Despite being part of boutique hotel Stoke Place, new restaurant the Vyse Room has its roots in the gastropub movement, as Tom Vaughan reports
Conjure up a country house hotel restaurant and you'll probably picture classic cuisine, heavy curtains, muted chatter - the kind of set-up that for the past two decades has seen little or no evolution.
But the new restaurant at funky Buckinghamshire hotel Stoke Place, the Vyse Room, has shied away from the obvious - the likes of fillet of beef and rack of lamb, turbot, scallops and purées. Instead, the owners have installed a menu that could have come straight from a modern Hackney boozer.
The food is a collaboration between restaurant and bar consultancy Underdog and head chef Mark Bentley, formerly in charge of the kitchen at Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head pub. There's a simple Britishness to the seasonal offering and the noisy clatter and bare floors nod to London eateries like Great Queen Street. Even the choice of wallpaper and furniture has a hint of East End retro chic to it.
The starters are sprinkled with gems of early summer, such as soused mackerel with beetroot and horseradish (£5.50), smoked beef, runner bean and dandelion salad (£6.50), and summer garden soup (£4.50).
There's also halibut with cockles and mussels (£18) set on a bed of spring onions and leeks with a reduced fish stock, roast Gressingham duck with braised peas and lettuce (£13) and pot roast chicken with asparagus and summer herbs (£13).
One feature sets the kitchen apart from the pub and British bistros landscape, however - the vast walled kitchen garden to the front of the property. It's unkempt and overgrown at present, but there are lofty plans for a revival. This time next year Bentley hopes the garden will provide peas, broad beans, summer leaf and herbs in enough quantity to make outside purchasing unnecessary.
When not sourced from the front lawn, ingredients are derived locally. Vegetables come from Kingcup Farm, five miles down the road. Beef is supplied from just around the corner in Little Kingshill, where supplier Polly Conroy has a mixed herd of Longhorn, Hereford, White Park and Dexter cattle.
By now it's clear that Bentley has a passion for experimenting with old-school British dishes, and the desserts illustrate this even more. There's gooseberry and elderflower fool with shortbread (£5), strawberry Eton mess (£6), cherry sherry trifle (£5.50), and raspberry and Earl Grey jelly with raspberry ripple ice-cream (£5).
Toast sorbet (£5 with two other sorbets) is inspired by Mrs Black's 1866 recipe for toast water, and there's a revamp of that joke dish of old - blancmange. Based on an old recipe that calls for slightly soured milk and cream, Bentley uses buttermilk, yogurt and crème fraîche to create the same effect. Fortunately he left out the chicken that the recipe also called for.
A meal for two with wine is comfortably under £80, and the menu changes regularly so that guests will be enticed to stay in the hotel rather than sneaking off to a local pub.
This 54-seat restaurant isn't reinventing the wheel, but its location demonstrates the speed at which this new wave of seasonal British cuisine is reclaiming the culinary landscape.
Away from the stove
"I love the River Café. Its use of excellent produce and an overall simplicity make it one of my favourite restaurants."
Also on the menu
Stoke Place, Stoke Green, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire SL2 4HT. Tel: 01753 534790 www.stokeplace.co.uk