L'ortolan at Shinfield - Restaurant Review

PUBLISHED: 18:19 28 July 2011 | UPDATED: 12:04 28 February 2013

L'ortolan at Shinfield - Restaurant Review

L'ortolan at Shinfield - Restaurant Review

Tom Fahey visits L'ortolan and discovers how a 'menu trip back in time' offers diners a chance to try memorable courses which led to the award of a Michelin star and an enviable reputation...

Readings application for city status states the town is home to Michelin Star restaurants. Perhaps those responsible for awarding civic honours are less pernickety than I am, but the fact is that its not. Reading is home to a single Michelin star restaurant.

For 10 years Lortolan has, according to Michelin, been the one twinkle in Readings supposed culinary blackout, and to mark this anniversary the restaurant is offering diners a taste of why theyve held on to the award for so long.

Sitting on a podium in Lortolans entrance hall is Executive Chef Alan Murchisons own contribution to the coffee table gastro-porn epidemic, Food for Thought. Its a record not only of Alans astounding weight loss (he runs, a lot), but also of the cooking that built and retained his restaurants star. The only way to taste many of these dishes now is to cook them, so those without a spare week or two will be pleased to hear the celebrations involve dipping into the memoirs. Offered Tuesday to Thursday evenings, three courses are 45 a snip by Michelin standards.

If a more archetypical purveyor of all things Michelin than Lortolan exists in this country then it escapes me (and having eaten 47 Stars since last July it must be trying very hard). A grand Georgian vicarage in the heart of Shinfield village conceals cloths laden with gleaming glassware.

Turquoise chargers are whipped away by waiters who glide over lush carpets, racing to refold the silkiest of linen napkins or deliver dainty dishes with the grandest formal flourish.

That daintiness, by the way, isnt a polite way of saying stingy Lortolan do a good line in freebies. Today, a single tortellini of truffled ricotta with spinach pure, three types of home-baked bread (ask for seconds), and, direct from Alans book, dinky cones of vanilla ice cream.

Much of their repertoire involves reassessment of the familiar as opposed to bacon and eggs in the dessert, snails in porridge or some other silliness.

Duck? Weve all tried duck, right? Well, not like this. Created in 2005, this foie gras sandwich involves wafers of crisp gingerbread concealing smoked duck slithers, tangy cherry compote and a lozenge of foie gras.

Lamb? Been there, done that, yes? Well in 2003 Lortolan were pairing lamb rump with pure of smoked aubergine, home-roasted tomatoes, chickpeas and cous cous. And while Lortolan didnt create Peach Melba in 2001 (Escoffier did in 1892) they did bring it up to date, adding vanilla cheesecake, a lemon sorbet, peach and raspberry pures and fruit, both poached and raw.

Ive not mentioned Thai nage and sea bream (2002), crab lasagne with curried mussels (2004), or strawberry marshmallow (2010). Not because Im a Michelin-obsessed loner eating on my own. No, its because I brought a vegetarian with me!

While her menu was without historical note it was not without culinary note beetroot and goats cheese with black olive; fregola with pickled fennel, artichokes, sauce vierge and orange zest puree; then strawberries, elderflower panna cotta, honey comb and crme frache.

Im sorry to have shattered visions of Reading as a hotbed for Michelin dining, but its my hope that flagging-up a 45, three-course opportunity to be reminded of why a restaurant has held down a star for 10 years will be more than enough compensation.



Church Lane, Shinfield,

Reading, Berks RG2 9BY

01189 888 500


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