“ Address: Church Lane / Shinfield / Reading / RG2 9BY „
L'ortolan restaurant can be found in the small village of Shinfield near Reading. I was lucky enough to be invited to celebrate a 5oth Birthday party there. In our group of people there were 5 of us and it was quite easy and straightforward to book just by telephoning one month or so in advance.
So what is so special about L'ortolan I hear you say! Well for starters it is a Michelin starred restaurant run by the 10 in 8 fine dining group. It is not a chain of restaurants but it is a group of restaurants set up and part of the group because they are individual and unique but producing high quality and a very high standard fine dining. Not only that the 10 in 8 group also run a fine dining cookery school, a business academy, a chocolaterie and a fine wine and spirits club.
We arrived promptly at L'ortolan at 7pm which is housed in a former vicarage. It looks a delightful old building with conservatories on either side of the building one is attached to the bar with comfortable sofas and chairs the other is part of the dining room. It has quite a large car park and the gardens are neat and landscaped.
What does L'ortalan mean?
I will not explain here what it is although it is supposedly a delicacy enjoyed by Romans. Instead I give you this link so that you can read about it. Believe me the food in the restaurant is absolutely fantastic and had they served L'ortalan I really could not have eaten it at all. Please check out
http://www.ecis.com/~alizard/ortolan_recipe.html after you have read this review if you are intrigued.
The restaurant has been claimed to be one of the best restaurants in the country by the Daily Telegraph. It has one Michelin star and 3 AA rosettes under its belt and has also been mentioned in Conde Naste as being one of the best places to eat in the UK.
What impressed me most was that all of the staff were dressed in suits and were very polite and welcoming. We were shown into the bar where we had a pre-dinner drink whilst waiting for two of our party to arrive. Once they had arrived we were shown to our table. The table was set and looked absolutely stunning with white linen table cloth six glasses in front of each setting 5 for wine and one for water. We were asked if we would like a drink and as it was a special occasion we started off with a glass of champagne. We were asked if we wanted still or sparkling water but we all chose still which was quite useful for cleaning the palate between the 10 courses of the prestige tasting menu.
10 courses seems to be quite a monumental feat to eat but bearing in mind it is a tasting menu so you only get about 3 or four mouthfuls of food per course. Each course was accompanied with a different wine. We were presented with some hors d' oeuvres whilst we drank champagne which consisted of parsnip chips, beetroot chips and a variety of spicy nuts and olives. The only part of the menu we had to choose was the main part of the menu and we all chose the veal. The choice was either the Beer glazed pigs cheek, pickled rhubarb, haggis croquette or roast fillet & braised shin of veal, liquorice, burnt onion, Madeira sauce.
We were served a selection of hot breads whilst we drank champagne and nibbled on the hors d'oeuvres and chatted until the first course was presented to us.
Mushroon tea and tapioca crisps.
This was served in a tiny little cup with three teeny weeny mushrooms in the bottom of the cup. The mushroom tea was poured over the mushrooms which were allowed to sit for a minute or two. The tea was clear and the heat quickly cooked the tiny mushrooms in the bottom of the cup. The tea actually tasted really nice tasting of mushrooms and was very light indeed. This could have been a really good light snack had it been served in a more substantial cup when you were feeling hungry but did not want a large thick or a big filling meal. The tiny tapioca crisp was quite tasty but not overwhelming in taste.
Sesame crusted tuna loin, watermelon, crab paste, wasabi.
This was really quite tasty and each part of the course was quite nice adding different tastes and textures to each mouthful of food. The watermelon was cut into tiny cubes and the wasabi added a little bit of fire to the dish.
Gruner Veltliner, Weingut Brundlmayer, Kamptal, Austria
Pave of salmon, salt baked beetroot, coconut & kalamansi.
The salmon was served at room temperature and for me I thought it quite unusual being used to salmon being served cold. I found it tasted completely different but the tiny sliced beetroot was delicious and tiny cubes of coconut cream bounced flavours around the mouth. The Kalamansi is a tiny citrus fruit which is quite sour but tasted quite orangey/lemony flavour which cut through the oiliness of the salmon. I actually quite liked this dish as there were so many different flavours on the plate.
Rimauresq, Cru Classé, Côtes de Provence, France
I had intended to try and remember each and every course and to remember each and every wine but by this time my head was a bit swimming with the wine that we had drunk. Although I was not drunk by any means I must admit I was a bit senseless and more or less decided that I could hardly remember what the first course was let alone what the next seven courses would be and perhaps just concentrate on enjoying all the different flavours and textures of the food and to note if the wines and foods complemented each other.
Pressing of ham hock & smoked apple, piccalilli flavours.
For me this was quite an unremarkable dish and to be honest I cannot really remember much about it apart from the fact that it was tasty and at this point thought I just cannot remember most of the courses. I do remember that there were tiny little pieces of al dente vegetables especially cauliflower being one of them.
Brin de Chevre, Clos du Tue Boeuf, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Lemon sole, poached oyster, fennel jam, oyster panna cotta.
Although I liked the taste of the lemon sole the oyster did absolutely nothing for me. I did not like its texture and felt quite revolted by it being in my mouth even worse I hated the feeling as the oyster slid down my throat. With the exception of the Lemon sole I did not enjoy this dish at all.
Koenig, Pinot Blanc Alsace, France
Roast fillet & braised shin of veal, liquorice, burnt onion, Madeira sauce
This was the main feature of the menu and the flavours really complemented each other. Every part of the course tasted delicious. I liked the taste of the veal it was cooked beautifully and was nice and tender. The liquorice gave it a beautiful taste along with the burnt onion which I loved but it didn't love me overnight I must admit and the madeira sauce was superb. I thought this dish was really fantastic. The flavours really complemented each part of the dish.
'Old Vine' Zinfandel, Seghesio, Sonoma County, California
This wine was the only red wine we had throughout the meal. As soon as I smelt it I knew I would not like it. It tasted a bit bitter and smokey which I am not keen on at all. However someone suggested trying it with a mouthful of food and boy the taste of the wine completely changed and tasted brilliant I actually found it quite nice then although I am not convinced about this wine as it is just too strong for me preferring something more delicate
Pan fried crumpet, shaved Old Winchester, rose hip & apple jelly.
This was actually a real tiny crumpet with finely shaved pieces of cheese on the top. Normally I do not eat crumpets but this tasted quite nice especially with the cheese which was really tasty. The accompanying rosehip and apple jelly really helped accompany the cheese. I thought this a brilliant combination and it tasted really quite nice.
Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, New South Wales , Australia.
Celery granite, mango salsa
This was a really brightly coloured dish which was a mouth cleanser to clear the palate for desserts. I absolutely hate celery but has a small taste of the icy cold celery which tasted so strong. I think it was more akin to a sorbet and it tasted quite grainy. I donated the rest of it to a friend. The mango was quite delicious being cut into tiny cubes and coated with tiny flakes of chilli and coriander.
Parsnip & almond cake, parsnip sorbet, bitter chocolate ganache.
Normally I cannot stand the taste of parsnip but I found this dish quite nice. I enjoyed the sorbet more than the parsnip and almond cake which I didn't like the texture. There was only a mild taste which was undeniable of parsnip but it was really quite delicate tasting. The bitter chocolate ganache was good although not bitter enough for me. The three combinations of different tastes and different textures worked really well together.
Royal Tokaji, Late Harvest Blend, Tokaji, Hungary.
Tokaji wine is one of my favourite dessert wines however this one was quite different as it was not quite as sweet as the other Tokaji's I have tried. It was as usual really delicious but to be honest I prefer the full on sweetness of this wine. Saying that it was still absolutely superb and tasted delicious.
Baked blood orange cream, pistachio meringue, pistachio ice cream.
Our last and final course. This was quite delicious the icecream was light and tasty the meringue was two wafer thin pieces of meringue and a blob of orange cream nestled beside the ice cream. It was really quite tasty and finished the meal quite nicely.
Moscato D'Asti Vittoria Bera & Figli, Piedmont, Italy.
Unusually this was a sweet Italian dessert wine.
My thoughts about L'ortolan.
I was very impressed by the standard and magnificent tastes of the foods and wines and although some might feel that ten courses is a lot of food this fine menu is quite doable. At the end of the meal you know you have eaten and drunk a substantial amount of food but not to the point of feeling over filled and bloated. The food was presented on different china for each course ranging from dishes to plates of slate. Everything was presented beautifully and the time it must have taken just in the preparation alone must have kept the chefs really busy all day long. Personally I found the menu to be unusual but innovative and the combinations of tastes and textures were spot on. I cannot praise highly enough the daring, clever and innovative chefs. I can quite easily understand why it has been cited as one of 'THE best places' to eat in the UK not by one but several publications.
The standard of the menu is worthy of its one Michelin star rating although I would have thought it deserved more. It also has 3 AA rosette awards. The hotel is steered by Alan Murchinson who apparently often features as a chef on the television. He is certainly very talented in presenting such a wide variety of tastes and textures in such a bizarre and imaginative way. I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant.
Address and contact numbers:
Telephone 01189 888 500
Fax 01189 889 338.