No, it’s not a typo. I haven’t been living it up in L.A. at the iconic Chateau Marmont with Harry Styles and RPatz (think very exclusive, no way would they let me in anyway, celeb hang out). In fact, I haven’t even left the home counties to experience the next best thing for a respectable mother in her
mid-thirties; a pop-up restaurant. For 2 nights only, Chateau Marmot brought fine dining to the contemporary River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames, just up the road (lucky us!!). I’m guessing the smart yet informal venue overlooking the River Thames was a big attraction for the Marmot to swing by Henley, that and the abundance of local produce (which they’re big on) and affluent social-media using commuters (after all, the 0744 First Great Western service from Henley to London Paddington is the most crowded train in the UK). I emphasise ‘social-media using’, as it was on Twitter that I found out about Ch. Marmot, and the majority of the people around our table of 10 had also learned of its presence via social media in some context or other (2 independently from the muddystilettos.co.uk blog. If this is the sort of thing that its author, Hero, is blogging about, I’m signing up! Hero’s Ch. Marmot review here).
As my first pop-up, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I had high hopes and wasn’t disappointed. Chateau Marmot, like its close namesake, oozes exclusivity and quality, yet aims to remove all the pomp and circumstance that most fine dining delivers. Branded with a cute little marmot with keyboard skills to boot (I like that sort of thing), it’s a real all-hands-on-deck, family affair. From the husband and wife host and hostesses Theo and Danielle, to a front-of-house apron-clad sister-in-law, who may just have come from stirring the gravy out the back, to Theo’s mum (wine writer Ros Cooper) who helped with the wine matching.
We were welcomed warmly and were seated at our table of like-minded folk, all of us eager to get stuck in to both the wine flight (a glass to match each course) and the 5-course tasting menu. Perhaps not an event for the shy and retiring or a first date, the shared seating only lent itself to the fun (I’ve been using this word too much lately, as my mother might) and informal atmosphere.
Then came the food, the quality, imagination and presentation, most of which, could easily rival the offerings of one or two local Michelin-starred gastropubs, although I wasn’t too keen on the fact that we were required to re-use our cutlery for each course (taking the ‘starch should be on potatoes, not table cloths’ ethos a little too far for my liking). The wine boffin in me however was chuffed to bits that all but the designated drivers seemed to choose the wine flight to accompany their meals, so here’s the low down;
Wine and food; course by course
- Aveleda Vinho Verde, Minho, Portugal (Henley Vintners, £7.49) Fresh, very-light, off-dry with a slight effervescence and hints of pear – not entirely dissimilar to a White Wine Spritzer. Despite this, the acidity of the wine really enhanced the locally grown Heritage tomatoes with the charming tiny edible pansies, so although the wine was not to everyone’s taste round the table, it was a great match for the first course.
- Ca’ di Alte Pinot Nero, Veneto IGT, Italy (thedrinkshop.com £7.56) Another very light wine, this time red, with a delectable raspberry explosion and hence very easy to drink. Much like drinking fruit squash on its own, but with the pork, the absolutely rapturous belly pork, this wine was bang on the money. Pinot Noir, for me, is always the perfect match for pork belly and this was no exception. My favourite course and I wonder if I’ve ever had pork belly quite this scrumptious. The ‘chilli sambal’ was a bit much for the wine, but again and more to the point, complemented the pork superbly.
- Bodegas Borsao Macabeo, Campo de Borja, Aragon, Spain (Rannoch Scott £5.29) A third wine that didn’t do much for me on its own, but matched the food precisely. A medium bodied dry white with soft acidity that really softened the deliciously creamy mackerel dish. My tummy is rumbling with the memory.
- Juan Gil 4 Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain (Rannoch Scott £8.15) This big red was almost greeted with a cheer after the 3 previous lighter wines. Monastrell rarely fails me as red wines go (often blended in the Rhone, its french name being Mourdevre) and now I know where to get some, I plan to buy some of this particular wine to drink at home, it’s just a shame I won’t have these braised beef short ribs to accompany it. Bold and brash with welcome tannin and big blackberry fruit. Thank you Marmot for this one.
- Moscatel de Setubal, Adega del Palmeira, Portugal (Bela Portugal, £8.99 75cl) I’m a sucker for a Chocolate Ganache particularly when paired with an orangey Muscat – Terry’s eat your heart out. This course and wine match really ended the meal on a high, particularly with the cheeky addition of the popping candy. Another wine I would seek out again, especially at that price.
As you can see from the wine list, the wine was relatively inexpensive but was so well thought out that each glass really complemented the food – or perhaps the delicious food complemented the wine? Considering the abundance of excellent local wine producers near to Henley, the wine list could have benefited from a local English wine. However, I love a wine flight as it makes wine drinkers try new wines that they haven’t tasted before, something that I particularly recommend to those of you who never venture from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I feel rather privileged to have been able to nab a couple of seats. If every pop-up restaurant is this good, I will definitely be on the look out for more and if Chateau Marmot choose to pop-up anywhere near you any time soon, I’d definitely recommend booking early to guarantee your seat, not only for the glorious food but the convivial experience overall.