Hello Berkshire :)
It's been a long week with the move and we had an occasion to celebrate. Trip Advisor has served us well in the past and I found what looked to be a promising eatery. It turned out to be quite the surprise.
Getting here involved a long drive through what seemed like several small villages. The GPS was a bit out but we got there. This is what we found.
L'Ortolan located in a listed building it seems. It's some sort of large country house or manor and certainly looks impressive from the outside. A bit of guidance to the front would have been nice as I don't make it a habit to open large manor doors without signs on them. Oh, it's listed as being a French restaurant.
The decor is pleasant enough, though I did notice that, oddly, the carpet needs cleaning or changing. I shan't bore you with the wine choice as I neither know enough about wine to really comment, nor think the selection to be the measure of an eatery. Suffice to say at £49 a bottle it wasn't cheap but I did enjoy it.
Yes, this is the type of place that gives an amuse-bouche. Or two
The first course was a selection of house canepes, small fingers of breaded fish, peanuts in a chilli crust. This was a pleasant surprise and whet the appetite nicely. We then had a selection of small homemade breads which mostly fresh and excellent. After this it was the amuse-bouche, or Chef's appetiser; either pumpkin or butternut squash broth. Delicious.
Z: Roast scallops, cauliflower & caraway purée, caramelised white chocolate, lime emulsion
A: Hen egg & herb ravioli, braised celery & salsify, Wiltshire truffles
This is "fine dining" so every part of every portion has to be tiny. Z's cauliflower was so thin I mistook it for some sort of exotic mushroom. The scallops were sweet, tender and complemented the white chocolate in a most interesting and tantalising fashion. This was a superior starter and I recommend it highly.
My ravioli was very good, but it was the best part of my dish by far. The celery was at least not offensive, as I usually dislike it if its not part of the base for a Tuscan pasta sauce. You can't go wrong with truffles but really all these accompaniments paled in comparison to the ravioli, which was indeed good and deserved better.
A: Tasting plate of suckling pig, cipollini onion, black pudding purée, sage jus
Z: Roasted breast and confit leg of grouse, savoy cabbage, cider fondant, honey roasted parsnips, blackberry & roasting jus
The pig was well cooked; just done and the crackling on the piece of belly was just right. The onion and black pudding puree were full and flavoursome but the sage jus was a little weak for me and if I'm honest the best bit of the pig really was that small cube of belly. I shouldn't say I was disappointed as it was all lovely. It just wasn't inspirational.
The grouse, on the other hand, was fabulous. The breast is served quite rare and I didn't try it, but Z enjoyed it all and the portion of leg I sampled was just delicious. Z especially like the roasting jus and the parsnips, which I tried, were nice too. But then I like parsnips and it's hard to spoil them. I had initially chosen the grouse and when we go back (which we will) I may have to choose it.
This was quite the odyssey, which isn't to say it was fraught with hardships but, well...
Z: Apple soufflé
A: Salted caramel parfait, chocolate aero, honeycomb, hazelnut
Before dessert there is the Chef's pre-dessert. This was a delightful touch of cheesecake in a glass. The chef was unhappy with the soufflé so our dessert was delayed. To make up for the delay we were served a caramel panna cotta with caramel crumble and honeycombs. This was a little sweet for me but it was certainly nice of them to "compensate" us for the delay.
All of these "pre-desserts" made me a bit full and I thought I wouldn't manage the salted caramel.
The apple soufflé, when it arrived, was competent. Light, apple-y, nice. Again, this wasn't bad just not inspiring. It was another dish I had initially though of ordering, but I relented to allow Z her first choice. In truth I don't like salted caramel; it's usually over salted or over sweet to compensate. Not here - my dessert was wonderful, and the stand out of the night. I finished it all and would have it again. It's not the caramel pancakes of Fiesta Del Asado but it's up there on my List Of Good Desserts.
L'Ortolan isn't cheap and you get the service and the surrounding you pay for. We didn't know it has a Michelin star until I looked it up again when we got home. I'm sure it deserves it as the chef clearly knows how to work some magic. I'm not entirely sure it's worth the price though because at over £100 a head (including wine) I expect to be wowed with every part of every plate. We've paid a lot less for a lot more, especially in Italy and France, but you'll have to read my other entries for details of that. We haven't fully made our minds up about L'Ortolan yet but it was a very enjoyable evening.
We will certainly go again, and it in fact are planning on taking a party for the 10 course surprise, after which, I'll make a definitive judgement.
Oh, and the jellies that came with the coffee were perfect. The toffee was far too chewy for me though.