“ Address: Burrow Hill / Chobham / Surrey / GU24 8QS / Telephone: 01276 858000 „
For "foodies" living on the Surrey/Berkshire borders must be one of the best places in the world. You're within easy reach of the Capital and its many fine restaurants but you're also spoilt for choice more locally with many fine-dining restaurants to tempt you. Some of the best fine dining to be had can be found in those small establishments that most would drive straight past. They're nestled away in villages that you'd not go to unless you were "in the know". Chobham and "The Cloche Hat" is one such venue.
Chobham is situated on the outskirts of Woking in Surrey and may be familiar to some as the landing place of the aliens in HG Wells War of the Worlds. It's a rather traditional village in a fairly wealthy area and there are a number of fairly good eateries both in the village itself and just outside.
The Cloche Hat is on the outskirts of Chobham on the main road between Chobham and Sunningdale. The restaurant is housed in a wonderful (but extended) 16th Century timber-framed cottage. Situated on the bend of the road it would be fairly easy to drive past, particularly if coming from the direction of Woking!
For me, as big a part of the dining experience as the food is the ambiance and this place has it in bundles. Whether they make the most of that is debatable, but they certainly have the "bricks and mortar" so to speak. The entrance to the restaurant is through the original 16th Century door which means that anyone over 5'4" will have to duck! Ceiling height is maintained throughout the bar and restaurant which helps to maintain that cosy feeling. Inglenook fireplaces, exposed beams and whitewashed walls adorned with much more modern art lead to a very comfortable feeling.
Tables are set with crisp white napery, polished silverware and clean glassware with blue glass having been selected for the water glass.
There are a few issues with the setting as a whole. The first is physical and there's not an awful lot that they could do about it. Due to the nature and position of the building most tables have a view of the car park or the road. Neither the road, nor the car park is overly large but I do find it rather disconcerting to see the number plate of my car every time I look up!
The remaining issues could be dealt with and they are niggles but ones that really wind me up. Plastic/silk flowers are used on a partition wall to create a "window-box" feel that to me smacks of cheapness. Similarly, oil-filled, mock candles are used on the tables. With a historic building such as this a genuine candle would be far more appropriate. The dining room also had music piped to it that, at times was rather loud. In fairness, the Maitre d' did ask one of the waiters to turn it down. The choice of music was quite eclectic with light operatic numbers from mainstream artists (the likes of Russell Watson) through more chart-topping numbers (albeit from a few years back and all of a reasonably "easy listening" type).
The restaurant comprises two main areas, a bar to the right of the entrance and the dining area to the left. The dining area is, itself, split into two to form an "L" shape. It is also possible to dine and drink on a small patio area although this overlooks the car park and is far from ideal.
Tables in the restaurant are a mixture of sizes and shapes and are set a fair distance apart to allow for some privacy and to allow the waiters room to move without you getting a good view of their backs each time they attend to a neighbouring table.
Around 60 guests can be accommodated.
The waiting staff were attentive and showed good attention to the guests. Napkins were placed on the laps (and returned if you left the table during the meal) and glasses were kept well topped. Plates were handled with care and the serving staff showed a good knowledge of the menu. Due to the size of the establishment service was received from a number of waiters - if they passed and saw a need then it was attended to. At times this meant that glasses were topped up a little too frequently but that was a minor complaint. The only part of the service that was disappointing was when there was no service. The waiting staff had a bit of a tendency to chat and come "out of role" a little too close to the dining tables. This may have been, in part, due to the position of our table, but it was annoying nonetheless.
But what of the food?
The menu is complete with around 7 starters and 12 mains, together with 2 special starters and one special main. Vegetarians were catered for, but choice very limited.
Food is well cooked and orders are followed well. Departures from the menu are possible on some dishes, but not all. On a couple of occasions I've found the grilled meats (particularly veal) to be over seasoned with salt but not to the point of it being intolerable.
Presentation of the food is good and portion size is also good for mains and starters there being no tendency to the small portions that one can so often be greeted with at fine dining establishments.
Some mains come replete with sides, for others, sides are extra, and necessary as the mains don't stand alone. This all adds to the price of the meal and at £2.95 a side of veg (single veg combinations only) the bill soon racks up.
Desserts are a beautiful affair with presentation coming high on the requirement list. They do not disappoint on taste but do on size being rather smaller than one would hope.
You'll look to spend around £30 a head for main and dessert, and £40-45 a head for a three-course meal.
The wine list is superb with a great range of fine and house wines. Prices tend to the high side but quality is undoubted. You'll not have much choice under £20 a bottle but if you want to spend £40 then you're fine. Mineral waters and soft drinks were over-priced (£2.50 for a lemonade from a tap).
In fact, if you're watching your spend you'll not want to be coming here. The pressure is on to spend at every turn. From the offer of pre-dinner drinks at the bar, to the assumption that you want mineral water and finally the additional service charge of around 12.5% - it all adds up.
The Cloche Hat is a good place to dine. It's far from perfect and there are some better places around for less money. However, the ambiance somehow keeps it on my list. Its air of pretentiousness will not be to everyone's taste and to those who expect it, don't expect your fellow diners to necessarily know how to behave in a fine restaurant. The clientele are mixed, the Cloche perhaps riding on its fine dining reputation to attract those with money, but perhaps not manners.
Recommended with reservations.
So, it's St Valentines Day once again and so a celebration will be required. Apart from the "Always Acceptable" bubbly, chocolates and flowers, as with Mother's Day (yes, that's creeping up on us again isn't it?) my beloved can hardly be expected to prepare the evening meal. This is as good as any excuse to find somewhere convivial and enjoyable where we can be treated in the manner we would wish.
There are no shortages of good restaurants in our area and we have sampled many of them. This has enabled us to compile a list of favourites and some of these I have reviewed here on Dooyoo. The decision on occasions such as this is whether to go for a well-known and reliable destination or whether to try somewhere completely new. The risk, of course, of trying somewhere new is of disappointment, especially on a special occasion.
This year I admit that it had been my intention to go to a previously tried and tested restaurant. I had been out shopping at B&Q and was heading across country in the general direction of Englefield Green and the Edwinns located there just behind Saville Gardens. I was passing through the little village of Chobham, which itself has a few restaurants we have tried, and was heading out of the other end towards Sunningdale when out of the corner of my eye, on the left side of the road, I spotted a very attractive looking place. It called itself the "Cloche Hat".
The building is set on a bend in the road and is easy to miss. I had to turn around and come back to it myself. It has a large car park surrounding the main building on two sides. The main building is clearly old, being a traditional timber frame with white plaster infill. It has been extended on one side and although clearly more modern is not out of keeping with the style of the original. The entrance is low so tall folks will need to duck. Inside the ceiling height maintains the feeling of cosiness.
To the right is the bar and waiting area whilst to the left, in the extension, is the main dining area. The whole feel of the place is attractive and the tables are placed sufficiently apart as to provide a sense of privacy. I would estimate that 50 and 100 could be accommodated at a sitting, depending on the number sharing a table. It didn't feel crowded though, even though this was obviously going to be a very popular night.
Normally you would arrange your meal for a time convenient to you but on special occasion such as this the Cloche Hat adopts a fairly common practice of having two sittings at fixed time, with a set menu. The Cloche Hat has sittings at 7.00pm amd 9.00pm. We chose the earlier.
Although a fixed menu, there was still a good range of choice. Included was a glass of pink champagne to sip whilst making your choice. Following this I chose from an extensive wine menu a bottle of Morgon, a Beaujolais from one of the classic wine-producing villages of that region.
The first of the three courses offered such variations as "Goat's cheese and spiced pear", "French onion soup" and a "Duck terrine". I chose the "Warm crab and saffron tartlet" and my wife the "Risotto of smoked chicken and wild mushroom". Both were delicious (we usually try a little of each other's) and well presented although the actual size of the tartlet could have been a little larger, but then I suppose that's why it's a tartlet rather than a tart! It was a starter after all.
For our main course my wife couldn't resist the "Seabass fillets" whilst I opted for the "Crisp roasted breast of duckling". Also on offer was "Braised leg of lamb", "Pancetta wrapped pork fillet" and "Provencal tomato tart" as the vegetarian choice. The duck came with creamed cabbage and bacon and, unusually, a sweet potato puree. My wife's seabass came with "baby spinach", asparagus and a lemon grass cream.
Once again, both dishes were delicious, well presented and adequate in quantity. The duck was rare, as I like it, but still very tender. Both went well with our chosen wine.
Finally, for dessert, we decided against the crème brulee as, since I had a proper one with real West Country clotted cream, as opposed to the usual custard cream, I have never found them satisfying. I may be doing the Cloche Hat an injustice; that may be how they do theirs, I never asked. I never asked because also on the menu was "Lemon meringue pie" and you will all know from my recent review exactly how I feel about lemon meringue pie. My wife chose the "Rich dark chocolate tart".
The chocolate tart was superb; rich but not sickly. My lemon meringue pie was good but sadly not as good as it could have been. The filling was a little like a custard rather than a proper set filling like I like it. The taste, however, could not be faulted. It was served with a real vanilla ice cream.
Throughout our meal, service was excellent; never to intrusive but always there to make sure that you were enjoying the experience. The menu was a shade under £40 per person. A 12.5% gratuity charge was added.
The wine was potentially the most expensive part of the meal. The wine list is extensive but there is little choice below £20 and most bottles are in the £30 to £50 range. Our Morgon was just under £30 and, although as good an example of the variety as I have found anywhere, I must admit that I did feel that this was one part of the experience that was a little over-priced. However, if you are into expensive wines then this is a good place to come! When you have flipped through the pages and gasped at some of the prices you then finally come to the "Connoisseur" wines. Don't ask!!!!!!!
Having said that, we very much enjoyed our visit to the Cloche Hat and the prices would not put us off going again on an appropriate occasion. It's certainly not for a regular evening, not unless you're a lot richer than we are, but for such celebrations as these, the experience is well worth while.
Fine dining restaurant.