The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, United Kingdom

I had hoped that, with Daniel Galmiche taking over from John Campbell at the Vineyard, the standard would not have gone into a freefall, despite the loss of 2 Michelin stars due to the departure of Campbell. The evening started off well (well, the restaurant anyway, the hotel is another story which will be covered in another post) with the Vineyard cocktail (Mandarin essence with champagne) complimentary from the head chef – merci beaucoup Daniel!

While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the food, the front-of-house service was a complete letdown. The wine sommelier was not knowledgeable and she gave the impression that she wanted to be elsewhere other than at the restaurant. When asked for advice for wine (esp for an alternative to Chablis), she was so unhelpful that I might as well close my eyes, open any page of the wine list and select one randomly – when we posed the question “so, what’s this wine like?” and she said “oh, it’s nice.” I could have given that answer myself! For God’s sake, if the wine is not nice, you wouldn’t have included it in the wine list in the first place surely. So we ended up having a bottle of Chablis because of this. The presentation of the wine list was a complete joke – a stack of spiral-bound paper that look as if it came from a small home office!

The waiters and waitresses were OK but there’s a lack of personal warmth and welcoming touch to the whole experience. The decor of the restaurant was very much the same – it’s a restaurant but it lacks that level of intimacy I expect with this class of restaurant.

We had the tasting menu which consisted of the following dishes:

(1) Veloute of lentils, smoked bacon espuma – it was a pleasant surprise to find the flavour from the edge of the dish differed quite a bit from the centre of the dish. It was thick and full of flavour.

(2) Frisee salad, shavings of Iberico ham and foie gras – The presentation of the bite-size ingredients was good, though I thought the foie gras would probably look better as small cubes. The salad could have done with a bit more olive oil dressing as it was a bit on the dry side.

(3) Pan-roasted diver caught Scottish scallops, caramelized endive, autumn salad – “what scallop”, “large and chewy, lacking in scallop flavour” were 2 of the verdicts I have received back from my guests. I thought the scallop was overcooked. The endive was sweet and strong in flavour, and maybe that’s too overpowering for the delicate flavour of the scallops.

(4) Steamed fillet of John Dory, honey and chilli glaze, Jerusalem artichoke – this was Daniel Galmiche’s signature dish, and it did not disappoint. I was a bit worried that the chilli glaze would be too strong for the fish, but he got it just right, The highlight (amongst a number of the lowlights) of the evening.

(5) Roasted fillet of Balmoral Estate venison, salsifies, butternut squash puree – The presentation of this dish was beautiful and looked more like a dessert than a main course. However, the venison was tough enough that we should have had steak knives to cut the meat.

(6) Fromage blanc, Granny Smith, Calvados sorbet – Another dish that excelled in the presentation. As much as I hated fromage blanc usually, I actually liked this. The downside was that the alcohol flavour in the sorbet was too much that it dominated the other flavours completely. A shame really. Also we were a bit puzzled that this dessert was served in March when it would be more suitable as a hot summer dessert.

(7) Passion fruit, banana and white chocolate – the sweetness of white chocolate went well with the rather strong sour taste of the passion fruit.

Now the question is – will I go again? I may, but I can think of Michelin-starred restaurants that are better value for money at the moment. Daniel only took over the restaurant in October 2009, and so maybe he needed more than 5-6 months to get the place back on track. On the website it says “The Vineyard at Stockcross has triumphed in the National Restaurant Awards, scooping the Hotel Restaurant of the Year title and securing the No.6  spot on the list of the UK’s Top 100 restaurants.” – at this rate Vineyard has a lot of work to do if they are even contemplating of keeping these titles in the 2010 surveys!

Address: The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8JU , United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1635 528770

Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 7.00pm to 9.30pm

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in March 2010]

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