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PUBLISHED: 09:48 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013
Stirrups Country House Hotel, near Ascot, is a great place to relax and enjoy good food that won't break the bank, says Tessa Harris
It was one of those rare Friday nights when the children were taken care of and, with no other social engagements to concern us and nothing good on TV - we'd watch the repeat of Have I Got News For You on Saturday - we turned our attention to an evening out.
I'd visited Stirrups Country House Hotel, near Ascot, before and, contrary to its name, I'd been impressed by how welcoming and informal its relatively newly refurbished bar and restaurant area were. There used to be a more formal restaurant called The Winner's Enclosure, but the major revamp combined bar and restaurant. So, sat nav primed, we set off into the wilds of the parish of Winkfield in search of good food in relaxed surroundings.
The restaurant is not really the sort you'd associate with hotel dining, but more of a brasserie/pub with a big open fireplace, oak beams, a wooden floor and wooden tables. The place was buzzing, with drinkers at the attractive bar and families and couples in the dining area.
The menu is surprisingly informal, too, with prices to match. So for starters there was Italian Anti Pasti, Thai Flavoured Crab Cakes with Lime Crème Fraiche and Broad Bean and Parmesan Bruschetta topped with Crisp Pancetta, all for under £9. If you're in the mood for sharing - and we were - you can choose from Ultimate Nachos - guacamole, salsa, sour cream and jalapeno peppers, or a Tapas Platter for £9.75.
We chose the latter and were delighted by the colourful array of roasted Mediterranean vegetables, fried potato, chucks of chorizo and feta cheese, slices of salami and wedges of flat bread with oil.
We lingered a long time over our starters, sipping on a crisp Pinot Grigio and, to be honest, we could have stopped there, but our mains beckoned.
Simon, my husband, was torn between the Crispy Duck Leg with Black Cherry Kirsch (£14) and the Pan Fried Seabass with a Mediterranean Butter (£16.50), but in the end he went for Calves' Liver and Bacon with Bubble and Squeak Mash and Red Onion Gravy (£15).
My Breast of Chicken stuffed with Brie and Parma Ham served with a Tomato and Basil Salad and Sautéed Potatoes was probably a bad choice from the calorific viewpoint, but it was delicious, with the creamy Brie melting inside the chicken breast, making the dish moist as well as tasty.
There's also a selection of pizzas, pastas and light dishes: crab and prawn linguine, four cheese tortellini and tomato and basil gnocchi - all for under £9. You can even order a sandwich: how does a Triple Decker Club or a Minute Steak on Ciabatta topped with Bacon and Fried Egg sound?
Desserts, all priced at £5, include Chocolate Brownie served with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Classic Lemon Tart and Clotted Cream. If you're feeling really naughty - and I was - you could have the Cookies and Cream Cheesecake - gorgeous. Simon's Raspberry Crème Brulée with homemade shortbread was cooked to perfection with a crispy topping.
Throughout our meal the service had been excellent. We were given time when we wanted it, but didn't have to wait long for anything.
Chef Aaron Stubbs took over the 'reins' at Stirrups earlier this year and is aiming for an AA rosette. Simon and I both agreed he deserves it. We came away feeling we'd made a good discovery.
We won't need the sat nav next time.