The Tasting Room at The Vineyard


When it comes to birthdays, Mrs L has some exacting standards. Anything that might ordinarily impress me (I’m easily pleased with any 5* hotel or a Michelin star or two), elicits an impassive eyebrow raise as if something was, simply, as it should be in her book.

So, at the end of last year, when it came to sweeping her off for an evening away from our little nest of vipers, there was only one place I had in mind: The Vineyard.

It’s been seven years since The Arb last crossed its threshold and came face-to-face with that now famous mural, and ever since Jonesy and Jess B pulled the long straw and came here previously, I’ve been angling for the opportunity. (This is still about Mrs L’s birthday, I promise). Now, there’s a new chef at the helm, and a new concept in the dining space.

Briefly, if you’re unfamiliar with The Vineyard, it is the passion embodied of Sir Peter Michael, engineer, entrepreneur, founder of Classic FM and creator of what became Photoshop. The sort of chap who’s already done more in one lifetime than most of us can manage in an aeon. His passion, though, is wine – and art – and that became enlivened when he bought an estate in the mountains (yes, not valleys) in California, and acquired this unassuming hotel in the Berkshire countryside. And, here, he’s made something that any self-respecting sybarite should seek out.

It is the oenophile’s dream. The cellar boasts 30,000 bottles, more than 500 original artworks grace the walls (a Henry Moore takes pride of place in the lobby), and there is something of a wine theme throughout – we’re staying in the Krug suite, where home-made wine gums are part of the welcome. To best showcase that wine, it’s the restaurant that really stirs the imagination. And that’s just taken a step up with their new Tasting Room.

It’s a simple idea, really. Take a tasting menu, and really make something of it. Don’t mix with the diners satisfying their hunger with the a la carte, this is about dialling up the experience – and, in this latest incarnation, at the helm is Tom Scade, who cut his teeth under John Williams at The Ritz.

What makes this particularly exciting is the enthusiasm with which the pairings work. Often, with tasting menus, the wine flight feels optional, and can be made up by a single choice or two but, given The Vineyard’s pedigree, here, they make it quite special – never more evident than the moment we arrived.

Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction, where Winston Wolf gets his cup of coffee from Jimmy, he takes a sip, pauses, and gestures his approval – that was me when offered what I thought was a token glass of chardonnay as we checked in. It was a glass of chilled Cypress, and would set the tone for what was to come.

And what was to come would prove one of the most scintillating dining experiences we’ve enjoyed in a while.

As you might expect from tasting menus worth their salt, it’s punctuated with amuses bouche and palate cleansers aplenty. There’s a lemon verbena gel, a bite-sized ‘taco’, and an olive oil pebble with bay leaf emulsion, created with ingredients from the California estate. Each provide a talking point, but it’s the first of the wines that really sets this up.

We’re given a ‘blind’ tasting, served in a black glass to disguise the colour, and a trio of scents is presented to provide a guide to what it might be; lemongrass, pepper and, surprisingly, petrol. Those in the know will guess that from those markers; it’s a Riesling, but what makes this little exhibition work is that it really gets us thinking about the wine.

The dishes that follow really show Scade’s pedigree; the execution notwithstanding, there’s a playful creativeness in each, too, and all designed with the wine in mind. We open with a sort of deconstructed borscht; a bubble of creamed beetroot, blended with soya to let the flavour ride through, dotted with sour cream, cornichons, and caraway seeds. Alongside, is a fresh Californian rosé, more minerally than their Provence counterparts, and with a note of almond to complement the dish.

The fish course features turbot in a two-tone sauce of shellfish and champagne, and a silky, apricot-nosed Pinos Gris complimenting the fresh bergamot zest dusted over the fish is a lovely touch. If this is already sounding bold, you’re not wrong, and there’s some clever thinking with bite-sized croissant on the side – something added when the team noticed guests mopping up the sauce.

For the main, there’s a game with the game, as it were. In something of a Pepsi challenge, to accompany a dish of fallow deer with quince and a turnip puree, we blind taste merlots; a Chateau Lassegue from Bordeaux and a Bucella from Napa. I’d like to think I nailed it on the nose; the 2009 Lassegue had that earthy characteristic of age, but demonstrated how wines can work equally across a single dish.

More inventiveness came with the cheese course, in the shape of a pithivier with Tunworth and fig jam dressed with an absolutely heavenly cheese ice cream. Served with Mas Amiel, served via a pipette from its original gargantuan bell jar, it’s presented by the Pastry Chef who diffidently suggests a seemingly clever and complicated execution is really rather a trifle; simple it may be, but as cheese courses go, it shall live long in the memory.

That pithivier is a hard act to follow, but after a palette cleanser of blackberry ice cream and calamansi foam, dessert arrives in the most unusual fashion; a cork, presented in a box.

It’s lifted from its home and plated, creating a tableau of a vine leaf, complete with dew, and all are edible. The cork, something of a joke between Scade and his pastry chef, is made of chocolate, with an apple and pistachio ganache. Accompanied by a Somerset ‘ice’ cider, it’s gone in two mouthfuls, and it’s divine.

In a final flourish, even that now staple digestif of fresh mint tea is given a dose of theatre, presented at the table in a cascade of dry ice. And, as the last wafts dissipate across the table, Mrs L slips the personalised menu into her bag; this has definitely been a birthday meal to remember.

After a meal like that, to talk up the room feels like a non sequitor but, suffice to say, The Vineyard’s gong as part of the Relais Chateau portfolio speaks for itself. Spacious, comfortable, tasteful, it’s every bit as exacting the meal, and provides the perfect cherry on top of a splendid cake.

Prices for The Tasting Room start from £99pp for 5 courses, with paired wines for an additional £75 pp. Open Thursday evenings, and Friday and Saturday lunchtime and evenings. B&B rates start from £290 per night. For more information, please visit

This January, guests are invited to book the sweetest of deals with The Vineyard’s ‘Suite Deals’ starting from just £199 per room. This offer is subject to availability and based upon two people sharing an Atrium Suite. This can be for just £199 per room from Sundays to Fridays and £ 239 per room for Saturdays. Upgrades to Luxury Suites are available for £75 and Grand Suites for £150 per night. Valid from 1st January to 29th February, excluding Valentine’s Day. Prices include VAT. Please find more information here.