There have been three splendid houses at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. The first was a rural love-nest built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham for him to live in with his beautiful, double-chinned mistress - but that burned down. The second was constructed in 1824 for the Scottish politician, Sir George Warrender. That lasted only 25 years before also being burned down. The third Cliveden – the one we see today – was designed by the architect Charles “Houses of Parliament” Barry for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland. Leased out to many people over the years, Cliveden has also been the home to Frederick, Prince of Wales, the Earl of Orkney and finally the Viscounts Astor.
As the home of Nancy Astor, MP -also the wife of the 2nd Viscount Astor - Cliveden was the meeting place of the intellectual Cliveden Set during the turbulent 1930s. Later, as the home of the 3rd Viscount Astor, it became the setting for key events in the notorious Profumo affair, which brought down a Conservative government. Finally in 1985 the house was leased out as a hotel. In 2012 the Iconic Luxury Hotels group took over the running of Cliveden. In 2018 the hotel's glamour was telegraphed all round the world when Cliveden welcomed Meghan Markle and her mother who stayed here before Meghan’s wedding to Prince Harry.
Dining at Cliveden can be an over the top experience. There is a French dining room, much beloved by Nancy Astor, that is lined with ornately gilded wood panelling brought over from France when her husband, Waldorf Astor was trying to burnish his pseudo-aristocratic credentials. And then there is the seven course Cliveden Dining Room which garnered great reviews under executive head chef André Garrett.
In 2016 the hotel extended its dining experience with the Astor Grill, which is housed in an old stable block next to the most elaborate gold-leaf water tower in the British Isles. Six original stalls still stand, with tables where horses once chewed hay. The Astors’ original sea-green tiles still line the walls.
The menu at the Astor Grill is designed by Paul O’Neill who used to work for André Garrett and who took over from him in 2019. It’s a small but flavoursome menu offering a choice of two sharing plates, two small plates, two pastas and two salads. There are six choices of large plates, which includes the Astor Burger. Other nods to the house’s recent history include the Astor Fizz as a signature cocktail (sparkling wine with elderflower) and the Bloody Nancy, which is Chase English smoked vodka, tomato juice in homage to one of the best known – and most traduced - mistresses of Cliveden. Ironically Nancy was very opposed to alcohol, So much so that her husband Waldorf had a secret bottle cupboard built into the panelling of his study.
Paul O'Neill's credo is that everyone who eats at Cliveden should be wowed. “Whether they’re coming for afternoon tea, a sandwich or a seven-course tasting menu.”
The wine list at the Astor Grill is very sensible, with ten whites of which six are available by the glass and a similar distribution of reds. There are only two rosés and both are French, which could probably be improved upon.
The hotel’s entire wine list is under Head Sommelier Zareh Mesrobyan who has a Bulgarian/Armenian background and has inherited a truly incredible cellar that includes a £680 bottle of 2008 Veuve Cliquot (!).Veuve is also the hotel’s house champagne and you can drink it at the Astor Grill for only £17 a glass.
Cliveden has never been a modest house. Its latest incarnation under the Iconic Group is making the most of its reputation for the very best of everything, but at The Astor Grill you will dine well, be served with great charm and leave without having to sell the family silver.