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Will it all be Alien to you?
Cloche Hat Restaurant (Chobham)
Member Name: cmh4135
Cloche Hat Restaurant (Chobham)
Advantages: Good menu and well cooked food in a fine-dining setting
Disadvantages: A few niggles with the service and a very costly meal
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.
Summary: A good fine-dining experience at a price