the food that’s a talking point at the tables. The new summer menu has been meticulously paired with selected wines to further enhance the culinary experience.
“Wine pairing is about working with the flavours of the dish, so that both wine and meal are better together than separately to drive flavours and tastes to a new and higher level,” states Billington.
“We have a really incredible red wine called Côtes du Rhône, Les Forots, Jean-Luc Colombo 2013. It’s from a family-owned winery, where the little bit of spice and soft tannins further enhance the lamb, for example. This is such a great combination – the wine flavours were allowed to flourish when drunk alongside the incredible lamb dish.”
Existing in harmony
Whether it’s the lavender from the Blenheim estate, which is found in the Orangery’s ice cream and the afternoon tea’s delicate pastries – or the honey created from the flowers so carefully looked after by the gardeners – the food on offer at the Orangery is alive with nature’s bounty unearthed from its immediate surroundings.
This restaurant, which is just one example of the culinary care and excellence at Blenheim Palace, is so much more than just a beautiful place to stop a and look across the iconic Italian Garden. It has become an emblem of the ongoing work that goes into every square inch of preservation and conservation at the World Heritage Site, where nature and history thrive alongside one another.
Blenheim Palace is home to a number of food and drink venues, catering for every type of visit to the building and its gardens.
Located in the East Courtyard Visitor Centre, this café serves snacks and light lunches. It was previously the Palace Dairy but offers fresh sandwiches, salads, home-made cakes, soft drinks and coffees, all available to eat in or take away.
Water Terrace Café
This newly refurbished cafeteria-style restaurant overlooks the beautiful Water Terraces. Serving a range of sandwiches, seasonal hot meals and drinks of all kinds from tea to champagne, The Water Terrace Café is ideal for visitors seeking a restorative meal before they head back out to continue exploring the grounds.
Pleasure Gardens Pizza Café
Visitors can head down to the Pleasure Gardens to find the palace’s family-friendly, newly refurbished pizza café. Now available are handmade pizzas – made fresh in a new pizza oven – and a range of salads. Also new is a barista-style coffee range, as well as prosecco by the glass or bottle, alongside an offering of wines and craft lagers.
This relaxed à la carte restaurant is the site of the new summer menu. Diners can enjoy a two- or three-course lunch, or indulge in a champagne afternoon tea.