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Shaun Dickens at the Boathouse

The Boathouse, Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AZ, United Kingdom

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Shaun Dickens trained at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons, Per Se and L’Ortolan before opening The Boathouse in April 2013.  As the name suggests, the premises is on the river, with a terrace at the back facing the water. The dining room seats 46 customers at capacity. There was a tasting menu (with a full vegetarian alternative menu) at £45. At lunch three courses were priced at £27.95, with additional courses from the dinner menu available at a supplement. From the à la carte, starters were £11 - £14, mains £19 to £24, and desserts £10.

The wine list was arranged by style rather than by geography, ranging in price from £25 to £350. There were just over 50 bottles with a median price of £41 and an average mark-up of 2.8 times retail price. It is a measure of the times that this level of mark-up seems positively kindly nowadays, at least compared with London. This list was quite international, with 46% of the list from France, but with wines from as far afield as Uruguay, Austria and Hungary, and even England  (11 different countries in all were represented). Examples included Mansion House Bay Riesling 2013 at £26 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Domaine Fichet Macon Ige “Chateau London” 2011 at £55 compared to a shop price of around £18, and Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 2011 at £95 for a wine that will set you back £55 at retail price.  

The meal began with a pair of nibbles.  A rice cracker was topped with smoked cod roe and harissa, the texture of the cracker excellent, the spice of the harissa working well with the fish roe. This was better than an onion, caraway and Parmesan doughnut, which had plenty of flavour but was a little doughy in texture (on average 14/20 nibbles). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a wholemeal loaf with fennel seeds. The texture of the bread was good, but as fennel seeds have such a distinct and strong flavour I wonder whether it would be better to offer a plain version as an alternative.

Torched salmon with watermelon, granola, honey and yoghurt is an odd-sounding combination that worked quite well, the melon of good quality and the differing textures combining nicely, the overall flavour lifted by a little picked ginger (14/20). Beetroot with salted haddock and balsamic vinegar was also nice, the vinegar used in pickling the beetroot working well with the fish (14/20).

A pretty looking artichoke barigoule dish came with fennel, carrot and goat curds. The artichokes had good flavour and the combination of the elements was quite effective (14/20). I had an impressive dish of crisp fried leek with frozen Parmesan and leek puree and horseradish, served with beef carpaccio to one side. The beef was fine but I was particularly taken with the crisp leek, its texture working nicely with the beef and the horseradish and Parmesan flavours in careful balance (15/20).

Stone bass came with ricotta, parcels of agnolotti pasta resting on discs of red pepper, almonds and sauce vierge.  The fish was precisely cooked and carefully seasoned, its skin crisp, and the pasta was a nice complement to the fish (15/20). Turbot was poached in verjus and had a crust of lemon, caper and chive. It was served with confit celery and spring onion with dehydrated grape purée. The fish was carefully cooked but the overall effect of the crust was a touch dry, while the onions themselves could have been of higher quality (14/20).

A selection of English cheeses (from premiere Cheese) was attractively presented at the table. We tried Wigmore, Tymborough, Wyfe of Bath, Admiral Collingwood, Mayhill Green, Boxer (coated with barley), Harrogate Blue and Stilton that had been soaked for a month in port. It was a pleasant change to encounter a cheese board in a UK restaurant where everything was in good condition. On the side were crackers, and a pair of chutneys, one of apple and fig and the other of dates.

A pre-dessert was coffee espuma and chicory jam with confit grue de cacao (roasted then crushed cocoa bean). This had pleasingly intense coffee flavour (15/20). My main dessert was redcurrant parfait with chocolate and chestnut streusel (a crumbly topping), dehydrated chocolate mousse, fresh mint purée, red currant gel, a topping of chestnut ice cream, cranberry and mint. There was quite a lot going on here but the assorted textures worked effectively together, and the fruit balanced the richness of the chocolate (14/20).

I was impressed with a coffee and chocolate dessert with caramel and chocolate “aero”, with a cappuccino tuile. The chocolate itself (a Belgian brand called Callebaut) was silky and enjoyable, the coffee flavour good and the tuile was extremely delicate (16/20). Coffee was Illy, served with petit fours of a “pie” of blueberry and meringue, actually on a shortbread biscuit base.

Service was very good, even featuring that rarest of creatures in the UK hospitality scene – an English waitress, and a good one at that. The bill came to £93 before service, including wine and pre-meal drinks. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head including coffee would come to around £75. Overall this was an excellent meal, the best dishes at one star Michelin level. 

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  • valerie phelps

    Two great friends and I had a superb evening, from the moment we were welomed by Christine. A spiffing gin and tonic from a Hobbs family recipe set the tone of delight, enhanced by the very helpful and friendly waiters,especially Chiara, Igor and Rab. Everyting contributed to a sense of wellbeing, as if we were in an opera which unfolded effortlessly and charmingly, beside the Thames. Every detail of the tasting menu was inspired, with some excitng and original combinations, all artistically arranged. To single outone would be unfair ,yet the broccoli with almond was outs tsanding, and I could have had that for all 6 courses, although I am glad I didn't, as the others were SO good too. We had a heavenly time, with delicious wine which seemed to help us be even wittier than usual . We said we couldn't manage the cheese, but when we saw the attractive basket, and heard the enticing story of each English one, we succumbed. I had had no idea cheese could be so delicous and varied Wow! I thank God for this wonderful experience.