Review: Shaun Dickens at The Boat House, Henley

28th Jun 2013

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I don’t tend to eat in many fine dining restaurants these days. Partly it’s because there are less of them about. Gastropubs proliferate with their rustic sharing platters and affordable charm and somehow feel easier, less effort. But with that gastropub ease also comes the downside of casual dining. Predictability. Laziness. That’s OK most of the time, but occasionally we need shaking out of our stupor.

I road-tested Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse earlier this week, a fine dining restaurant that’s recently opened in Henley, and it was such a pleasure to be served by smart waiting staff and eat food that tasted and looked really special. It’s made me realise how valuable these kind of places are. They still have a place in our frenetic modern lives.

I took the fantastic Jo Henderson of Write Way PR to say thanks for her amazing work on The Muddy Awards (slightly more work than she anticipated lol!) . Jo and I are of one mind in terms of restaurant food – namely, eat as much of it as possible. Hello Jo (below).

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The Boathouse is in a happy position on the river in Henley, handily around the corner from the train station (where there is parking) and the Rowing & River Museum where I left the car (£5 for 4 hours since you asked). The restaurant has a lovely deck outside with this view…

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So after you’ve had your meal you can hire a boat and cruise down the river. *sigh*. We managed to choose one of the few sunny days this summer, but there are plenty of covers inside if the weather is inclement.

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We tried a specially prepared tasting lunch menu. I’m actually big fan of tasting menus as, frankly, there are so many courses. Plus I always feel it’s like eating little pieces of edible art.

I have to say that the food was exquisite – there wasn’t a course that wasn’t beautifully balanced. Take a look below at what we ate and how fabulously it was presented.

The hors 'doevres

The hors d’oevres

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Broad bean and mustard, ham hock tortellini, pea foam

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Warmed Heirloom tomato with buffalo mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, Thai basil, tomato essence foam

 

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Confit of Loch Duart salmon with roasted beets, beetroot spaghetti and horseradish sorbet

 

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Tasting of Lamb – loin, rump and belly, with crushed peas, lemon gel, ratte potatoes, sprouting broccoli

 

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Lemon mousse with lemon and elderflower sorbet

 

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Tasting of chocolate – dark chocolate sorbet, poached apricot and chocolate aero

 

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Coffee treats

Shaun Dickens is a young chef with great ambitions and evidently he jumped at the opportunity to open his own restaurant afters stints at Le Manoir, the 3 Michelin starred Per se in New York, L’ortalan and Fallowfields.

Interestingly – sorry, this is a total aside –  Dickens tried initially to open up his restaurant in Thame but it fell through. I have to say that I recently met a fantastically successful gift shop retailer who tried to open up in Thame and was put off by the massive rents. As someone who lives close to the town, I can say with some authority that both these ventures would have been massive opportunities to widen Thame’s appeal. Whoever has some influence in rents and enticing new talent to the town centre, start working it now!

Back to The Boathouse.

The interior theme is simple, elegant, possibly slightly masculine with plenty of purple knocking about. You will neither be put off or amazed by the decor. I guess Shaun’s preference is that you’re wowed by the food which is entirely understandable.

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The bar area. Hello camera-shy barman!

For lunchtime on a sunny Wednesday, the terrace was pretty full, and no-one inside so it felt buzzy and fun. I’m sure weekends are a total bunfight to get an outside spot. I would be remiss not to say that’s near the road as you sit outside but we really didn’t notice any traffic so I wouldn’t let that put you off going. Really, it was a superb lunch in a gorgeous spot in a beautiful Oxforshire town. Seriously, what’s not to like?

Best for: Lunching out on a sunny day, weekenders looking for a romantic spot, foodies

Not for: Families on a budget, anyone who sniggers at foam on an entree (you know who you are!)

£££: A typical tasting menu at Shaun Dickens at the Boathouse costs £65 with a £30 wine flight. But you can also eat a set lunch for £17.95 for two courses, and £21.95 for 3 courses which I think is pretty good.

 Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse, Station Road, Henley-on-Thames RG9 1AZ. Tel: 01491 577937. www.shaundickens.co.uk 

 

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