To Byfleet Manor on Friday, home to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Grantham in Downton Abbey. The occasion? A pop-up restaurant that is set to become a regular (and I’m sure much talked about) event at the historic home.

Having navigated our way out of Byfleet village and along the private roads leading to the imposing entrance and driveway, my wife and I were greeted like the Lords and Ladies of old by the waitresses for the evening.

Entering the front doors and back through time, we made our way into the Dowager’s room, where Champagne and canapés and the home’s owner Julie were waiting. A Welsh lass who made her way to London after Norman Tebbit’s ‘get on your bike’ call to arms, she proved an affable host who helped create a down-to-earth atmosphere in the regal surroundings.

Since the success of Downton Abbey, the marble floors and crystal chandeliers of the country estate have become a must visit attraction for television inspired sightseers - and traditional cream teas have become the order of the day. That success has led to the launch of the Dinner at Downton project and my invitation.

 Following nibbles and an introduction to our chef for the evening, Aneke, guests dressed in their finery moved into the lavishly laid dining room, armed with their bring-your-own bottles of wine.

I’d read that Aneke has been a professional chef for over 20 years and worked with the likes of Rainer Becker at Zuma, Alan Bird at the Ivy and Alain Ducasse in New York. So expectations were high. As were my worries over my wine selection – would it meet Michelin standards?!

We were sat with a couple of television executives, Julie and her luxury tour operator friend, so conversation quickly bubbled up. Before long we were cutting thick slices of deliciously fresh bread for each other and passing around a sweet jar crammed with flavoured butters (garlic, chorizo and plain) wrapped as bon bons.

A chilled cucumber and Byfleet Manor garden mint soup was served up as starter, with Dorset crab and lemon grass beignets – perhaps we let our etiquette slip but the tea cup dishes leant themselves so easily to sipping that spoons were quickly rejected.

Next, dusted with extra virgin olive oil snow, crispy quail eggs played with Onuga faux caviar, buttered asparagus, a Parmesan tuile and smoked pancetta soldiers (the later three standing to attention to add definition to the plate).

Aneke had been quick to press her locally sourced credentials - enthusiastically talking about exploring Ripley farmers’ market and such - and that passion and freshness was quick to bring itself to the fore on the plate.

The roast fillet of line caught sea bass with pea puree and beer batter scraps was a fun and sophisticated take on fish and chips, especially with the addition of candied vine tomato, apple infused curry oil and Champagne beurre blanc.

As the dishes and wine flowed, so did the conversation and I found myself already longing for more pop-up experiences. Much like the enjoyment I find in visiting film locations around the county, there’s something very special about dining in a room that has been created for an evening rather than the average day-to-day.

My highlight was the rich slow roasted belly of pork, Maris Piper fondant, summer truffle infused celeriac emulsion, pink lady apple butter and port wine jus. A classic and once again served with an exquisite eye for detail.

Portions were well balanced and the dessert list already got my sweet teeth tingling by this time. First came an aptly named chocolate opera resting on sea salted caramel, which had a hot white chocolate latte shot served alongside. Heaven. Then came a bite-sized Madagascan vanilla bean waffle ice cream cone with chocolate covered popping candy.

With dessert, coffee and petits fours polished off, I sat back to tie the evening together – each course etched into memory.

Dinner at Downton is a magical mix of fun, unrushed hospitality and exceptionally high quality cuisine.

I understand that they will be keeping dates limited to a couple a month, which I’d say is advisable as it makes for an expectant crowd of enthusiastic diners and helps to dilute any potential snobbery.

Needless to say, I look forward to heading back and, having taken a peek out the windows, think their afternoon teas this summer will also be one to add to the hit list.

Find out the latest Byfleet Manor dining and afternoon tea dates at, and

P.S. If you have a favourite pop-up or traditional restaurant, make sure to vote for them in this year’s Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards