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The French Horn reviewed

PUBLISHED: 11:32 21 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013

The French Horn reviewed

The French Horn reviewed

This famous Sonning restaurant continues to uphold traditional fine dining in a perfect riverside setting, says Tom Fahey

This famous Sonning restaurant continues to uphold traditional fine dining in a perfect riverside setting, says Tom Fahey


REVIEWED: The French Horn, Sonning-on-Thames, RG4 6TN Tel: 0118 969 2204



Love him or loathe him, Michael Winner is a big advocate of the French Horn, naming it his favourite restaurant outside London and more recently calling it "triple historic"; which in Winner speak is equivalent to three Michelin stars.


Michael Emmanuel, the Sonning restaurant's co-owner and manager, showed me Winner's review before dinner. "It was so embarrassing," he explained with a smile. I disagree. Being lauded by Winner is entirely fitting for The French Horn. Like Winner, it's up-market, entirely old school, deliberately shuns trends, and whilst an easy target for criticism, would be greatly missed by many should it ever disappear.


Emmanuel talks us through ingredients, wine list, and latest refurbishments, with stirring, almost theatrical, enthusiasm. He's very good at setting the scene and working up anticipation, although a few minutes spent quaffing Champagne in the almost medieval bar area with its tapestries, royal crests, towering curtains, and open fire complete with roasting ducks, pretty much achieves this for him.


The dining room is very white, the windows very large and the view of the river and gardens very beautiful. Tables are laid with polished cutlery, pressed white cloths, Melba toast, French Horn branded butter pats and giant wine glasses.


The service is formal and theatrical but never snooty or condescending. Wine is placed in metal pouring devices, ducks are carved and crepes flamed table-side. Silver service is the rule for most dishes.


If you want to be amazed or shocked, or you enjoy modern fine dining, the food here will not necessarily appeal. If you want the very best ingredients prepared in a traditional, uncomplicated manner you will love it.


The scampi pre-starter could single-handedly erase the rather unfortunate reputation afforded to scampi. Live langoustines come to Berkshire from Orkney to be encased in the lightest possible crispy crumb and sensitively deep fried, ending up really quite delicious.


The scallops back up every claim Emmanuel makes about his produce. Huge, juicy, superlatively sweet, and packed with flavour. The accompaniment - a sort of Asian-style sauerkraut of cabbage, ginger, chilli, and sultanas - was a bit bombastic and not entirely necessary.


Lobster ravioli was half a tail of lobster and plenty of wild mushrooms sandwiched between two silky sheets of pasta. Again, great ingredients, very well cooked. The shellfish sauce lacked the flavour punch I expected, but applying salt improved it slightly.


The Horn does a marvellous fillet steak which they top with an overly generous slab of foie gras. This is surrounded by an excellent red wine sauce made from a proper stock. Their rump of lamb sits atop a mound of pea and mint purée and fits in nicely with the quality produce theme; very tender, perfectly cooked and highly flavoured, and another great sauce. They certainly know how to do meat.


There's also an amazing wine cellar, with particularly impressive Burgundies. If you are inclined to spend money on wine, this is one of the best places you will find.


Desserts are old-school Anglo-French classics. The crème brulée was surprisingly light and very good, the chocolate marquise ludicrously rich but I pushed through it with the help of an excellent orange Muscat.


The French Horn - like its biggest fan - is something of a one off. You could say it's dated or that it's traditional, but ultimately, it's one of the few places in Berkshire where you can eat very high quality produce in elegant, formal, surroundings without the ego of a chef or the self importance of a waiter getting in the way. I have to mention the prices, because, obviously, it's not cheap but this is part of the charm. I doubt Mr Winner would agree, but if you could afford to go everyday, it wouldn't be nearly as special.

REVIEWED: The French Horn, Sonning-on-Thames, RG4 6TN Tel: 0118 969 2204

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