Ascot Chase Day – Fine Dining at the Races:
It isn’t often you get to eat food cooked by a pair of two-star Michelin chefs in one meal. And, experiencing that at a racecourse on a major race day is something really special. We arrived at Ascot racecourse to be greeted at every point by smiling, bowler hat wearing guides. Proudly wearing our tags for the Panoramic restaurant, we made our way through the VIP areas right to the top, the sixth floor of the Royal Enclosure.
There we enjoyed a glass of Bollinger and some rather lovely canapes before we bumped into George, one of the guides. It took very little to persuade him to take us on a private tour of the racecourse, one of those “money can’t buy experiences” made so unique by George’s enthusiasm, love and pride in the place where he works.
George took us round the racecourse, showing us everything from the finishing line and the Royal Ascot Racing Club (with a private restaurant, bar and its own rather exclusive loos!). We even went up into the press box to see the set-up used to establish exactly which horse has finished first.
Part of George’s enthusiasm for Ascot came, surprisingly for me, from the level of inclusivity. He explained that for most of the racing events, children can come free of charge – and that there was not only a wide range of ticket options for the racing itself, but also a series of events like the Prince’s Countryside Fund Raceday on 3rd April this year, which are specially organised to be family friendly.
In a way, though, George was just a symbol of the ethos we found throughout Ascot and, both Raymond Blanc OBE and Phil Howard part of that same drive to create the perfect racing experience.
This year Raymond Blanc will not just be hosting the Panoramic Restaurant where we dined but will also be running a bespoke Service Academy for the Ascot staff involved in fine dining. Meanwhile, Phil Howard will be hosting On5, the award-winning fifth-floor fine dining restaurant.
Our lunch was designed to showcase the kind of food and service you might expect in such stunning surroundings.
We started the meal with confit salmon served with cucumber ribbons, cauliflower and horseradish creme fraiche. A beautiful and delicate spring dish, the tiny nibs of cauliflower just added a little texture while the horseradish creme fraiche gave a piquancy to the dish. The salmon was perfectly cooked, just flaking gently. I suspect it was the result of a low-temperature slow cooking process. Created and served by Raymond Blanc, an excellent beginning was enhanced by hearing from the man himself how special he believed Royal Ascot was. I was beginning to agree.
The main course of spring lamb with artichoke, smoked ricotta, grelot onion and lamb jus was served by Gemma Amor, Ascot’s own executive. It was a faultless composition that looked stunning on the plate. Apparently the lamb is sourced from the Royal Estate at Windsor.
Dessert should have been a cheesecake of strawberries, brillat savarin and lemon verbena – a beautiful concoction by Phil Howard.
Sadly I am badly allergic to strawberries though I didn’t miss out at all, with this beautiful mousse.
Paired wines with the meal comprised a crisp, light Huia Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough with the first course, Huia Pinot Noir Marlborough with the main course and a delicious citrus and stone fruited Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2014, Tokaji, Hungary with dessert.
I genuinely hadn’t realised what a focus there was on good food at Royal Ascot. There are twelve restaurants to choose from ranging from the fine dining restaurants of the Parade Ring and the Panoramic Restaurant through to seafood bars and casual dining options in the Grandstand. George told us that you can picnic too and that the racecourse offers special facilities to keep your picnic cool throughout the day. And, of course, there are also Private Boxes where you can enjoy a champagne reception, food and private service in your own space. I was impressed, not only by the food but by the immaculate service throughout the event.
Bollinger Champagne is Royal Ascot’s official champagne partner and there are plenty of places to enjoy a glass of fizz, including a specially created Bollinger Champagne afternoon tea served during the Royal Meeting.
Of course, no race day would be the same without watching some racing. The Panoramic Restaurant has its own private balcony, directly opposite the finishing line and offers a stunning view that pretty much covers the entire course. We did have a few bets, we soaked up the atmosphere and we went home with pretty much the same amount of money that we’d started with. You can’t say fairer than that.
Now, I want to go back. Preferably during Royal Ascot which runs from Tuesday 14th to Saturday 16th June this year. Fine Dining offers non-members the opportunity to experience the Royal Enclosure in addition to enjoying some exceptionally good food. AND, of course, everyone dresses up. The packages are already selling out, so if you are interested in going in 2016, you’ll need to get a move on.
With many thanks to the team at Ascot for inviting me to experience the hospitality at Ascot Racecourse – and to George for his wonderful, personal tour.
For more information on private dining at Royal Ascot or on other race days at Ascot, check their website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 44 (0)844 346 3618 to discuss the options available.