L’Ortolan – competent provincial dining

This review is going to be difficult to write as, whilst we both enjoyed our lunch, we found it lacking the spark of excitement that makes for a properly mind-bending repast.

I have to admit to not actually reading the menu, I was too busy looking at the wine list and making sharp intakes of breath every so often. There were a few good things on it but most I thought were excessively priced for merely ordinary wine. They had some Arlaud Clos de la Roche for a reasonable amount and we enjoyed that very much. Indeed, it was damned-fine wine.

We took the tasting menu in the hope that it would provide most fireworks. It started well with a little amuse bouche in the form of a blue cheese, celery and apple foam/soup. This was pleasingly delicate in terms of blue cheese character and the tiny cubes of apple in it made for an interesting texture.

Our first real course was something we have often cooked at home, confit of salmon. This was a terribly good example of the dish; the salmon had a brilliant texture and it was complimented by some crunchy apple pieces and some surprisingly characterful pickled mooli. The wasabi mayonnaise that came with this was compelling: subtle and with a good richness. After this we really felt we would do well with our meal.

We had a foie gras course which was just about decadent enough. The foie was in a terrine and put into a little sandwich of thin ginger bread with some quince chutney. This was perfectly acceptable, but we have had better foie gras at so many other places.

A serious disappointment followed. Halibut fillet with crab risotto and tempura of soft shell crab. The crab risotto was very good, with a powerful crab character and we loved the crunchy fun of the bit of crab tempura. However, the halibut was way too overdone. A lovely bit of halibut could have charmed us no end, so we frowned as we ate this shamefully ruined fish.

Our meat course was a properly good piece of saddle of venison wrapped in bacon served with red cabbage and sauce grand veneur. Venison normally doesn’t hit our lewd spots, but this was rare and tender, with great flavour which was only enhanced by the bacon. Delicious. This and salmon were easily the dishes of the afternoon and were streets ahead of everything else.

Coconut foam with chocolate jelly followed. There was a lot of coconut foam, which was quite edible, compared to the small amount of chocolate jelly. This seemed more like a mousse than jelly and the coconut foam lacked foam character, so it sounded more interesting than it tasted.

Our final course was baked vanilla cheesecake with autumn fruit carpaccio, blackberry sorbet and the world’s most cinnamon-laced donut. The cheesecake was up to standard and Daniel liked the donut.

It was undoubtedly a competently prepared meal from some good ingredients; we did enjoy it. Yet, we left feeling a tiny bit let down. Given the cost and the accolades bestowed on the chef we were surprised that there was so little personality identifiable in the food. We’d have liked a bit more excitement. And the halibut a bit less cooked.

Contact details: L’Ortolan, Church Lane, Shinfield, Reading RG2 9BY. Telephone: 01189 888 500