This boutique hotel, on the side of a country road near Marlow and Henley, opened in August 2016. It is a new place, a rebuild on the site of an old pub called the Red Lion. There is extensive garden seating and ample parking, with a large bar and a dining room seating around 40 diners. The name conjures up images of a country house hotel based in some Georgian mansion, and the décor seems to be in two minds as to whether it is going for this image or that of a friendly country pub. In charge of its kitchen is Michael Chapman, who was head chef of the Michelin starred Royal Oak after having previously worked with Marcus Wareing. He has a team of four chefs, and was working this evening at service.
The dining room has a stone floor and wood-panelled walls, and the hard surfaces contribute to a quite noisy room. The background noise level was around 90 decibels or so (roughly equivalent to a lorry trundling by next to you), but peaked much higher than that. I am not sure what, if anything, that they can do to improve this, but bear in mind that on a busy night it is not a place for a quiet chat. Lighting in the dining room was rather murky, hence the matching photos. It does at least does have comfortable chairs and well spaced tables, a pleasant change if you are used to eating in trendy London dining rooms. The menu is very appealing, full of crowd-pleasing dishes.
The wine list, put together by the former sommelier at The Harwood Arms who has now moved here, is a joy to behold. The 137 bottle list ranged in price from £20 to £280 with a median price of £45, and extensive tasting notes for each wine. It is great to see such attention to detail when some London restaurants these days cannot even be bothered to list the vintages. On the list 49% of the wines were from France, but there were offerings from as far afield as Greece, Argentina and Lebanon. Sample bottles included Umathum Rosa 2015 at £36 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, the lovely Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett JJ Prum 2012 at £55 compared to its retail price of £19, and Ramey Chardonnay 2013 at £80 for a bottle that will set you back £33 in a shop. At the high end of the list there were labels such as Gruaud-Larose 2004 at £140 compared to a retail price of £53 and Lynch-Bages 2001 at £230 for a bottle whose current market price is £116. The average mark-up to retail price was just 2.5, which is way below the norm in London, and indeed in Berkshire. If only all wine lists were of this standard.
To begin with a crab salad was fresh and shell-free, and came with ruby grapefruit and very good quality bronze fennel (a variety with a slightly more delicate flavour than regular fennel). This was refreshing, the grapefruit a classic balancing act with the crab (14/20). I tried a chicken liver parfait with fig chutney and radish, which had pleasant texture. For me the liver flavour could have been deeper, and the dish could have benefitted from something to better balance the richness of the liver, such as some salad leaves with a slightly acidic dressing; however this was certainly enjoyable enough (13/20).
Plaice was pan-fried and came with brown shrimps and lemon butter sauce. The fish was accurately cooked and had good flavour, though was rather lukewarm by the time that it arrived (13/20). This was more successful than my grouse Wellington. The bought-in pastry was visibly undercooked, yet the grouse inside, though described as “medium rare” when we ordered, was distinctly on the well-done side of medium; perhaps it had been resting a little long? This came with game chips and some quite nice broccoli, along with a rich sauce of the cooking juices. Overall, though, it was fairly disappointing (11/20). Chips were made from scratch and were excellent, though Chanteney carrots did not have as much flavour as I was hoping for.
We tried a perfectly pleasant apple and blackberry crumble that came with vanilla ice cream. This had good fruit and the crumble had reasonable texture (13/20). However a mango mousse with passion fruit jelly was let down by a calamansi sorbet that was far too sharp, as if someone had forgotten to add sugar to the syrup (barely 11/20). There is apparently a specialist pastry chef about to start, and this will doubtless help matters. Coffee was very good, from a company called The Gentlemen Baristas in Borough Market.
Service was excellent, with our (English) waitress friendly and welcoming. The bill, with good quality wine, came to £95 a head. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical all-in price per head might be around £70. Hurley House has an appealing menu and an attractive setting, and a chef with an excellent track record. However tonight it felt as if the kitchen was still finding its feet, with a few glitches apparent. The food was somewhere between12/20 and 13/20 territory, though the best dishes were better than this, so I am inclined towards kindness in the overall score. I am sure the kitchen will settle down in time and become more consistent, and this was relatively early days. Hurley House was already busy this evening just a few weeks after opening, so no doubt will prosper.