Director gets a sneak preview of the culinary fare to be offered by the newly recruited multi-Michelin-starred chefs at Ascot
For many, the word ‘Ascot’ immediately conjures images of sartorial exuberance among the well-heeled revellers in the famous royal enclosure. But what of the culinary credentials at what is arguably the world’s most famous racecourse, which was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne?
Expectations were certainly raised on that front last month, when it was announced that two major players would be masterminding its fine dining offerings for 2016. Raymond Blanc OBE – chef patron of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons – has been summoned to its kitchens in an advisory role throughout 2016, and will host the glorious Panoramic Restaurant too, while Phil Howard – co-owner of London’s The Square, Great British Menu 2012 winner – will lord over the kitchens at the course’s flagship restaurant On5 at this year’s Royal Meeting.
If the showcase taster menu Director experiences on a late February Saturday is anything to go by, the 35,000 or so guests who enjoy dining at Royal Ascot can expect fine but unfussy cuisine this year. Following a round of appetite-threateningly delectable canapés – mushroom tarts with enoki, truffle oil and sea salt and roasted fillet of Japanese beef with a wasabi Hollandaise being the stand-outs – a cured salmon starter with Japanese cucumber ribbons had our entire table emitting noises of almost incredulous appreciation.
The main course, created by Ascot executive chef Gemma Amor, was – aptly enough, given Ascot’s royal associations – sourced from Prince Charles’s own farm: tender spring lamb complemented with artichokes, ricotta and grelot onion. It offered an opulent harmony of flavours, and contrasted stunningly with the strawberry and lemon verbena – Howard’s contribution to the set – and the Bibendum’s wines on offer throughout.
Add the day’s delectable gastronomic fare, Howard’s promise to use the same seasonal vegetables, grown within the grounds of Fulham Palace, as he uses at The Square, and the fact that Blanc has been tasked to deliver a Service Academy to ensure top-notch standards across all of Ascot’s 12 restaurants, and this little corner of Berkshire could soon draw as many admiring gazes from culinary aficionados as it currently does style commentators.