Archive | October, 2011

The Vineyard

10 Oct

When Mark and I were first ‘seeing each other’ I believe my main attraction towards him was his sense of adventure in the world of fine dining. He was the first person I had met who didn’t need a special occasion to eat out at a good restaurant – eating out at a good restaurant was the special occasion. Comparing our Good Food Guide restaurant tally I was severely behind, but I was more than happy to jump on Mark’s foodie bandwagon and I’ve never looked back. I believe Mark was attracted to my enthusiasm to join in, but I am proud to say that he never would have guessed that 2 years together would have resulted in 57 ticks in our Good Food Bible(Guide). I think he would agree that my eagerness somewhat outweighs his.

Mark isn’t one to want to revisit an old haunt so I am sometimes disappointed when he waxes lyrical about the deliciousness of a meal from times past. The Vineyard was one such example; previous to our culinary journey together it was credited as the best meal of his life. It pained me to hear of how brilliant it was and of what excellent value knowing it would never be for me, however, an impending trip to a theatre in Newbury and a couple of hours of batting my eyelids did the trick and we were booked in for lunch.

I have to say, there was a sense of doom as soon as we woke up of the morning of our trip to Newbury. A phone call just before we were about to set off informed us that the show was cancelled, and 10 miles out of Newbury we had to wait half an hour for a guy from the RAC to change a punctured tyre. I guiltily called The Vineyard to let them know we would be half an hour late, worrying that we would be a big nuisance as at the time of booking there was only one slot left. We shouldn’t have worried, it was empty apart from one other couple, the gentleman like a nicer version of Harry Enfield’s sleazy salesperson. He had a very nice french wife so I decided we were in good enough company.

We would have been an irritating nuisance even if we weren’t late as we both got lost finding the toilets at different times so we had to be individually escorted there, and despite the restaurant’s name neither of us ordered wine. When being a bit cheap/annoying we always try to have a friendly joke with the front of house staff but they weren’t really into it. Nevermind.

We decided to go for the tasting menu over the lunch menu as I didn’t think 3 courses would be enough to fill me up and I also wanted to trump Mark’s previous experience – so far I had a lot of catching up to do. We had a little amuse bouche to start things off, which is always appreciated: carrot velouté with carrot spaghetti. Yes, that did whet my palate. Well done.

Confit of duck liver foie gras, apple jelly and chutney was the first of five courses. I never order foie gras, I only ever think it tastes ok, but it is good to get it on a tasting menu once in a while in case I ever decide that I actually like it. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. It was predictably ok. The nice french lady had ordered it as part of the a la carte and her version had come with rhubarb rather than apple. I overheard her saying that it worked much better with rhubarb as it had power enough to stand up to the foie gras, unlike the apple. She was right.

My hopes should have been dashed to the ground, never to rise again, but luckily the one magic word was printed not once but twice on the menu: soufflé. Scallop soufflé with wild mushroom sabayon was the first of the two to pop up and it was course number 2. This particular souffle may be in the top 3 soufflés I have ever eaten. Piping hot, soft, light, sweetness coming from the scallop flavour, a delicious fishiness. It looked as smooth as a set custard and was just as smooth on the tongue. The sabayon was fantastic as well. I had eaten my slice of bread so I threw all formality to the wind and wiped the bowl clean with my finger.

On an egg white high, I could see what Mark had been going on about. This is a best meal ever kind of place, I thought before tucking into the following dish. However, my next thought was one of confusion: is this custard on my lemon sole? I know Heston triumphed the use of vanilla with fish, but he cleverly infused mayonnaise with it, not a slightly sweet cream sauce with an undercurrent of burnt. The sole was unpleasantly mushy, the perils of eating fish on a Monday I suppose… At least I enjoyed the roll of celeriac and potato, which says something as celeriac is disgusting (fact, not opinion).

With 2 out of 3 courses being a disappointment, The Vineyard needed to pull something quite spectacular out of the bag.  The penultimate dish was lamb and braised shoulder with artichoke and aubergine crisp. I love lamb and I love artichoke so they couldn’t really get this one wrong… just less of the unnecessary aubergine crisp next time, yeah? There was a hidden artichoke heart wrapped up with the braised shoulder which was a lovely surprise. However, this wasn’t quite spectacular, just pretty nice.

Thank god the final course was a souffle so we can all end on a high. It was a lemon and raspberry souffle with citrus sorbet. Not the most lemony of soufflés ever, but whole raspberries were dotted throughout which really was an added delight with every spoonful. The sorbet was certainly citrussy and rested on a pleasant dark chocolate sesame snap thing which also rested on a redundant bit of chocolate cake. I am not sure what the creamy translucent coating was, but it sure didn’t look appealing.

Best meal ever? No, not quite. Quite nice meal but I wish I didn’t spend that extra money on the tasting menu? Pretty much. I think Mark felt he had a little explaining to do, but he didn’t need to. Now I am not sure he would agree, but I like to look at this experience as a reflection on his life. No, I am not a disappointment, but a visit from the ghost of restaurants past highlights just how far he has come with me – at least 10 more best ever meals of his life in just 2 years. Lets just hope the restaurants don’t run out.