23 July 2014

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Royal Ascot: A Diamond Day Out


For 300 years, it’s been the hottest ticket on the summer social calendar. This year, coinciding with the Queen’s Jubilee, we bring you all the news and hospitality from what looks set to be the most exciting Royal Ascot yet.

Diamond Queen - A diamond day out Royal_Procession_RESIZED.jpgAs June approaches, men and women across the country are reaching to the back of their cupboards for hat boxes, polishing shoes, measuring hemlines, and swotting up on The Racing Post and Debrett’s simultaneously. Sales of Pimm’s and strawberries go through the roof and horses are limbering up for the race of their lives. It can only mean one thing: Royal Ascot.
The centrepiece of the British summer, Royal Ascot is as much of a national institution as the Queen, and the two are almost synonymous. It’s no secret that she is a fan of horses and this, the most royal of occasions, is her favourite meet.
Royals have always been inextricably linked to the event, right back to 1711, when Queen Anne first saw potential for a racecourse on an area of land, then known as East Cote, near to Windsor Castle. The first four-day meet took place in 1768, and the Royal Ascot as we know it began to take shape in 1807, with the introduction of the Gold Cup – now part of the spectacular that is Ladies’ Day.
Last year, the event celebrated its 300th anniversary in suitable style, but there is no risk of post-birthday blues, as the revelry continues into the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer, starting with the renaming of the Golden Jubilee Cup as the Diamond Jubilee Cup.
The pageantry of Royal Ascot begins each day when the Queen arrives in her horse-drawn carriage to the salute of the Coldstream Guards. Starting its journey at Windsor Castle’s Golden Gates, the procession enters the course and makes its way down the track to the Parade Ring at 2pm, where you have the best chance of catching a glimpse of the Royal party, before it reaches its destination, the Royal Box.
Despite the course being steeped in history, the hospitality at Ascot is a thoroughly modern affair. The organisers are not ones to rest on their laurels, constantly adding to and developing the extensive offering.
Ascot Horse_Racing_RESIZED.jpgEnglish chef Mark Sargeant, of Folkestone eaterie Rocksalt, has worked closely with the racecourse to create a series of exciting dishes. Sargeant is sticking to what he knows best, with the focus heavily on seafood. Expect to see the likes of scallop ceviche – a key food trend this year – and poached lobster on a bed of crushed Jersey Royal potato salad, with pink grapefruit and peeled English asparagus in the Parade Ring, Windsor Forest, Panoramic and Trackside restaurants.
Afternoon tea will be given a Jubilee make-over too. Executive chef Steve Golding will be putting an Eastern twist on it in the Parade Ring Restaurant, where Japanese bento boxes will be served. While in the private boxes, things are getting fashionable with his Top Hat Tea. Golding tells us: ‘The afternoon pastries will be served on the rim of chocolate top hats. I’ve taken inspiration from the millinery by Stephen Jones, to ensure they are just right.’
Of course, Stephen Jones is Ascot’s official milliner, and the designer and racecourse have collaborated with the British Fashion Council to create Hedonism. The project, which was exhibited at Somerset House during London Fashion Week, is a celebration of emerging British milliners and will be on show during Royal Ascot.
The collaboration doesn’t end there. Ascot and the British Fashion Council have been working together on the much-loved catwalk show held every year in the Bessborough Restaurant. As we go to press, the designers showcasing their work have not yet been revealed, but if last year’s spectacle featuring Vivienne Westwood is anything to go by, it will be good.

New dress code

Ascot dress code Ascot_dress_code_RESIZED.jpgDespite being a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge, fascinators are now a thing of the past. Following allegations that some visitors were too casually dressed last year – even wellington boots were spotted in the (muddy) Royal Enclosure – organisers have tightened the rules.  Ladies in the Royal Enclosure must now wear hats or headpieces with a base of 10cm/4” or more in diameter. Get the measuring tape out for your hemlines too as mini-skirts are also out – skirts must be below the knee.  In the Grandstand, the rules are loosened slightly. Fascinators are allowed, however ladies must not wear strapless or sheer-strapped dresses or tops. For men it is a little simpler. In the Royal Enclosure it is strictly top hat and tails, while everywhere else a suit and tie will suffice; with a ban on replica sports shirts.

Royal Ascot top tips

Make sure you take cash – there are machines in the racecourse but there will be long queues and they may charge you.
Eat early if you don’t want to miss the Royal Procession at 2pm.
We love finishing the day with some flag-waving to Jerusalem in the bandstand at 6pm. 
Take the train from London. It’s easier than driving and you don’t have to miss out on the Pimm’s and Champagne. Avoid the post-race rush on the way back by stopping at Jagz to have one for the road. Make sure you take some comfortable shoes for the walk, as it is about 15-20 minutes from the racecourse.
Even if you don’t know a lot about racing, have a bet or two. It really adds to the excitement of the day, and who knows, you might get a tip if you hang around the Tote stands long enough.
Check out the horses before they run at the Parade Ring before each race.

Tried & tested: The Bessborough

Bessborough Ascot Bessborough_RESIZED.jpgThe fashion stakes at Ascot are high at the best of times but they’re even higher in the Bessborough Restaurant. Famous for its haute couture fashion show, what’s not to like about restaurant-quality food and front-row seats to a fashion show featuring the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson? With an array of elegant dresses and models on display, guests can take a well-earned break from judging one another. Aside from the clothes and models, there were several factors that stood out from our visit – not least the actual structure. Having just been refurbished, the double-height marquee is now a lighter and more spacious offering than it has been in the past. The layout allows for the catwalk to snake around the tables and gives everyone great views, with plenty of opportunities for iPhone snaps.We particularly liked the venue’s private balcony, with views over the first corner and finish line – perfect for a My Fair Lady screeching moment. Despite the weather being a little touch-and-go on the day, it was also a great place to kick things off with a glass of Champagne and watch the racecourse fill up.
One of Ascot’s strongest selling points is its ability to deliver on the promise of restaurant-quality food in hospitality facilities. Our classic British menu of smoked tsar salmon followed by roasted fillet of aged Kettyle beef and a modern take on strawberries and cream certainly lived up to expectations. Drinks-wise, complimentary Champagne flowed freely all day. Feeling decidedly full after the three-course meal it’s a nice (if somewhat lazy) treat to have roaming Tote reps who come to the table to take your bets. The Bessborough is right next to the Royal Enclosure and just a quick walk from all the action, including the parade ring, so we didn’t have to go far to be in the thick of it. But when we had had enough of the madding crowds, it was back to our sanctuary for tea and scones, and another glass of champers.

This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2012.

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