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Vegan Fine Dining – a Feast at Stoke Place:
I was very pleased to be invited to Stoke Place Country House to try the vegan menu in their Michelin Recommended restaurant The King and Lamb. This stunning house is a hidden gem, a red brick country house built in the distinctive Queen Anne style, a stone’s throw from the concrete jungle that is Slough. With 26 acres of stunning ‘Capability Brown’ landscaped grounds, including a lake and wildlife such as muntjac which helps set the scene of rural tranquillity, it has long been a place I’ve wanted to visit with friends. And it didn’t let me down.
The interior is beautifully subtle and welcoming, emulating the ethos of the estate with bicycles parked outside the front door. I assume so guests can cycle around the parkland and an open fire in the reception area. But the masterstroke is the chandeliers and candelabra. They instantly make you feel you are somewhere special. The dining room itself has recently been refurbished and one of my guests, a senior coach at the Leander Club in Henley-on-Thames, started also taking pictures as he very much liked the way simple wooden structures supporting the lighting, had been created.
I am a vegan. Yes, I don’t eat meat. I get ribbed a lot for it… I’ve even been told by a particularly smart and historically well-known restaurant that there was nothing on the menu I could eat – so I sat there with a plate of asparagus determined to prove a point. But it seems I’m now part of a trend, with supermarkets reporting five-fold increase in searches for vegan food on their website in the lead up to Christmas and the number of vegetarian and vegan items on high street restaurant menus increasing, not just because of ethics and the treatment of animals, but because of the health and environmental benefits. We’ve even discovered one city, Ghent in Belgium where they are wholeheartedly embracing vegan food in most of their restaurants.
January has now become ‘veganuary’. With many of us trying to make ‘resolutions’ or at least setting goals for the coming year, it’s good to take a step back and take a look at where what we eat comes from, whilst still being able to combine the food journey with being social. Thus the vegan is no longer the ‘difficult’ restaurant guest.
We were shown to our table, by the lovely ‘Ozzie’ who instantly made us feel at home. As the only true vegan in the party, this was a little bit of an exploration into what dinner might consist of, for my two guests. I was thus a little bit apprehensive that it might be a little bland, something it most definitely wasn’t. We were trying the three-course set menu and agreed to try a dish each. Unfortunately, we couldn’t try the Carrot, Ginger & Coconut Soup that was listed but did try the other two starters offered. These we found to be light and refreshing – palate cleansers with, in my case, a brilliant mix of char-grilled cabbage and lemon being something I had not tried before and something I would definitely try at home.
Instead of butter, we had olive oil to go with freshly baked bread, something that is a bit of a staple in my household and is brilliant with hot soup.
Whilst waiting for our mains we discussed the vegan white wine we were trying, as ‘the coach’ used to make his own wine. It was agreed that it would make a good dessert wine.
Having the ability to choose each one of the three options for the main course meant we were able to compare the dishes and discuss our own particular favourite vegetables and flavours. I am a particular fan of crispy kale, which melts on the tongue if done properly, but it was a new venture for my friends. We all agreed the butternut squash was smooth and the chestnuts perfectly set off the flavours, whilst the mushroom gnocchi with chestnuts and parsnip would make any oarsman happy, being both filling and tasty. Only the quinoa was a let-down with too little broccoli and not enough ‘interest’ on the plate, though it would have made a great accompaniment to another dish.
Not only am I vegan, but I also have an aversion to chocolate, so for me desert the choice of sorbet was simple. My friends went half and half of the other two options and nobody was disappointed.
The restaurant is in the original dining room of the main house, meaning it can get quite lively – there was a large group celebrating a birthday on the evening we went. Despite that, we had a wonderful evening, with beautifully presented food, in a stunning environment with a relaxed, courteous, vibe. We all agreed we’d love to come and visit again. It is great value for money and if you are with someone who simply doesn’t want to try vegan the regular lunch and dinner menus are available.
I can’t wait to go back, though being single I don’t think I will be trying the Valentines’ Day six course menu they are offering next month. Even better Stoke Place will make a charitable donation to the Queen’s Nursing Institute this year. Ethical food in every sense.
Stoke Place Country House
Phone: 01753 534790