We were recently honoured to be guest speakers at a Supper Club of the Windsor Conservatives and thought our talk might be interesting for our followers too, so herewith an abridged version (minus the heckling!).
When we talk about ‘Fine Dining’ we generally mean a full service restaurant that has usually received some kind of award or recommendation from a renowned guide such as Michelin, AA or the Sunday Times. They are often within a prestigious hotel or are an independent restaurant (rather than a chain) and commonly have a well regarded chef at the helm. Fine dining though really goes beyond a mere ‘term’ as it is a total experience – the essence of which is hard to actually put your finger on.
Now Michelin in recent years has been accused of being out of date with its distinctive Red Guide. Always the centre of controversy amid suggestions that the French-originating Michelin guide is out of step with British cuisine and the average diner, nevertheless the star system used in the Michelin Guide remains the key yardstick by which all UK restaurants are judged.
We recently wrote about the Haute Cuisine Capital of the World – the criteria we used was the city which had the most Michelin Stars. The answer is Tokyo. Incredibly, Tokyo’s restaurants between them have 323 stars – with 14 of them holding three star each – the ultimate accolade. Design Restaurants lists all of the restaurants which hold Michelin Stars in the UK – a total of 138 – 4 of them hold three Michelin stars each – and unbelievably 2 of them are in Bray in Berkshire!
In the UK – although London holds the most Michelin stars, in terms of county, Berkshire is undoubtedly the county of Fine Dining boasting 8 Michelin stars within four restaurants. I am going to share a little more detail about these outstanding restaurants with you now – and also some of Design Restaurants own recommendations of great places to fine dine in Berkshire.
The leading light of all the fine dining restaurants in Berkshire – taking fine dining to another level is The Waterside Inn. Today, under the leadership of chef-patron Alain Roux, no other British restaurant can claim to have held three Michelin stars for so long – 25 years in total.
The name Roux is legendary within culinary circles. Over the past four decades, brothers Michel and Albert have made a lasting impact on British eating habits. From the original Le Gavroche restaurant, opened in 1967 on London’s Lower Sloane Street, where they took turns in the kitchen and dining room, they had one aim: “to achieve a worldwide reputation for the quality of their cuisine and service”.
In 1972, with a series of successful city restaurants under their aprons, the brothers ventured further afield, acquiring a traditional English pub in a quiet Royal Berkshire village. They set about transforming it into an elegant restaurant and cocktail bar – and so the Waterside Inn was born.
With both sons, Alain and Michel Jr., following in their fathers’ esteemed footsteps, the Rouxs’ separated their business interests in 1986; Albert chose Le Gavroche, while Michel opted for the Waterside Inn. He was awarded an honorary OBE in 2002 – the same year he conveyed responsibility for the Waterside to his son, Alain. Almost a decade later, with a team of more than 40 under his control, chef-patron Alain Roux is continuing the tradition…
Long before Bray became the culinary centre-ville it is today, the village had a long and well-documented history; notable inhabitants included King Charles II, Nell Gwynn and Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown’s School Days). There was even a popular satirical 18th century song written about the vicar of Bray.
Unashamedly French and exquisitely executed examples from Le Menu Gastronomic include:
- Choux buns garnished with mushroom duxelle, braised Burgundy snails and coated with béarnaise sauce, salade leaves and Madeira jus
- Roasted Gressingham duck breast with cherries and Bourgueil wine
- Shortbread biscuit with an apricot mousse and redcurrants, rosemary scented apricot sorbet
Prices range from £45.50 – £79.50 for 3 courses and you will need to book at least 3 weeks in advance for weekend lunch and dinner.
Just a stones throw away, on the High Street, is the UK’s most infamous Fine Dining restaurant – Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. Once again the restaurant was opened in a building which had been a public house in the 16th Century.
The restaurant is known for its menu of unusual dishes, created following the principles of molecular gastronomy, and include egg and bacon ice cream, an Alice in Wonderland inspired mock turtle soup involving a fob watch dissolved in tea, and a dish called the “Sounds of the Sea” which includes an audio element. Heston Blumenthal apparently dislikes the molecular gastronomy label which has been assigned to him, and prefers to think of his food as a combination of cooking techniques and tricks on diners’ perceptions. The restaurant has an associated laboratory where Blumenthal and his team develop new dish concepts. Reviews of the restaurant have been mixed, with some critics disliking particular dishes such as a mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho soup.
Nevertheless the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 1999 and went on to receive another in 2001 and then its third in 2004 becoming the fastest restaurant to achieve 3 Michelin stars. In 2005 it was listed as the World’s Best Restaurant in the list which is voted on each year by industry insiders and sponsored by San Pellegrino and Restaurant magazine. The restaurant is so popular that you have to book 3 months in advance for Saturday nights and apparently on any one day they can receive as many as 30,000 calls!
The Fat Duck is not without its issues though and a reported 400 people went down with the noro virus after eating there back in 2009. At the time there were rumours of sabotage but it is thought in the end one of the staff had the virus and passed it on. The closure cost the chef £100,000 in lost revenue.
The tasting menu at the Fat Duck is £195 per person.
There is a third Michelin star in Bray which belongs to Heston’s Hinds Head pub. Once again there is a lot of history attached to the building which was a 15th century public house and many of the dishes served are inspired by 15th and 16th century traditional dishes. ‘Oxtail and kidney pudding and bone marrow sauce’ feature on the menu. His interest in dishes from this period has also inspired Heston’s latest restaurant, Dinner, in Knightsbridge. Each of the dishes listed also has a date next to it – for example Salamugundy is ‘Chicken oysters, salsify, marrow bone & horseradish cream circa 1720′.
Although both of these giants of culinary cuisines Alain Roux, and Heston Bluementhal are very close neighbours, their style of cooking is totally different. One distinctly French and the other most traditionally British – but both of them satisfy Michelin’s stringent criteria for its ultimate accolade.
Michelin has judged Berkshire to be worthy of 8 stars in total and our final Michelin awarded restaurant is L’Ortolan in Reading. Again French cuisine, L’Ortolan is housed in a former vicarage on a leafy lane in Shinfield. It has had a series of well known chefs at its helm, being run for 13 years by John Burton Race before being handed over to Daniel Galmiche and then in 2004 Alan Murchison who had helped set the restaurant up on its opening in 2000, took over once more and the restaurant gained its Michelin star in 2008. L’Ortolan has a magical, relaxed atmosphere and reports to have one of the best ‘Chef’s tables’ in the country. The menu is classic but with a modern influence and includes examples such as:
- Goose Liver and smoked breast, pain d’epice, spiced cherries and chicory jam
- Fillet of Turbot, citrus fregola, fennel and anise salad, lemon puree, sauce vierge
- Pistachio and olive oil cake, apricots, red vein sorrel
Prices at L’Ortolan range from £58 for two courses to £65 for 3 courses or the intriguing Chef’s 10 Course surprise menu with is £105 per person!
Design Restaurants Recommendations
So finally this brings me onto a few more of the restaurants in Berkshire which we recommend on our site alongside the Michelin starred properties.
Cliveden House is one of the grandest hotels anywhere – a Grade I listed Italianate stately mansion in a 375 acre estate presided over by the National Trust.
The hotel’s motto is especially befitting: ‘Nothing ordinary ever happens here, nor could it.’ Once the former home of the Astor’s and the location of the notorious Profumo Affair in the late 60’s, this is the ultimate destination restaurant to enthral for any occasion. The Terrace Dining Room on the ground floor is south facing with arresting views over a far stretching Parterre and the River Thames. Magnificent windows line the restaurant, bathing it in light, and the fine works of art, ornate chandeliers, panelled oak walls with Corinthian columns add to its very special allure.
Caldesi In Campanga is considered the the next best restaurant in Bray after its three Michelin neighbours but many of our diners seem to prefer the more relaxed atmosphere of this Italian family run restaurant. It has a holiday like atmosphere and exudes warmth and fun and its larger than life chef owner Giancarlo is very involved in all aspects of the running of the restaurant, plus Italian fine dining is a truly delicious experience!
Coworth Park is a relatively newly opened property located in Ascot and an area known for its Polo connection. The Barn Restaurant is located just a short stroll from the mansion house and is quite informal and charmingly rustic. It has stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the menu features examples such as Roast Dorset Lamp Rump and Windsor Pork Chop. Restaurant Coworth Park is an altogether more grown up affair serving classical British dishes in an elegant and contemporary setting. Well worth a peek also is Coworth’s exclusive Chocolate Room – say no more!
Finally a little sneaky insider scoop for you on the latest new restaurant for Berkshire which is going to become we think something of a destination – Fork at The Royal Berkshire Hotel. The Royal Berks in Sunninghill was acquired by Exclusive Hotels (Penny hill Park, Lainston House etc) back in 2011 and has been quietly refurbished. Its restaurant reopens as Fork this week and we have the low down that it is going to be really rather good – watch this space for a review coming soon!
So that concludes our tour of Fine Dining in Berkshire – we really hope you enjoyed it and will try some of the restaurants recommended.