Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Vineyard Stockcross with Daniel Galmiche

"Eating out is one of the greatest pleasures of life. I have made it my mission to communicate this."  
Daniel Galmiche
Last month saw The Chap and I mark our 6th Anniversary. In true Lucie & Scott fashion, a celebratory foodie jaunt was needed, and considering next year we'll probably be in full-on-wedding-saving-mode, we thought we'd be a bit extravagant.

Following a recommendation on good food and good wine, we found ourselves at The Vineyard in Stockcross, Newbury. It holds no Michelin Stars, but headed up by Daniel Galmiche (the French chef you might recognise from BBC's Saturday Kitchen, and whose quote above is one I wholeheartedly agree with), the food still gives you that fine dining, gastronomic experience you'd expect from such places. Described as being "the champion of classic cooking with a contemporary twist", and having seen him produce some intricate dishes on the TV, I was very much looking forward to seeing what was on the cards for dinner.

It's not just the food that lures people to The Vineyard though - the name's a bit of a hint - there's a ridiculous wine selection to boot. 30,000 bottles, 3,000 bins and 100 wines by the glass. See, ridiculous! And with a glass floored wine vault taking pride of place at reception, leading to a huge painting depicting the Judgement of Paris wine tasting that took place in 1976, this is a wine-lover's paradise.

Also, every weekend, the sommelier team hand-pick a special bottle of wine to open for guests to sample. Each 'Iconic Wine' is chosen for its prestige and critical acclaim, and is available by the glass at cost price. Ok, so cost price is generally around the £30-40 mark per glass, but you're not going to splash out on the bottle when it's over £200 on the menu, so it gives you the chance to try something pretty special without hitting the 3 figures.

We had the Icon Wine included in our overnight package and, on the weekend we were there, it was the Joseph Phelps Insignia 2000, Napa Valley. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc. A rich ruby purple colour, it was full of black fruits, cinnamon, spice, roasted espresso and tobacco. With soft, supple tannins showed off the sweet blackcurrants, and despite a bit of earthiness, it had no hard edges on the finish. A whole hour passed before we finished our glasses; it was clearly so good that we had to savour every sip! 

An afternoon spent in the '5 Bubbles Spa' - where I had a rather expensive, but enjoyable massage - and some unexpected macrons delivered to our room (my faves!) then we were ready for dinner.

The restaurant takes a slightly more unusual approach to your typical tasting menu; essentially, you create your own! Split up into your starters, fish, meats, and desserts, you can pick 4 or 5 dishes from the list, with a minimum of one dessert, and then you get your custom-made dream menu. Got a sweet tooth? Get a couple of desserts. Not a fan of fish? Pick out of the other options. Choose whatever you like! 

The Chap and I had two of the same dishes, but everything else different, which meant we got the best of both worlds; tried a good proportion of the menu, but didn't get too much food envy! And for the first time, we went for an accompanying wine flight.

Our amuse bouche sums The Vineyard up; it was simply a glass of wine. Crisp, fresh, and somewhat peachy, the Californian Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2013 set the tone for the evening. 

My first course seduced me with it's prettiness; confit foie gras, gariguette strawberry, sesame nougatine and hazelnuts. Foie gras and sweet strawberries is a combination I'd not had before, God knows why, it was amazing! Paired with a tart and flowery Franck Peillot Altesse, Roussette du Bugey, 2012

The Chap had pressed rabbit and parsley terrine, confit carrot and mustard, with a gorgeous German Riesling; Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, 2012

It was *snap* with our second course - both obsessed with scallops, both love the flavour of truffle - hand dived Orkney scallops, baby artichoke, black truffle. Plump, caramelised, and possibly erring on the 'under' side of caution, the scallops appreciated the gentle punch of truffle with the floral/mineral Tuscan white; Frescobaldi Vermentino Ammiraglia 2013.

We then doubled up on our fishy dishes; me with Brixham lemon sole, shellfish emulsion, pak choi salad and a delightful 10 year old Muscadet - Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet L D`Or 2005 - and The Chap with a much more striking plate of line caught halibut, tomato, shallots and aioli. His wine was a stunner too, a tropical white Rioja, Inspiración Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco 2013

The super seasonal rack of spring lamb with asparagus, celeriac and morels was an obvious choice for us both for main course. Surrounded by springtime ingredients - wild garlic, those firm green spears, root veg and earthy morels - the lamb was still glistening rouge in the middle; a sight that puts a smile on any carnivore's face. It's partner in wine-crime was the Prats + Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro, 2012; cherries, plum, black tea and spice shined bright from this tasty Portuguese number.

I always find dessert a tricky option, mainly because I want ALL of the menu, or failing that, I'd ideally like to mix and match the various components. Having eaten and drank quite a lot, I surprised myself by choosing something light; confit apple, bergamot sorbet, arlette. So kind of like a "deconstructed" (yuck - I hate that word) tarte tatin - glossy caramelised apples and a piece of sugar crusted pastry - served with a fragrant, zesty sorbet, and a bit of cream that tied the whole dish together.

The wine match was a honey hued glass of Ferrari-Carano Eldorado Gold 2008, California. Never having dessert wines when we go out, this felt like a mega treat; oh how the other half live (.. I'm just jealous). Dried apricot, nutmeg, and maple aromas complimented the sticky apples, and the caramel, pear and vanilla flavours rightly out-sweetened the sorbet. Need I say more? Mmmm.

The Chap had the other dessert that I was contemplating - rhubarb and vanilla parfait, rhubarb roulade, tarragon dressing - a rhubarb riot! The contrast between sweet, sharp, and semi-savoury (thanks to the tarragon) was playful, and it's fun candy pink and white appearance suited it down to a tee. Paired with it was Justino's Madeira Colheita 1998, Portugal; dark brown sugar, dried fruits and toffee notes were balanced by a surprising acidity, making it slip down all the more easily.

Petit Fours arrived at our table; a lovely touch seeing as they're usually an additional cost. More macarons (not that I'd ever complain about that), intensely rich dark chocolate truffles, and chocolate shells filled with a tingly mint ice cream.

Having a lady tinkering on the keys of a grand piano throughout the night, and with the restaurant being full of people nattering away, having a great time, dinner at The Vineyard felt like a very relaxed affair. Not an ounce of stuffiness, not a single raised eyebrow, just service with a smile, and smiles that were very much reciprocated.

The next morning, we just about managed to drag ourselves out of our comfortable bed to check out the breakfast. That extra effort was duly rewarded with some crackin' Eggs Royale and a hefty continental spread.

Before saying farewell, we had a quick tour of the wine cellar, making us green with envy... The flat below ours surely wouldn't mind us knocking through their ceiling to create a snazzy cellar, would they? I really want one!

Anyway, one visit to The Vineyard is certainly not enough. As soon as we got into the car we discussed the possibility of returning the following week for their Californian Wine Weekend (though sadly we couldn't go). We have, however, agreed that the Judgement of Paris wine flight and dinner combo is something to be added to our bucket list, so we will make it back at some point. It is only an hour away after all...

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