Alessandro Tom’ misses his kids, now at boarding school, but isn't prepared to miss lunch when on the way to see them
One of my many miscalculations in sending the kids off to a weekly boarding school in Berkshire rather than a termly boarding school further afield is that your weekends are basically goners. And apart from the obvious inconvenience relating to get-away weekends with Angel Wife, not to mention shooting and other such priorities, I soon focused on a real problem. Food in general; specifically meals; Saturday lunch to be exact.
While it seems I am clearly the family member most affected by the Twins' joint departure, as neither Twins nor Angel Wife seem much disturbed, rather on the contrary, and while I am therefore the one most looking forward to eagerly attending all Saturday matches and driving them home smelly and muddy, I was most disturbed by the realisation that in order to be able to make it for kick-off, I would have to either eat on the road or skip a meal all together. Now that was just not going to work out at all.
After some research I identified a suitable lunch venue nearby the school: L'Ortolan, a one-Michelin-starred country-house type. It rang an old bell, but a nice one somehow. I had never managed to go there back in its heyday and whatever the outcome it would surely beat no eating at all.
So Angel Wife and I headed off early from London to have lunch in Shinfield before watching yet another rugby match for the fifth team, hoping to have discovered the answer to my Saturday nutritional qualms.
I must admit, the food was deliciously light and seasonal. The attention to detail on the plate made me feel it deserved more than just the one star. There were classic combinations interspersed with little surprises, none too Blumenthally, the kind of surprises you enjoy, the ones that make your palate have a little happy squeak rather than jump in angst.
We had dishes as simple as a chargrilled squid with chorizo with a surprising potato fondant and chorizo foam (find out for yourself – and I am not a big fan of foams usually) and a ham hock terrine with apple puree to die for.
I plumped up for the grouse and have no regrets other than not having it twice. And the grouse season being over soon. Refined, light but earthy – I know, quite contradictory, with all the right bits and then the cider fondant… As I said, you feel it is all (too) familiar until the little happy squeak.
So why no extra star I wondered. And then that 'old' bell that rang came back to me. The place and decor costs my extra star. It feels like it was very new then and quite old now. It badly needs a revamp and perhaps a little less seriousness in the waiters and particularly maitre d's. They seem stuck in an old-fashioned three-star world and need to snap out of it. And then perhaps I will have found my Saturday lunch bliss.