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|Address:||The Boathouse, Henley On Thames, Oxford/Oxfordshire RG9 1AZ|
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During Henley Festival which follows on from The Regatta we ate mid-week at The Boathouse. It was quiet inside, but throughout celebrations the hospitality trade is notoriously difficult to predict – we almost didn't telephone thinking that the booking chance was slim and I suspect most locals were avoiding town as we nearly did. It is still early days for SD@TB, but I think that their confident start will pay off.
First visit was better than good, scallop dish was perfectly executed and my main course was balanced and satisfying. My partner's risotto was richly flavoursome, very pleasing and he enjoyed the main course. A very decent bottle of bordeaux helped digestion. It wasn't until after the meal we realised that the sous chef was responsible, so we were curious to see how the Head Chef would perform.
Sunday 21st July, seated outside next to the River at lunchtime was our opportunity to find out. ‘Dish of the day’ for me would have weakened the knees had I not been sitting. A mackerel confit with gooseberry dressing including whole fruits was responsible. Being perfectly balanced in every sense almost defied belief. It was nothing short of tasting sensational; looking fresh, sophisticated and pretty on the plate with contrasting colours. Textures of soft fish, perfectly seasoned with a crunchy sweetened opaque disc resembling a caramel with just the right amount of tart gooseberry fruitiness on the side plus toasted almond slivers to round off flavours and add to texture. This is exactly what I have been praying would arrive in the town centre, which has plenty of eateries but nothing which is as sedate, yet unstuffy, welcoming, on-trend, and serving excellent food. This restaurant has it all (at least for me). It has a bar, and two small, bar height tables tucked carefully at the window and another set of lower tables and chairs for pre-dinner drinks. Maitre d', Rhys is spot on and doesn’t miss a trick. With a chef of some pedigree, a classy river location and only 10 minutes drive from my home, dining locally has never been so good.
Back there last Friday evening, I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did – one of the best dishes was the veal cannelloni which was filled with incredibly soft, tasty meat, and elegantly presented; not too rich nor too heavy and ordered by both of us. My warm tomato and mozzarella scored highly too. A local couple at a neighbouring table were equally as enthusiastic. Wine list is short but affordable with a spectrum of choice for those with deeper pockets also. Customers sipping cocktails or other aperitif seemed to enjoy taking in the river view whilst enjoying their canapé.
If you’re into people watching, it may be possible to glimpse the likes of a former celeb’, fallen celeb’s or a celebrity with genuine credence i.e. F1 personality who has apparently visited more than once and who we saw at one of our other ‘localish’ haunts very recently – Royal Oak, Paley Street – it maybe that F1 has one discerning diner. How could I digress?
I think Shaun Dickens displays an accomplished style and flair that is missing from most other local restaurants, Shaun’s menu is more competitively priced than most around, certainly much more competitive than RO. Menu is modern and having the edge with pricing makes it excellent value. A tasting menu at £65 sounds a good deal, but I have yet to try. Already delivering a better standard than others fills me with optimism. With The Quince Tree nearby in picturesque Stonor Valley and Orwells not too far away either, at last HoT is becoming a little Hot-bed as finally it is helped along by Shaun Dickens and co. HoT is positively on the map as a serious place for gastronomic visits. Look out Tom Kerridge, Adam Simmonds at Danesfield and Aubergine’s new chef in neighbouring Marlow. Henley is HoT (apologies for pun) on your heels just now. It must be the heat…..sorry…..the bar has now been raised., so the only question is:
How high will it go from here?