When you arrive at The Vineyard at Stockcross you’d be forgiven for thinking you had pulled up the driveway of some odious chain hotel in a charmless provincial city. If the recommendations had not been so glowing I would have been worried, very worried. What I found even more peculiar is that when you walk inside you are suddenly transported to the 1950s.
Linda, my dining companion, assured me that the architecture and decor had no relation to the quality of the the food. I was still a tad perturbed until I read their lunch menu; it was short but every dish piqued my interest and it was very reasonably priced. I felt even better as I quickly skimmed through the tome that was their wine list – real interest here. Any restaurant with Mac Forbes single vineyard wines on offer can be forgiven many things, and a restaurant with such a long list of well-chosen German Rieslings deserves much praise. We settled on a Willi Schaefer 2007 Riesling Kabinett and a three course lunch; neither of these would break the bank.
The dining room was light and airy and, whilst the furniture was not the most stylish, I was now less uneasy. Our amuse bouche was a little glass of borlotti beans with some coconut foam on top. There was also a reasonable amount of garlic present which suited me just fine – its combination of flavours and textures were most toothsome.
Things moved up to a much higher notch with the arrival of our starters. I had chosen a scallop soufflé in a shellfish broth. Whilst a thin slice of scallop was not a terribly generous portion everything else about the dish had me writhing with barely-concealed delight. The slice of scallop was perfectly cooked, the soufflé had a brilliantly light texture but throbbed with wonderful flavour and the shellfish broth… ah, the shellfish broth… Sometimes you eat something that redefines a whole idiom of food experiences and this was one of those moments. This liquid was tumescent with such a complex, powerful and beguiling set of totally gratifying tastes that I could only bring myself to pass Linda the very smallest of tastes. Sorry Linda.
And yet, her starter was even better. The pressed leg of chicken with Port jelly and spiced bread had quite the most outrageously delicious chicken character which was enhanced by the richness of Port jelly and heightened in complexity by the spiced bread. The array of flavours I found in the generous forkful she allowed me will remain in my mind as a benchmark against which I will judge all future poultry experiences. I fear many will fail to make the grade after such a lewdly gratifying food encounter.
Linda’s main course was a no-holds-barred roller-coaster ride of hilarious brilliance. Slow cooked pork belly with a croquette of ham hock had all the rich flavours one seeks from these bits of pig and the textures were meltingly opulent. If slow-cooked pork is comfort food then this was the gustatory equivalent of the most luxurious bed one could wish to collapse in after a day of particularly arduous physical exertion. An indisputably stunning plate of food.
Sadly, there was a miss along with all of these super-accurate hits. My milk-poached cod flakes with baby lettuce and wild mushrooms was just a tad on the bland side. It wasn’t over-cooked, and the ingredients seemed of good quality, but just the construction of the whole dish did not seem to show anything off as being particularly characterful.
Our dessert of caramelised tart tatin with vanilla ice-cream and caramel sauce was a return to the excellent form we had enjoyed for the majority of the meal. The tart base was deliciously crispy and the apples themselves oozed with rich flavour; another perfect hit.
At the end of the meal we found ourselves not giving a tinker’s cuss about the architecture, furnishings or the one unsatisfying dish. The vast majority of the food was nothing less than pulsingly pleasurable, the wine list is well-chosen and all of these wonderful delights for an embarrassingly reasonable price. I recommend The Vineyard very highly; a destination restaurant.
Contact details: The Vineyard at Stockcross, Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 8JU Telephone: 01635 528 770