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The hotel now serves many functions as a hotel, conference centre, wedding location and plenty more. There are 70 bedrooms with all the luxurious modern amenities jostling with the old as in some of the suites with their four poster beds. The hotel has its own private car park which is very important in Windsor, especially in the summer.
Strok's Restaurant is named after a famous Croatian racing driver who has sunk a small fortune into the hotel to make it one of the top hotels in the Thames Valley. This is not a bad place at all for a weekend break because the hotel has its own boat which enables guests to take champagne cruises on the Thames for anything from 1/2 hour to a four hour mini-cruise. What better way could there be than to spend a summer afternoon with a bottle of champagne cruising up to Taplow, or even farther?
The chef Phillip Wild lives up to his name with his fiery temperament but his loyal brigade produces food with a flair and fusion style that comes as a very pleasant surprise given the lack of publicity or awards which must be at least partly the result of its Windsor location. It must be hard to keep a team together when high quality food goes unrewarded by the various authorities, but the staff all have faith in Wild and what he is working very hard to achieve. The restaurant also has a young French sommelier from Normandy who is knowledgeable almost to the point of obsession. I imagine it will be difficult for the Christopher Wren to hold on to him, as he is almost certainly going to be tempted away by a larger hotel or more well known restaurant in the future.
I was dining with my wife and the mother of a mutual friend, who just happened to be staying at the hotel that evening, on a surprisingly quiet Friday night. We started off with a small appetizer of marinated tuna with spicy couscous. Very cold and savoury, providing an ideal start to the meal. Modern jazz music kept the atmosphere ticking along in a dining room very spacious and conducive to fine dining. The breads were a little disappointing - I discovered that they have no bread baking facility in house, but there are plans to remedy this situation. The starter of seared scallops with parma ham and celeriac on a crispy base was, however, in a different class and typical of the chef's innovative fusion style and attractive presentation with its hints of Californian influence. Scallops need a medium dry white and some Pouilly-Fuisse from the 1997 vintage was a good selection.
After the impression made by the scallop dish, we were all excited about the main courses which were Venison, Lamb and Monkfish. My Baked Saddle of Venison with a Herb Crust, pickled pears and roasted parsnips (£16.95) came in a simple but perfectly blended sauce. This has to be the way I would prefer to eat venison in future as I've found it to be a bland and uninspiring dish in the wrong hands, but the herb crust somehow made it come alive.
One of my guests had lamb with foie gras, baby aubergines and a baby red bell pepper on top. This is a lady who has travelled all over the world and stayed in many hotels, and she claimed it was the best lamb she had ever had. I managed to try a bit before she polished it off, and its accompanying reduction of port wine sauce and madeira was delightful. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and the bell pepper was sheer inspiration. My wife enjoyed her favourite monk (of the fishy kind), on a bed of sweet potato risotto. I wonder if there's a nunfish for us chaps? Shallots, garlic and parmesan rounded out the dish which was not only tender and juicy but also quite substantial. We selected a different wine for the main course with the help of the Sommelier, a Vougeot Clos du Pierre 1995. There's a delicate balance of complexity and lightness about really good Burgundy that makes it such a versatile partner with both fish and meat.
Desserts looked interesting, especially the warm chocolate soup served with spiced bread and chocolate ice-cream. Very light and tasty and certainly different enough. My wife found her classic glazed lemon tart with citrus sorbet and a puree of fresh raspberries rather bland, but the selection of English cheeses including Celtic promise, Stilton, St.Andrews and Whitmore organic all went down well.
Windsor really is a great heritage destination: the castle is majestic and its beautiful Chapel of St George, is home to one of England's greatest chapel choirs, rivalling that of King's College, Cambridge. The boy choristers and gentlemen clerks can be heard singing choral evensong every day in term time. Eton, the sister college of King's, and location for so many recent costume drama films, is just across the river. Indeed, HM can wave from the castle terrace to her grandsons who are both pupils at the school, founded in the fifteenth century by King Henry Sixth.
It's nice to know that one does not necessarily have to rush off somewhere else to get a decent meal at the end of a perfect day.
Michael Hepworth April 1999
Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel
Thames Street, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1PX.
Tel 01753-861354 Fax 01753-860172 Average price of dinner per person £35.00
The hotel is a member of Grand Heritage Hotels
International reservations: +44(0) 171 244 6699 Fax 244 7799
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