I admit it freely. I am a sybarite. Not full time you understand, just on the odd occasion when I can dive into a pool of luxury and indulge in all forms of pleasure, above all of the gastronomic kind.
So, when you experience a stay at Stoke Park, you go away with the feeling that luxury has almost reached saturation point in this elegant and most refined of establishments.
This may sound a tad sychophantic but there is something about this coolest of places (Andy Warhol originals being UBER cool) that is determined to strip you of anxiety, current woes and worries and replace them with a vat of pampering, rooms that reek of splendour and comfort and food that makes the soul soar.
Celebrating 15 years of excellence as head chef at Stoke Park, diners were offered a three course anniversary dinner produced by Chris Wheeler at the ridiculous price of £34 a head.
It’s pretty unusual that chefs stay in one place for such a long time and what’s very apparent in this scenario is that Mr. Wheeler clearly still has the desire for excellence, for innovative food and for producing things of beauty to look at and taste.
Take the amuse-bouches; tiny squares of croques monsieur, a sublime black olive tapenade and whitebait dunked into a shiny pool of aioli. You kind of know what you’re in for when this type of fare is presented to you.
Being with a companion that likes to share, we both chose different courses. The ham hock and foie gras and confit of teriyaki salmon to start, pork loin, belly and cheek and roast cod loin for the mains and to finish the apple crumble souffle and the pistachio namelaka and rhubarb sorbet.
Anticipation is everything and at this point I have to include a quote from the great A.A. Milne, as it sums up the meaning to a tee and is so very charming:-
‘What I like best’ and then Pooh had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing indeed, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.’
I hasten to add, however, that the anticipation was outdone by the food. Needless to say the quality of the ingredients was second to none, deep flavours coursed through each dish, tiny, additional flecks of perfection were added to lift the food into another stratosphere, all was incredibly beautiful to look at; it was just bloody brilliant really.
Our favourites? Hard to beat the pork with all its tenderness and supporting star of black pudding and a luscious jus. The apple crumble souffle nearly took off it was so light and the rhubarb sorbet was a gorgeous touch.
Part of my living is made from cooking and every time I eat at Humphrys it inspires me to do better, although I don’t have a couple of decades to spare.
‘People who love to eat are always the best people'(Julia Childs) and if Mr. Wheeler is around to feed them they’re also the luckiest.