I have been toiling over this review for a little while for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a food blog, I really shouldn’t focus too much on the amazing night’s sleep, the relaxing spa, the general indulgence or the amazing attention to detail paid to our overnight stay. Two, we have visited The Vineyard before, last September for our wedding anniversary, and the one notable change is the Head Chef. The previous chef, Daniel Galmiche, had headed up the Vineyard kitchen for 7 years and has several Michelin stars to his name. Now, Robby Jenks, who had only been at The Vineyard for 7 weeks when we visited, has taken the helm – I didn’t want this to be a comparison review.
The Vineyard opened in 1996 and is owned by the Peter Michael family – they just happen to own a winery in Napa, guess why I like it! They have over 30,000 bottles in their cellars and you can enjoy 100 wines by the glass. The theme throughout this hotel is, you’ve guessed it, vino! There is a strong story flowing through the hotel of the 1976 wine judgement, when in a blind taste test, for the first time ever, American wine beat it’s French rivals.
So, on to the evening…and please forgive the photos of the food, low lighting and an iPhone do not match!
Before dinner, we settled ourselves at the bar and looked through the drinks menu – the choice is extensive catering for all tastes. What really drew our eyes though, were the Perfect Serve G&Ts. A variety of gins, matched with different tonics and garnishes and served in balloon glasses packed with ice. Two of these went down rather well along with the bar nibbles! While we were sipping on our gins, we were brought the menu for the evening. We elected to go with the 7 course tasting menu (‘cos why not?!) and also the matching Judgement Wines (‘cos…we like wine!).
We were seated at our table in our restaurant. The ambience is nothing less than outstanding. The lighting is just right and the chairs are quite possibly the comfiest dining chairs I’ve ever been seated in. The resident pianist adds to the relaxing atmosphere – although did attract a few smiles when he played Tubular Bells’ theme from The Exorcist. Our sommelier for the evening, Marie, came over and talked us through the Judgement Wines – for each course we would have a Californian and a French wine, but we wouldn’t know which is which. At the end of the course we would each have to guess, French or American, and tell Marie which we preferred – a bit of competitiveness brought to the dinner table – perfect! Spoiler – I won! We would also have two ‘Judgement’ glasses, where the wine is served in a black glass and you have to guess the colour, country and grape. Throughout the meal, Marie was attentive and knowledgeable, she really engaged us with the different wines and was thoroughly charming.
First out was an amuse bouche, a small, warm carrot soup. It did its job, cleansed the palette and set us up nicely for our 7 courses. I also can not got without mentioning the bread and butter bought to our table – I really had to hold myself back from having too much!
Onto the first course, ‘Parmesan mousse, wild garlic’. With tasting menus, I’ve come to expect smaller portions with flavours that really pack a punch, and unfortunately, this first course just didn’t quite do it for me. The words ‘parmesan’ and ‘garlic’ conjure up an idea of a strong, punch you in the mouth, taste and we just didn’t get it with this dish. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy it, we were just expecting something a little more oomph.
The next dish left us both divided, ‘Hot Label Rouge fois gras, aged grapes, hazelnuts and verjus’. I loved every morsal of this dish, the husband…not so keen. I think you either like the texture of fois gras or you don’t – a gutsy ingredient to put on a set menu. The flavours of this dish were so well balanced, nutty, earthy and rich. It felt truly indulgent (for me anyway!). I would happily order this dish again, and again, and again.
Our next offering really didn’t jump out at me on the menu, ‘Pan-fried cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut’ hardly ingredients that push the boat out, however, we were pleasantly surprised! The cod was nailed, perfectly cooked and flaky and the cauliflower was cooked three ways making it much more interesting than we had given the kitchen credit for! The sauce wasn’t overpowering, which it could easily have been, the flavours were matched and each part held its own.
The ‘Torched halibut, crab tortellini, pickled kohlrabi, shellfish bisque’, was by far and away the winner of the evening for me! The halibut was so perfectly cooked and the kohlrabi’s sweet and peppery flavour complimented it wonderfully. The crab tortellini was perfectly done and so pretty on the plate, it packed a real punch. And that shellfish bisque? Perfection! Such a deep, rich flavour that complemented all of the other components on the plate.
The last savoury course of the night was the one I was most looking forward to, ‘Saddle of lamb, redcurrant and confit onions, wild mushrooms’. I was left with really mixed feelings about this dish. I love lamb, and last time when we visited The Vineyard (I’m so sorry, this is going to be my one and only comparison!) we had rump of lamb that was sous vide, I was so surprised by how tender and flavoursome it was, as rump can be a notoriously tough cut. When I saw lamb on the menu this time I was instantly transported back to my favourite dish that Galmiche had presented that night. Unfortunately, we both found the lamb fairly tough, and we really didn’t get that meaty, lamby taste coming through as strongly as we would have liked. But, on the other hand, the other components of this dish were just heavenly. The redcurrant sauce was so rich and indulgent and the confit onions were melt in the mouth. It was such a great combination of ingredients, if the lamb was slightly more tender it would have easily had top marks.
By this point we were starting to flag, we’d had a lot of wine and a lot of food, the ‘Green tea and grapefruit’ was a perfect breather. It was perfectly light and tangy, and here I must make my apologies…we were quite tipsy by this point and neither of us can actually remember that much! There was sorbet and a green tea sponge / biscuit…it was perfect for a freshner before the indulgent final course…
…‘Chocolate, salted caramel, cacao nibs, fromage blanc sorbet’, and again, my apologies, had even more wine by this point! I do remember the chocolate being rich and creamy and the sorbet light and refreshing – a perfect combo. Oh dear, it’s a good job I don’t do this for a living! We finished off the evening with a whiskey at the bar and a glass of red in our room.
The service at The Vineyard is second to none, that perfect mix of being attentive yet no intrusive. The restaurant was pretty busy the night we were there, and you can tell a few of the waiting staff were feeling rather rushed. On a couple of occasions we felt like the explanations of the dishes were slightly lacking. Saying that, we don’t feel like this detracted from the overall experience. Once again, a special shout out to Marie our Sommelier, she really did add to the experience.
The food we were served held some amazing flavour combinations, each dish was beautifully presented and I am really looking forward to what Robby plates up in the future, I have seen some photos of the Spring menu and it looks amazing! He is clearly a really talented chef, it is just a shame that there were a couple of elements that didn’t quite stand up, but hey, serving 7 courses is about 4 more than I would ever attempt!
From the start to finish of our stay we felt thoroughly spoilt and indulged. To get the true experience (experience really is the key word here) of The Vineyard I highly recommend you go with the Judgement wines. They are perfectly matched and you will leave feeling like an expert…or drunk…so, win! I really can’t recommend this place enough, if you get the chance you must go immediately, if not, I will take your place!
The glasses of wine we consumed throughout our taster menu!
7 course dinner with matching wines and some pre and post dinner drinks for two came to just over £500 – WORTH EVERY PENNY! The Vineyard