Douglas Blyde finds much to savour in the "lovingly" assembled wine list at Stoke Place
Stoke Place, a characterful Georgian pile unfairly tarred by its Slough postcode has retained the accolade of AA Notable Wine List year-on-year. While the hotel may be a little scuffed around the edges, the 30-page wine list authored by general manager, Terry McEvoy is lovingly put together.
For example, worth noting, should the bank rule in your favour, a 75cl bottle of 1998 Chateau d’Yquem is significantly cheaper than retail (£140) within these sturdy walls. Among his suppliers, McEvoy praises Bibendum for their “great customer service and team training” and Amathus for whom “nothing is too much trouble”.
Overlooking gardens once styled by Capability Brown, with alpacas penned around the corner, restaurant, “Seasons” is finished with optimistic Scandinavian-style wallpaper. Here, waitress, Magda Bartlomiejczyk works tirelessly to elevate the experience of dinner, bearing a more pleasant expression than that of the print of the Wookiee water buffalo hanging over my table (the only picture in the room).
It transpires that so keen is Bartlomiejczyk to study the international landscape of gastronomy that she spends precious free time and wages on dining out, including, most recently at the “faultless” nearby Waterside Inn.
After exploring the bar, ceiling of which showed strain from the roll-top bath within the bedroom I was issued above, I delved into the tasting menu (£70 per six courses, plus £35 for Bartlomiejczyk’s wine flight). Although dishes tonight were realised under the tenure of head chef, James Duggan, his South African-raised sous chef, Jonathan Stephens, at Stoke Place since 2009 will soon rise to replace him..
Duggan’s first course represented gentrified pub grub. However, instead of beer, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne scythed through the fried cocoon of classic bar snack, deep fried whitebait, here served with puffed rice paper and dots of homemade salad cream. Next, small scallops all the way from Orkney married well with a lick of umami-rich Gentlemen’s Relish and small but punchy in flavour Cornish shrimps.
Overall, the effect of the surprisingly hearty dish proved greeting on the freezing winter’s evening, although the cobnut praline component felt like a trespasser on account of its overt sweetness. With this, Bartlomiejczyk poured a particularly good value Provence pink (D’Astros 2010, £4.75/125ml).
The onion-skin coloured pour was preferable to the sour Côtes du Jura that followed (Rijckaert Savagnin Les Sarres 2007). Described on the list as: “a wine to be sipped slowly in front of a log fire,” its presence actually reminded me of a sentiment expressed by comedians, Mitchell and Webb in their alleged outtakes that the audience should expect a deliberate misfire of a joke every so often to ensure the ensuing “gold” material really shines.
With oxidised apple notes, the seriously-acidic Savagnin muddied otherwise precise tea-smoked monkfish tail clothed in Yorkshire “pancetta” with buttery, racing green wilted chard, umami-laden clam dressing and airy bergamot sabayon.
The Savagnin fared a bit better with the buttery barley component of glazed roast Cotswold chicken, however, with salt baked turnip and “Japanese” broccoli, displayed on a plate which not inappropriately resembled a griddle pan. It was actually served with a very wide-bowled Villeroy & Boch made glass of comely Pinot Noir from Hemel-en-Aarde (“heaven on earth), Walker Bay, South Africa (Newton Johnson 2011). Bartlomiejczyk mentioned some customers who “expected Merlot with this course” expressed pleasant surprise of the match.
Apple cake Stoke Place style
Next, Bartlomiejczyk poured red Maury (Grenat 2011) not with habitual match, chocolate which I craved, but virtuous looking, pretty, and ably crafted plate of layered apple cake with cobnut butter crumble. A little overbearing here, the wine actually worked better with the blue cheese and quince which came next.
Unlike the owners’ previous properties, including The Crown Inn, Amersham featured in the film, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, Stoke Place seems to have escaped entering administration with a degree of gusto. Indeed, despite the dining room’s fake plants, the produce from the kitchen, harvested widely from all over the British Isles, was dealt with deftly and served with charm alongside an invigorating musical play-list from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to “I’m a Mess” (Ed Sheeran). And, although the wine partnerships occasionally misfired, the list was so enthusiastically assembled as to warrant a return.