On Thursday a group of us celebrated two friend’s birthdays at L’Ortolan, a Gourmet restaurant in the picturesque village of Shinfield in Berkshire, near Reading. It was for me, a dining experience like no other.
L’Ortolan offers a French cuisine and is Reading’s only Michelin starred restaurant.
It opened as a restaurant 37 years ago and has been privileged to have five Michelin starred chefs since it opened. According to the website the current head chef is called Tom Clarke.
Six of us arrived for lunch on a very gusty day, where storm Doris was playing havoc with our hair.
The bar area had a large, sumptuous sofa next to the window, table, chairs and a long, black leather ottoman or Pouffe.
The decor was all in shades of purple and black giving the surroundings an elegant and classy feel.
There were plenty of staff, many of whom were French. Some had strong accents that were occasionally difficult to understand, but they were all without exception extremely patient, attentive without being intrusive, and very personable.
Staff were also very knowledgeable about the food and drink being served. On serving a dish they not only told us what it was, but listed all ingredients and told us how it was cooked.
While sitting drinking Prosecco we were given a pre meal taster of three different canapés to try, which we hadn’t been expecting.
The first was a blue cheese on a type of homemade crisp bread, the second was avocado ( and another ingredient I’ve forgotten!) on a crisped fish skin and the last was raw beef on a crisp bread.
A number of us didn’t try the raw beef although those that did enjoyed it and ate the canapés left by others! The blue cheese canapé was very strong and loved by those blue cheese fans and the fish skin crisp was unusual, but surprisingly tasty.
As we sat in the bar the set menu was bought to us. There was a vegetarian menu on offer too and we were asked wether we wanted a red or white wine with our meal.
We were paying £37 for a three course meal and a glass of wine, although the reality of this fine dining experience was you got far more than just three courses. Some choices did require a supplement payment.
Our table was booked for 1.30pm and the reataurant was surprisingly busy for a Thursday lunchtime. It was noticeable that the clientele were more mature in age, and we were most likely the youngest and the biggest party there.
We were taken into the restaurant and the white linen tables were beautifully set with pretty, decorative glass tilted plates that were apparently made locally. They were obviously not practical for eating, so were removed before the food was served.
The tables in the restaurant were a mix of size and shape. We were sat at a large round table which is always very social.
The waiters pulled out each of our napkins and put them on our laps.
When we were settled, a wooden bowl of homemade fresh breads were served. The bread was a mixture of sour bread slices, granary rolls and chunks of red onion focaccia, all served with a delicious goat milk and dill butter, beautifully served on black slate squares.
The goats milk was obtained locally and it did seem to be a theme of the restaurant, that if they could source produce locally, they did.
I tried each of the breads. They were all delicious, although my favourite was the granary roll. Some of our party felt too much salt was added to some of the breads, but my tastebuds weren’t complaining and the bread bowl was refilled a second time during our meal.
Our wine was poured. Most of us had the white wine and one had the red. The white wine was described as being similar to a PInot Grigio, but our party thought it was probably heavier in flavour, than that.
I drank it happily not being a fan of red wine, but one friend after a sip, sacrificed her glass and on sampling the red would have preferred that instead. We gained her white wine, so were smiling.
We were then served in a small bowl what was described as a steamed bun tofu and wasabi emulsion. It was topped with a spring onion and slice of Mooli which is a type of radish and had plum jam and sesame seeds at the bottom. It was an interesting combination of tastes, very pleasant, although not a personal favourite.
My starter was the cured trout, citrus, Avocado. The waiter said it had orange, grapefruit, pomegranate, caviar and some fish oil balls.
The starter whilst small, was beautifully presented with a lovely blend of flavours and colours that complimented each other. The micro beads of flavour were amazing and burst in the mouth so quickly. This was delicious and I would recommend.
One friend had the Ham hock, terrine, pineapple and beer served on a warm plate. She said it was really tasteful and the flavours mingled well. Another, had the vegetarian option which was a goats cheese with beetroot.
My main meal was Bavette of beef, king oyster mushroom and red wine jus. This was also served with a small dish of rice crispie potatoes that could be sprinkled at the side.
The Bavette of beef is the flank and is often cooked rare and whilst it was tasty, some of the beef was a bit chewy and some of our party found it too tough. The beef croquette on the other hand was very flavoursome, the vegetables, red wine jus and dauphinois potato were cooked to perfection and the whole dish was superbly presented.
One friend had the pan fried sea bream, preserved lemon and fennel which she said was sumptuous, flaky and cooked to perfection with the yoghurt complimenting it well, whilst another had the vegetarian risotto which she enjoyed, but said was too salty for her taste buds.
I probably would have had the fish, but thought it wasn’t good to have two fish meals.
Between the main meal and dessert, we were served a pre pudding. This was a lemon and lime jelly cream foam with a bit of crumble on the top and a sharp red juice at the bottom.
This had a sharp kick to it, but went down the throat easily, refreshing the palate between courses as it was presumably meant to do.
It was the richest, most chocolatey pudding, light but with a strong flavour and not too sickly. On the top was a thin layer of ganache with a gold leaf decoration and on the bottom was a thin layer of biscuit. It was served with a small curl of what tasted like ice cream although not completely icy, with a crunchy topping underneath. Delicious!
Half of our party instead of dessert had cheese from the cheese trolley.
They had an extensive selection of cheeses from soft to hard, both local and from France. The waitress told them about each of the cheeses, where they came from and what the different flavours were like. They were able to then chose three to four of them to put on their slated cheeseboard and dded grapes, candied walnuts and home made crisp breads to have alongside.
The meal was over, and whilst we were almost the last to leave the restaurant, we had not been rushed, We had been allowed to relax and enjoy the experience.
Before we moved to the bar for our tea and coffee, I decided to use the cloakroom.
You can always tell the class of a venue by its cloakroom!
I was not disappointed. WIth unusual curved glass sinks, black tiles and elegant fittings it had a luxurious feel. There were real crisp white towels to dry your hands and a deluxe hand wash and lotion to wash, soothe and rub in afterwards.
As you walk from the cloakrooms back to the bar there is a fish tank and you can see the kitchen and a wooden table and chairs through the glass.
Apparently, the restaurant does a number of experiences you can purchase.
Firstly, they do ‘Chef Masterclass’ demonstrations and lunches, secondly, there is the ‘Kitchen Table’ experience where the chef caters for diners around a stove, there is the ‘Chef’s experience where you become chef for the day, also the ‘Chef’s Table’ where they guide you through each course and serve you the meal and finally, ‘Cook and Dine’ which combines ‘Chefs Table’ and ‘Chef’s Experience’. I am quite happy to just eat whilst some one else cooks!
Here, was the first real criticism of the whole experience. Whilst the coffee was hot, the tea was luke warm which was not nice. Also, the tea whilst served as ‘Breakfast Tea’, had very little flavour and despite us brewing it for several minutes as instructed by the waiter, was very weak in colour and taste.
A sweet toothed persons foody heaven! I was gutted that we were so full we couldn’t eat them all, although I tried my very best!
We left L’Ortolan knowing we had experienced a dining experience like no other.
The service, ambience, flavours, colours, combinations, presentation were amazing and if the tea had been spot on, I personally would have given it five stars. If you want to experience it too you can and if you want to see what other experiences are on offer look on line here.
Thank you L’Ortolan and I hope to come back again soon,
Honestly Fiona xxx
Here are some of the photos of the other meals.
Ham Hock Terrine
Goats Cheese and Beetroot
Pan Fried Sea Bream