Reading Fine Dining Restaurant – L’Ortolan:
Reading’s only Michelin Starred restaurant is just outside the main town in Shinfield, a pretty and quintessentially English village. The Grade II listed former rectory that houses L’Ortolan reinforces that sense of tradition. And, from the moment you walk through the doors, you know you are in the kind of establishment which understands and respects the Michelin system. Indeed, even the restaurant name, after a rare songbird which was a culinary delicacy in France until capture and consumption was banned across the EU, reflects a cuisine which owes much to traditional French cooking.
Tom Clarke, the current head chef at L’Ortolan is a product of the restaurant, having joined in 2009 as Chef du Partie after time at 1 Lombard Street and Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons. A career break took him to France where he worked at the two Michelin Star Le Strato in Courcheval and L’Ousteau de Beaumanière in Provence before returning home to L’Ortolan. As Head Chef, he’s developed a menu which seamlessly fuses classic French cuisine, excellent seasonal British ingredients and just a touch of Asian influence.
In the bar we sip on a cocktail (in my case) and a rather special beer for my companion. Binary botanical beer, we learn, is brewed with additional botanicals a little like gin. My companion describes it as a light ‘sipping beer’. My Club Lite cocktail with rose water, St Germain and Greyfriars English sparkling wine is light and fragrant, the perfect way to start the evening. Specially designed in time for Mother’s day it would be a great start to any celebratory meal.
Canapes arrive – a smoked salmon mousse with cucumber, caviar and dill on the finest sliver of melba toast and a tiny mushroom arancini with red-veined sorrel.
Then we are taken through to the dining room. There’s a large party on the evening we are visiting who will be seated in the adjacent garden room. The main dining room is small and neatly laid out with white table linen and pretty flowers on the tables.
Bread, homemade sourdough slices, truffled Parmesan rolls and homemade butter arrives and it’s very hard not to eat far too much, particularly of the delicious truffled Parmesan rolls which are a soft brioche base with a light crust. But, there’s a lot more to come.
Our Chef’s appetiser is a showstopping eggshell filled with ponzu cured stone-bass, pickled fennel and dashi custard and topped with Avruga caviar. A promising start, I’d eat this all evening with no problem.
Next on the menu is a salmon dish and our first wine pairing of a Provençal rosé, Bandol 2015, which is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre
Another showstopping dish, the lightly beetroot cured confit salmon comes served with a nitrogen frozen horseradish, pickled and compressed beet, keta and classic avruga caviar, dill oil, oyster emulsion and a crispy wafer of fish skin.
The goose liver parfait comes coated in pain épice – a pairing I’ve tried before in Sarlat, where they specialise in goose foie gras and other goose products. Rhubarb and orange cut through the sweetness and a morsel of cured duck breast is complemented with sorrel and cress. For this our pairing is a natural orange wine from Lazio, full of tannins and robust enough to work well with the rich parfait.
Halibut is one of my favourite fish and here at L’Ortolan, perfectly cooked and served with a classic beurre blanc, compressed cucumber, little rolls of pickled mouli, orange nasturtium petals, samphire and caviar it looks like a work of art on the plate. A Veneto oaked Sauvignon Blanc from a volcanic vineyard, Inama Volcaia 2016, makes for a lovely fresh green and flinty pairing.
Hogget is ‘teenage lamb’ before it gets to be mutton. Served with Jerusalem artichoke, perfectly cooked sweetbread and lovage it might have worked rather better had the beautifully sticky sauce not been rather salty. The meat is beautifully tender and the plating stunning. But, despite my own love of salty dishes, this one isn’t quite the perfect 10 of its predecessors. The wine pairing of South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is, however, a lovely fruity mouthful.
Taking a break while my companion enjoyed some of the cheese selection, I learn that L’Ortolan restaurant is moving to an all English cheeseboard. He’s happily tucking into a course which generally offers four cheeses and homemade raisin bread and biscuits for a £14.50 supplement. I’d suggest the generous portion makes this an easy sharing dish if you do want to indulge, in fact he can only manage three cheeses!
Next a pre-dessert of passion fruit cheesecake, light as a feather and rather more refreshing than I’d expected.
Finally, Apple, Pecan and Caramac, a stunning and whimsical take on some of my favourite childhood flavours. Isn’t that what dessert should be?
We enjoy both desserts with Brannland Ice Cider, a Swedish ice-cider made using the same technique as ice-wine, but with classic Scandinavian heritage apples. Delicious and light, I’ll be looking out for this in the shops.
The Menu Gourmand at L’Ortolan is £79 per person or £139 with the Sommelier’s Wine Selection (there are fine wine and non-alcoholic options too). A La Carte Dining is also available and there are regular seasonal special event menus. L’Ortolan also offers a whole range of immersive activities from cookery classes to cocktail making.
Reading RG2 9BY
The L’Ortolan is open from Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. For more information, check their website.
For reservations call 0118 988 8500
Looking for a Michelin Star restaurant in London? we recommend Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields