The thrill of a race day at Ascot Racecourse (and there are only 26 per year) can be felt long before you enter the substantial concourse and grandstand, a world away from the building that originally stood there in the 18th century, and more akin to something you’d expect to find in the Middle East. It’s mind boggling to think that so many people are here to see seven races lasting just a few minutes each, but the thrill of watching live horse-racing at Ascot Racecourse is, and always be, unrivalled.
Attending the opening of the King George Weekend, the second most prestigious race meeting directly after Royal Ascot, the eye-catching Bollinger Bar was already busy at 11am when gates opened, while the 300ft flagship Ascot Racecourse gift shop, packed with British brands such as Christy, Oliver Brown and Links Of London, were waiting for those with luck on their side to spend their winnings on a souvenir of the day, with a ‘shop and drop’ option allowing purchasers to remain hands free. As most attendees appeared to have a glass of champagne in one hand and a betting slip in the other, it made perfect sense.
Heading to the main grandstand building, an awe-inspiring structure that was part of a £185 million pound redevelopment completed in 2006 and opened by Ascot estate owner Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, I never fail to be taken aback by its sheer immensity. With countless bars and restaurants, offering everything from a slice of pizza and beer to smoked salmon and champagne, no space is more impressive than the suite of boxes (including Her Majesty’s bullet proof glass Royal example) or the fine dining restaurants, each offering a unique perspective that’s understandably popular with corporates. A dedicated elevator took us straight to On 5 where the charming front of house greeted us with smiles and compliments on the outfits we’d been planning for weeks. It already felt like a successful outing.
Ahead of the event I received an exciting blue Ascot folder with tickets, car parking label, a map of the racecourse and enclosures, a lunch menu and On 5 badges to wear with pride. With a long private track-side balcony overlooking the home straight and finishing line, a bookmakers and a central bar and lounge furnished with screens so we never needed to miss a moment of the action, it’s an exclusive environment that elevates diners (quite literally) above the masses – merely there to add to the atmosphere and make you feel like royalty for the day. Another feature of the On 5 experience is that a former professional jockey and ambassador of the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) hosts each event, complete with tips on the day’s race card and accompanied visits to the weighing-in room, the parade ring and an exclusive track-side viewing platform away from the crowds and just metres from the finishing line.
Anyone experiencing On 5 for the first time will surely never see a day at the races in quite the same way – and alas, there’s no going back. Seated in the horseshoe section of the 180-cover restaurant on a private table for two adjacent to the sunny garden terrace, the atmosphere was nothing short of electric as we settled down to look over the runners and riders (and more importantly the three-course menu) over a chilled glass of Bolly. While many prefer to dine ahead of the racing programme so as to give it their full and undivided attention, we decided to order the starter ahead of the first race and break up the day with alternate does of fine food, wine and sporting action.
Each dish highlights an array of the most luxurious ingredients, all exceptionally well executed and beautiful presented; from a duck liver parfait with Melba toast and caramelised onion and quince gel, to a seafood platter main featuring peat-smoked halibut, Royal blush cured salmon, king prawns, potted shrimps and a Cornish crab cocktail. The finale of strawberry pavlova was a tower construction boasting the finest English summer fruits, accompanied by an appealing ripple ice cream.
The cuisine at On 5 is an example of what hospitality dining should be, as is the service, unfailingly accommodating, precise and observant. A cheese course, coffee and salted caramel chocolate petit fours, followed by a full traditional afternoon tea with dainty sandwiches, scones and royal-inspired Battenburg cake furthered the decadence. As my friend so rightly observed “this is how to do it.”
On 5 at Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7JX. Hospitality pricing for King George Weekend Friday 27th July 2018; £267pp including three courses, afternoon tea and a welcome drink. For more information on future race days and On 5 packages please visit the website.