There are few things more quintessentially English than a sunny June afternoon at Royal Ascot. So for some, it may come as a surprise to discover a staunch Frenchman taking the fine-dining reins at the Panoramic Restaurant for this summer’s meeting. However, Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc has a considerable and celebrated history with the racecourse and the event in particular. This year he is joined once again by The Square co-owner, Great British Menu winner and fellow Michelin star awardee Phil Howard who brings his inimitable British style to Ascot’s On5 restaurant.
As a keen racegoer it was with great delight I recently made the trip to this mecca of horseracing to preview what these two giants of the culinary world were concocting for this year’s summer menu. My guest and I were hosted at the aforementioned Panoramic Restaurant on the top floor of Ascot’s grandiose Grandstand; ideally situated above the winning post as well as offering stunning views of the course and surrounding Berkshire countryside. As I discover, this 65-cover offering is just one of the many hospitality options available at Ascot, which boasts the largest number of private and corporate boxes of any sporting venue in Europe.
We enjoy a glass or three of Bollinger Special Cuvée on arrival, which is accompanied by delicate canapés from Ascot’s partner rhubarb catering – the slithers of Wagyu beef, wild mushroom tartlets and black truffle arancinis being particular favourites. With each course prepared by a different chef, Raymond is first up to serve his starter of confit salmon, cucumber ribbons and crumbled cauliflower – presented with all the subtle resplendence associated with his iconic Le Manoir aux Qaut’ Saisons. Even my guest, who avoids salmon wherever possible, remarks at the delicacy of the dish and its pairing with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Huia winery.
Ascot executive chef Gemma Amor’s main course of exquisitely cooked spring lamb served with artichoke, smoked ricotta and grelot onion in a lamb jus is also perfectly matched with another wine from Huia; this time a Pinot Noir. After a short tour of Ascot’s other hospitality spaces, including On5, and with the day’s racing now in full swing we are treated to Phil Howard’s strawberry and lemon verbena cheesecake made with Brillat Savarin; the famous namesake of which would have approved of Phil’s elegant take on a simple classic. As the day drifts into early evening, we take afternoon tea with sweet and savoury trimmings befitting of the fine-dining majesty that preceded it and a more than ample supply of champagne.
Speaking before the meal, Raymond said he hoped to give racegoers a “memorable gastronomic treat”. He, Phil and the whole team at Ascot are well on course to do just that. And my advice for those considering a day at Royal Ascot this year? Go the whole nine yards and treat yourself, there really is no better way to spend a sunny June afternoon…