Excuse me, I think your lake is on fire, our dining companion had to tell the doorman upon arrival at The Vineyard at Stockcross. He was only partially correct: it was the half-dozen sconces planted in the ornamental pond by the drive that were in full flame, not the water itself.
First impressions of the hotel and attached restaurant do veer towards the Footballer's Wives, what with the hunting scenes, stuffy draped curtains, and yes, the burning lake. But if the slightly chintzy trappings keep jaded Londoners from partaking in the restaurants fare - well, they get what they deserve. What the restaurant lacks aesthetically (and theres a refurb on the way this autumn to address that), it more than makes up for in culinary punch. Chef Daniel Galmiche has had a Michelin star for 20 years, and so-French-it-must-be-fake wine master Yohann Jousselin was recently crowned UK Sommelier of the Year (picture a vinophiles Olympics).
Since ELLEuk visited during a special wine event, all of our dishes were paired with Champagnes. These ranged from young, crisp wines to versions so deep and fungal that Jousselin served them in white wine glasses. The food proved just how much range the category of things that go well with Champagne really has. Dishes blended textures and flavours in surprising ways: caramelised scallops and pan-fried foie gras with cinnamon-poached peach, were looking at you. Three or four courses later, the dessert wed promised ourselves not to touch was too appealing to resist, with vine-fresh-tasting strawberry foam and tongue-tickling Champagne jelly.
Tottering off to a distant room, The Vineyards purpose seemed clear: its an escape to the country without compromising on food. And everything - EVERYTHING - goes better with Champagne.
The ELLEuk Score
Style of food: Modern, classic French cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences
Good for: Special occasion, Group dinner
Prices and Other Details at The Vineyard at Stockcross
Address: Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8JU
Opening times: Breakfast: 7am to 10am; lunch: 12pm to 2pm; dinner: 7pm to 9.30pm
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £62
Set menu: £49 for the lunch tasting menu
Price of bottle house wine: £8.00, Finca Sophenia, Torrontes, Es Vin, Argentina
Price of glass house wine: £29.50, as above
Price glass house champagne: £12.50, Taittinger, Champagne, Brut
Price bottle house champagne: £47.50, as above
Private dining? Yes. From intimate rooms for 10 up to private operas in the Morning and Music rooms
Outside dining? Yes. The alfresco menu is available in the conservatory from 10am - 9.30pm
Best tables? The 'Owner's table' which overlooks the restaurant
Who goes? Fine wine-lovers and escaping city-dwellers
Getting there: Its outside London and the closest station is Newbury Railway Station; pick-ups can be arranged from the station or from Heathrow Airport.