What? Raymond Blanc and Phil Howard are once again heading up the fine dining at Royal Ascot this year to make guests’ experiences even more memorable. Raymond will be hosting the Panoramic Restaurant and Phil the flagship Queen Anne Enclosure restaurant, On5. We headed out to Berkshire for a preview lunch and day of winter racing to experience it before Royal Ascot itself, which is taking place this year from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th June.
On the Menu: Each of the three courses was prepared by a different chef; Raymond for the starter, Phil for the main, and Ascot’s own Executive Chef, Gemma Amor, for the desserts. The menu was set when we visited but dietary requirements were taken into account and besides, when the food is this tempting a choice between dishes would be far too difficult to make.
First Impressions: Waiting on the platform at Clapham Junction it’s obvious where everyone is heading but once through the barriers at the other side we left the crowds behind and headed right up to the Panoramic Restaurant on the fifth floor. With a name like that you’d expect sweeping views of the racecourse below and that’s exactly what you get. Tables were impeccably laid and Bollinger flowed as canapés by Rhubarb Catering circulated the room. Definitely a good start to my first Ascot experience!
The Look: You tend to expect a restaurant in any sporting venue to lack any real soul and whilst this was partly true, the restaurant had a smart yet laid-back feel which left the 180 degree views of the racecourse below to do the talking.
What We Ate: Although for everyone else the day was all about the racing, for us it was really all about the food. Well, when you’re in the presence of Raymond Blanc and Phil Howard who bear two Michelin stars each, how can it not be?!
Canapés courtesy of luxury event caterers Rhubarb (who also provide the food at London’s Sky Garden as well as venues like Goodwood and the Royal Albert Hall) put any old prawn tempura or smoked salmon blini to shame. Here we had skewers of roasted Welsh lamb loin, truffled wild mushrooms and enormous tiger prawns to whet our appetites, ready for the main event.
Crab turned out to be the best I’d ever had, simply described as ‘Cornish crab salad with coconut bisque’ on the menu. An exotic, Asian twist meant coconut and chilli made bold statements whilst cubes of passion fruit jelly and dots of foam on the plate elevated the presentation to two Michelin star standard.
With a strong focus on seasonality and responsible sourcing of ingredients, Phil’s dish was fillet of beef with an oxtail stuffed potato, field mushrooms, truffle butter and red wine. Beef runs the risk of being tough and overcooked when part of a mass catering event but this was as far from it as you cold get, and as good as I’d hope for in any fine dining London restaurant, let alone a lunch with 100+ people eating at the same time. Impressive.
A lull between courses meant nipping out on to the balcony to watch races. A cautious £5 bet on a horse named ‘Bigbadjon’ (obviously chosen for its name) resulted in a win of £17 and a celebratory glass of Champagne.
Two different puddings were created by Executive Chef Gemma Amor; a mousse-like ‘Ascot chocolate bar’ with a very homemade cherry sorbet and a deconstructed Black Forest gateau which was beautifully presented with boozy kirsch cherries and purple pansies.
Cheese and afternoon tea rounded the day off the old-school cheese trolley was a highlight and must’ve contained a dozen varieties. Needless to say we didn’t need to eat that night.
What We Drank: Wine was expertly paired for each course so whilst it was Bollinger Special Cuvée on arrival, the crab starter was accompanied by a South African Stellenrust Chenin Blanc, the beef by Chateau Tour Pibran Pauillac and the desserts by the sweet and fruity Royal Tokaji Late Harvest from Hungary. Coffee is courtesy of Lavazza.
Go With: If you’re planning on embracing English sporting events this summer then up your game and suggest a fine dining experience instead.
Final Word: If you’re going to visit Royal Ascot you are obviously wanting a memorable day. The dining experience in the Panoramic Restaurant was second to none so if you’re going to do it properly, you really should go all out. With a little luck England will grace us with a proper summer in which case you’ll want the comfort of a cool room to escape to and a balcony to step out onto when the action is taking place. The same applies if the rain comes down – sit with a glass of Champagne and place your bets from the restaurant.
Food-wise, it was as good as any fine dining experience I’ve had in a London restaurant so skip the wait for Belmond Le Manor aux Quat’Saisons and The Square and get your fix of Raymond and his here. The quality of service is also worth a mention (staff are trained at the Raymond Blanc Service Academy) and absolutely contributed to making the whole experience as memorable as it was – and that’s before you factor in my £17 winnings…
Royal Ascot is taking place Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th June 2017. Book your fine dining experience here