The multi-Michelin star chefs’ new offering for 2016 is a winner, says Zak Smith – just try not to forget about the races happening down below
For equine gastronomes, there probably isn’t a better place in the world than the top floor at Ascot, where the racecourse recently launched its fine dining plans for 2016 in a spritz of Bollinger and deluge of canapés.
The racecourse, in an attempt to prove it can offer something for everyone, has appointed two of Britain’s favourite chefs to help produce its fine dining offering, Ascot style. Raymond Blanc, the chef Patron of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, has been called in, as has Phil Howard, co-owner of The Square and winner of Great British Menu 2012.
Apart from Raymond Blanc and Phil Howard hosting the Panoramic Restaurant and On5 respectively for all five days of this year’s Royal Meeting, they have together created what Ascot hopes will be memorable menus for lunch and tea, and the finest culinary experience for racegoers. With multiple michelin stars under both of their belts, expectations were naturally high.
Ascot has developed and matured over its 300-year existence, and now not only hosts Royal Ascot and races throughout the year, but also events like the Red Bull Air Race and food and wine festivals. With plenty of pit-stops for imbibers and foodies, it should come as no great surprise that an esteemed venue should require an esteemed chef, and they seem to have found one in Raymond Blanc. His team from Le Manoir are also establishing a service academy for Ascot’s hospitality staff to ensure that, from the gourmet sausage stand outside to the top spots, guests receive polite, professional care and attention to exacting standards. Securing Blanc for a three-year tenure is something of a coup for Ascot. They seem to be doing rather well in their quest to keep loyal patrons finely-fed, sat above the world’s most famous racecourse.
The food itself delivers. The cured salmon to start is melt-in-your-mouth soft, detailed with Japanese cucumber ribbons and topped off with cauliflower and horseradish creme fraîche. Delicate and utterly delectable, it’s the perfect way to start lunch after a morning of canapé frenzy. For the main course served by Ascot Executive Chef Gemma Amor, Spring lambs were sourced from Prince Charles’ farm. Juicy and tender, the dish was finished with artichokes, ricotta and grelot onion. Whether or not you could actually taste the royal connection was neither here nor there, the association was enough to induce a touch of smug satisfaction for those excited by all things royal. So far, hardly a punishment, and as guests wash down their strawberry and lemon verbena with some of Bibendum’s finest vintages, you almost forget there are races going on.
No society event is complete without high tea, mountains of scones, pastries and finger sandwiches a respite from the rinsing most punters received from BetFred, conveniently located proximate to the bar.
At £375 a head for lunch and tea, the privilege doesn’t come cheap, but then again how often can you enjoy the culinary delights of a Michelin star chef while taking a punt on an afternoon race?