The Dining Room at Stoke Park has achieved two AA rosettes in the past year and is hunting for a third, and a Michelin star. Janet Harmer reports
Over the past year, residents in Buckinghamshire have been enjoying the chance to celebrate special occasions within one of the county's most impressive hotels. It was only a year ago that the Dining Room at Stoke Park country club and resort in Stoke Poges opened its doors to anyone who was not resident at the 49-bedroom hotel or one of the 6,500 members of the country club.
For executive chef Chris Wheeler, this has provided an opportunity to forge closer links with the local community and aim for awards. Last year the Dining Room achieved two AA rosettes and hopes to now go for three rosettes, with maybe a Michelin star in the future.
"It has also helped enormously in recruiting the right staff for the restaurant," said Wheeler, who worked alongside Jean-Christophe Novelli until 2003, when he joined Stoke Park.
The 35-seat Dining Room is just one of several food and beverage outlets situated within the opulent setting of the mansion house at Stoke Park, which originally opened in 1908 as the UK's first country club, having initially been designed as a private home by George III's architect, James Wyatt, between 1790 and 1813. Today the hotel is owned by the King family, who reopened the property as a hotel in 1998 after a five-year refurbishment programme.
Wheeler is responsible for the Orangery, adjacent to the Dining Room, which serves afternoon teas, and the Italian brasserie San Marco, situated in the 10-year old Pavilion building. However, it is in the Dining Room, where Wheeler and his brigade of 35 chefs are able to showcase their modern British menus.
Here, the à la carte dinner menu offers a choice of six starters, eight main courses and five desserts or a selection of cheeses, at £48 for three courses. Coffee and petits fours are £4.50, with a discretionary service charge of 12.5%.
Daily specials - such as king prawn and scallop brochette with sun-blushed tomatoes and lemon oil (supplement £3.50), and fillet of beef en croute with spinach, wild mushrooms wrapped in a herb pancake and puff pastry with pomme purée, green beans and foie gras sauce (supplement £6.50) - are also available.
A big seller among the starters is Wheeler's take on a classic prawn cocktail - Dorset crab, king prawns and avocado tian with cucumber, soft boiled egg and pink grapefruit segments. "It provides a light start to a meal, with the grapefruit providing a good alternative to the more usual lemon accompaniment," he said.
Popular among the main courses are the pan-fried pave of halibut accompanied by a risotto of leek, pumpkin and sorrel served inside a hollowed-out baby pumpkin and accompanied by marinated artichokes and crispy leeks (supplement £5). Meanwhile meat eaters tend to go for the lamb dish composed of two contrasting cuts and cooking treatments - a pan-fried and roasted cannon of new season lamb topped with a girolle mushroom mousse served alongside ossobuco braised slowly for several hours in the local Windsor ale, rosemary and garlic. Roasted root vegetables provide a sweet and hearty accompaniment.
Wheeler works closely with Stoke Park's pastry chef Reece Collier to ensure desserts have strong visual impact, as well as appealing to the young-at-heart and the sweet-toothed. For instance, the likes of Childhood Delight (coconut and chestnut bombe mousse with dark chocolate sauce, white chocolate and candy floss sorbet, cranberry and sour cherry lollipop, and mini toffee apple) and Stoke Park "Snickers" (milk chocolate and peanut mousse, salted chocolate caramel, caramel foam and peanut tuile) both wow and bring back memories of a bygone era.
Sample dishes from the menu
(Three courses, £48) Pan-fried black bream, pear, baby leaves and endive salad with spring onion and lime vinaigrette
Royal Berkshire pork ham hock and parsley terrine with celery and apple salad, home-made piccalilli
Tomato consommé with goats' cheese and aubergine tortellini
Oven-baked fillet of sea bass with crushed violet potatoes, chargrilled peppers, crab ravioli and lobster foam
Roast supreme of duck with seared foie gras escalopes, parsnip purée, Parisienne potatoes, smoked duck lardons, green beans and blackberry jus
Globe artichoke tartlet filled with wild mushrooms and spinach, carrot and sweet potato boulangère and saffron sauce
Taste of apple: green apple and Calvados sorbet with lemon and honey pâte de fruit, apple parfait with cinnamon and honey Madeleine
Vanilla and passion fruit cheesecake with coconut sorbet, pineapple ravioli and chilli jelly
Selection of English and French cheeses (£6.50 supplement)
Park Road, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire SL2 4PG
Tel: 01753 717171