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As Ascot Racecourse celebrates its 300th anniversary, the country’s most colourful race meeting looks set to be even more special than usual. We bring you details of the hats, history and hospitality that make Royal Ascot the highlight of our summer social calendar
Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire
It’s the highlight of The Season
magnetism of Royal Ascot has always been the breadth of its offering – the all-encompassing combination of fashion, fanfare and first-class racing – but its prestige owes more to the racecourse’s
history. When the first race was run at Ascot in August of 1711, the Kingdom of Great Britain had just been established, Buckingham House built and the country’s first newspaper printed. Three
centuries is a long time.
Royal Ascot itself doesn’t go quite as far back as its host venue. While the first four-day Royal Meeting took place at Ascot Racecourse in 1768, it wasn’t until the inception of the Gold Cup in 1807 that the festival as we know it today began to take shape. It does, however, take more than the passing of time to create an event that remains a highlight of the social season over 200 years on.
Despite all its heritage, the festival today is a thoroughly modern affair. As well as 18 world-class ‘group’ races, there are after-race parties hosted by London’s coolest clubs and a fashion blueprint laid down by Vivienne Westwood and Stephen Jones. Following the opening of Ascot’s new Grandstand in 2006, the historic event has a gleaming venue – some £200m worth of beautifully designed bricks and mortar – and visitors can follow races on a dedicated Ascot Racecourse ‘app’.
Clearly, Royal Ascot is set apart not just by the depth of its past, but the creative dynamism that keeps it moving into the future. So it figures that, instead of rolling out the same hospitality year on year, the organisers go back to the drawing board after each event to hone the offering. One of their more insightful innovations was the Bessborough Restaurant (see hospitality options overleaf), which launched in 2007, bringing food and fashion – arguably two of the main ingredients in the recipe for Ascot’s success – together under one roof, with catwalk shows during lunch.
Last year saw the team score yet another winner with the Waterside Inn at the Panoramic, where Michel and Alain Roux set up a temporary version of their three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Waterside Inn, complete with kitchen and front-of-house staff from the Bray mothership. Needless to say, it went down a storm, so we’re not surprised to see the father-and-son duo return to Royal Ascot in 2011, armed with more delicious French cuisine – look out for the poached sole with tarragon and morels, which was the standout dish at our recent menu tasting.
This year, corporate clients in search of a more casual environment for entertaining can settle into the newly refurbished Trackside Club Lounge, which is now a more informal space, with a DJ, international grazing food – think Ascot Bento Boxes and cheese from an aged wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano – and its very own Ice Cream Parlour.
Menus throughout the hospitality restaurants will otherwise stay closer to home than in previous years. Ascot’s executive chef Steve Golding tells us he plans to deliver fewer ingredients on the plate while placing greater emphasis on quality and taste, sourcing local ingredients wherever possible. A number of dishes will be marked with the tercentenary logo, guiding diners to the most indulgent celebratory treats.
Aside from releasing hospitality packages (more of which overleaf) and details of its restaurant menus, the racecourse is currently keeping plans of any birthday celebrations at Royal Ascot close to its chest, but you can bet that the occasion will be treated with typical reverence and style. She might be 300, but the grande dame of British racing is looking sharper than ever.
Key to abbreviations:
RE = Royal Enclosure Access
GS = Grandstand Access
CB = Complimentary Bar
CBch = Comp. Bar with Champagne
2+ = Minimum individual Table Size (smaller parties can share tables)
AT = Afternoon Tea
5/4/3 = Courses at lunch
PARADE RING RESTAURANT
RE | CBch | 2+ | AT | 5..
The classic high-end Royal Ascot experience, combining bells-and-whistles catering with fine wines and an elegant restaurant feel. The dining room and its balcony have views over the Parade Ring, while guests also enjoy prime reserved seating in the Grandstand – right next to the Royal Box. From £876pp.
THE WATERSIDE INN AT THE PANORAMIC
RE | CBch | 10 | AT | 5..
After a knockout debut in 2010, Roux Jnr and Snr are returning with their impeccable French cuisine. Maitre D’ Diego Masciaga runs a tight front of house, and balcony views are some of Ascot’s finest. From £827pp.
WINDSOR FOREST RESTAURANT
RE | CBch | 10|12 | AT | 5..
Slick fine dining in a plum spot on the second level of the Grandstand, with a seated balcony overlooking the winning post – the Royal Procession passes underneath. Seats up to 70 and is the only restaurant available for exclusive hire. From £1,050pp.
TRACKSIDE CLUB LOUNGE
RE | CBch | AT
Head-on views of the racing from a 40m balcony trackside have always been a highlight, but the slicked up interior has taken on a contemporary look and informal feel, with grazing-style catering and a DJ. From £660pp.
GS | CBch | 10 | AT | 5..
The lunchtime Royal Ascot Fashion Show is a highlight of this lively top-end facility, which is great for large groups. The views over the course and Grandstand from the private balcony are knockout. From £540pp.
GS | CBch | 10 | AT | 4..
Sitting just below the Bessborough in both location – on the first floor of the Old Paddock marquee – and price, this mid-range option is popular for its bright and modern fine-dining set-up. Great balcony too. From £474pp.
GS | CBch | 10 | AT | 4..
Entry-level fine dining on the ground floor of the Old Paddock marquee. A trackside terrace just metres from the course, with views of the Grandstand and winning post, make this a safe bet for racing lovers. From £390pp.
GS | CBch | 20+ | AT | 4..
Private dining for groups on the ground floor of the Old Paddock marquee, next to the Royal Enclosure garden, each with a trackside terrace and views of the winning post and Grandstand. From £528pp.
OLD PADDOCK RESTAURANT
GS | CBch | 10 | AT | 3..
Parties here can watch final preparations in the Pre-Parade Ring and saddling boxes, before a short hop to the Grandstand for the start. Ideal for groups who want a fine dining option right in the thick of it all. From £372.
QUEEN ANNE ROOMS
GS | CB | 12+ | AT | 3..
Six private dining rooms of varying sizes in a Grade II-listed building, close to the bandstand and Plaza lawns, some with balconies. A budget-friendly exclusive-hire option for large groups. From £372.
IMPERIAL EVENTS VILLAGE
GS | CB | 10+30 | AT | 4..
A relaxed, budget-friendly option with a restaurant and private chalets set in gardens close to the main hospitality and Grandstand. There are no track views, but screens throughout. A roving jazz band entertains.
Price on application.
For further information and bookings, contact Royal Ascot Hospitality (tel: 0870 727 4321, squaremeal.co.uk/ascot-hosp
Each year, the dazzling millinery creations on parade at Royal Ascot range from show-stopping to neck-breaking, channelling everything from confectionary to crows, but you can always count on
official milliner Stephen Jones, who has dressed the heads of icons from the Rolling Stones to Beyoncé, to capture the mood.
‘At this year’s festival, we’ll see a touch of the historical in romantic, feminine styles,’ he predicts. ‘Lighter fascinators will echo filmy dresses as well as structured hats to balance the crisp tailoring.’ Colour, too, is a balancing act in 2011. ‘This summer’s neon will be worn with more neutral hats, so a lime suit with a navy hat, or an orange dress with a beige hat.’ And think twice before dusting off last year’s feathered fascinator. ‘This season, gravitate towards flowers rather than feathers,’ he says.
However, as many of the wackier designs over the years have demonstrated, the most important thing is not to take your headwear too seriously. ‘Hats can be so many things: tricornes, boaters, bonnets, caps, berets, cloches, head-dresses, fascinators, veils, turbans, so go on and have fun with them.’
Stephen Jones’s spring/summer 2011 collection, the surrealist-inspired ‘Drifting and Dreaming’, will be showing in the Bessborough Restaurant throughout this year’s Royal Ascot.
Tuesday 14 June
The first day of the meeting has its own unique energy and a strong press presence. Corporate packages are good value, too.
Best for: Racing buffs, large groups and bargain-hunters (day one is good value)
Racing highlight: Queen Anne Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes, St James’s Palace Stakes
Wednesday 15 June
A captivating day on the track featuring what is arguably the meeting’s most important race, but a gentler pace off the course.
Best for: Racing buffs, larger groups
Racing highlight: Prince of Wales’s Stakes
Thursday 16 June
The most popular and flamboyant day of the festival is (unofficially) Ladies’ Day. Expect majestic millinery and a ‘see and be seen’ ambience throughout the racecourse.
Best for: Fashion stalkers, couples, key clients
Racing highlight: Gold Cup
Friday 17 June
The start of the weekend and the promise of the famous after-party gives Friday a special buzz, but prices drop from Thursday.
Best for: London-based groups, party-lovers
Racing highlights: Coronation Stakes
Saturday 18 June
Introduced in 2002, Saturday has a more low-key atmosphere than the weekdays. Corporate packages are half the price of Thursday’s.
Best for: Corporate bargain hunters (or those who can’t take time out of the office) and families
Racing highlights: The Golden Jubilee Stake
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011