Mashing It Up At Stoke Park
Stoke Park Club, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire SL2 4PG


Note: This review has been updated. See "Stoke Park Revisited" on the UK section.
The brochure on Stoke Park Hotel and Golf Club in Stoke Poges just north of Slough is certainly impressive enough. The 350-acre estate has been around since 1066 when King William 1 gave the estate to the nobleman William de Stoke. Amecia de Stoke married Sir Robert Poges in 1291 giving birth to the village of Stoke Poges. In 1581 the estate had to be sold to the crown to pay the debts of Henry Hastings, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, and between 1581 and 1908 nine different families owned Stoke Park. The most prolific were the Penn family, with the scholar and poet John Penn (1760-1834) being the driving force behind the mansion, landscape gardening and the monuments you can see today. He hired the landscape gardener Humphrey Repton in 1792 and at the same time commissioned the Kings architect James Wyatt to design the house. Penn had made his fortune in Pennsylvania and had sold his lands for a massive 130,000 to the new commonwealth in the States. Lancelot "Capability" Brown had already designed the lakes in 1750. The estate remained in private hands until 1908 when it was turned into a country club with the original golf course making its debut the same year.

The legendary Harry Shapland Colt designed the 27-hole course adding to his impressive resume, which also included Sunningdale, Wentworth, Portrush, Muirfield and Pine Valley in the USA. In 1996 the club won the prestigious "Golf Club of the Year " and after a major relaunch now boasts 1000 members who pay around 6000 a year for the privilege. They also get bridge, billiards and snooker and the opportunity to lounge around in what must be one of the most luxurious clubhouses in the world. Non members can play a round if they choose and there are a variety of packages to choose from, but if you wander in from the street then it will set you back 110 in the week and 185 on weekends for the par 71 course. The hotel also does great business with weddings, conferences and corporate hospitality. which is understandable considering the facility and golf options for corporate types.

There are 21 luxurious bedrooms to choose from with what can only be described as sheer elegance, and in particular the bathrooms. Marble floors, double faucets, a cast iron giant bath and marble power showers all add to the luxury. Most rooms open out onto the terrace overlooking the parkland and there is 24-hour room service. In short they treat you like someone special, and all this just only seven miles from Heathrow airport and 30 minutes from central London.

We were there to check out the restaurant of course and here lies some interesting contradictions. The first problem is the name of the restaurant. Calling it "Stokes Brasserie" does the elegant room no favours at all. It would not look out of place in an elegant French hotel with its silver service, refined lighting and perfect size of about 60 covers. It did pick up a couple of AA Rosettes only a few weeks after opening so they obviously know what it takes to get awards. The owner however has almost total control over the menu, which caters to not only serious diners, but also to meat and potato golfers winding down after a gruelling 18 holes. One example is the inclusion of Bangers and Mash on the menu at 9.95, which apparently is a good seller, but hardly a money-spinner in a room of this elegance. Hugh Grant flies all the way from Hollywood just to taste this tasty example of English cuisine, claiming he is unable to find it anywhere in Hollywood. In fact it is readily available at many of the English pubs in Santa Monica and beyond, obviously not Grant's territory when he is in Los Angeles.

Potatoes in their various forms also appear on virtually every other main course. My selection of Steak Diane, cooked in front of you for example had potato chips and vegetables, although I have to admit went well with the Steak. Very substantial size steak and apparently a real hit with the golfers. My starter of pan-fried Scallops with Aubergine crisps, lime pickle and parsley sauce were huge and the juiciest I had ever tasted. The sauce was also a revelation, but the Foie Gras on Brioche toast with fresh Mango seemed to be a combination that did not quite work. Crispy lettuce Spring Rolls with fresh crab, ginger and sweet and sour sauce however tasted delicious even though I only managed to sneak a bite from another plate.

My companion went for the Scallops of Venison with fondant vegetables and Jasmine sauce, which had a nice touch of beetroot on top of potato (of course). It could have been a bit heavy for a hot summer night, but because the quality of the venison was so good it was just right. Apparently a venison farmer and club member was dining in the restaurant and sent his back, causing great concern in the kitchen. Maybe he was after the supplier's account himself and was just making a point. Chef Carl France from the Midlands is very picky with the quality of the seafood and meats he selects, and is also very proud of his achievements with the banqueting food he serves up. Peter Bircher from Darwin is a very energetic restaurant manager and is keen to improve his knowledge of European wines and fine dining. How come everywhere we go these days in England the real energy in the catering scene seems to be coming from Australians, New Zealanders or South Africans? The two very acceptable wines from the compact wine list were Saint Joseph Syrah, Domaine Louis Cheze 94 (29.95), and the Sancerre Blanc from Jean-Max Roger 97 at 32.50.

Pastry chef David Bennett from Leeds sticks to about eight desserts of mainly a traditional appeal such as Raspberry and Sherry trifle, crepes suzettes and sticky toffee pudding. I had Vanilla Brioche with caramelised apples and ice cream and enjoyed the presentation of the ice cream raised above delicious warm sauces. Excellent presentation as well.

Afterwards you can roll through to the luxurious smoking rooms and bars for liqueurs, Irish Coffee, Cigars etc after having enjoyed your meal at the restaurant which is top quality despite the unusual and somewhat old fashioned menu. However that might just be my opinion, as apparently top food writers such as Richard Whittington are convinced that this is a trend that is set to continue.

Tel: 01753-717171
Fax: 01753-717181

email Stoke Park Club

Average cost of dinner for 2 with wine- 90

Michael Hepworth August 1999

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