The Gallery Restaurant at Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking RH5 6AA - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 18:59 31 August 2014 | UPDATED: 14:27 01 September 2014
As England's largest vineyard, Denbies is also one of our best-known visitor attractions - but what is less well-known is that tucked away on the third floor of the iconic flint-clad building is a fine dining restaurant with spectacular views. Caroline Harrap pays a visit
The Gallery Restaurant, Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking RH5 6AA.Tel: 01306 876616. Web: denbies.co.uk
What we ate:
The Gallery Restaurant Dinner as part of the Horse Drawn Carriage Ride Experience, £55 per person • Duo of Soups: Heirloom Tomato and Butterbean Soup, £5.50 if purchased individually
• Mushroom, Brie, Hazelnut and Cranberry Wellington with Garden Salad & New Potato Cake, £13.75 if purchased individually
• Glass of Denbies’ Broadwoods Folly sparkling wine, £6.25 if purchased individually
• Glass of Denbies’ Rose Hill NV rosé, £5.50
REVIEW: I think it’s fair to say that our little county has enjoyed something of a renaissance just lately when it comes to food and drink. Not only do we have a number of excellent restaurants now, as borne out by the inaugural Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards last year (for the list of the winners, click here), but we also have a thriving wine scene too. In fact, with several well-established vineyards across the county and new ones seemingly springing up all the time, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to claim Surrey as the wine capital of the UK.
It all started, however, back in the early 1980s when a geologist called Professor Richard Selling spotted the potential for growing vines on the chalky soil of the North Downs around Dorking – which has similar conditions to the Champagne region of France. In short, he got in touch with the owner of the land, Adrian White, convinced him to give it a try and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, with an impressive 265 acres of vines, Denbies is officially the largest vineyard in the country – not to mention one of Surrey’s best-known attractions with a £3.3m visitor centre that is also home to a working winery with its own cellars, the popular Conservatory Café and a well- stocked gift shop, among other things.
What is perhaps less well-known, however, is that tucked away upstairs on the third floor of the iconic flint-clad building is also a fine dining restaurant called The Gallery – and one that with its panoramic outlook onto the surrounding vineyard has some of the best views of any restaurant in the county – if not the country.
So, what better place then to take my French partner, who himself hails from the famous wine region of Bordeaux, to show him just what we have to offer here in Surrey.
Fortuitously, the evening of our visit also happened to coincide with one of Denbies’ regular horse and carriage ride experiences, where you can enjoy a 20-minute amble across the vineyard prior to dinner. And so it was that on a mild summer’s evening, the sun low in the sky, we headed off on our horse-drawn jaunt around the vines.
As we enjoyed the magnificent scenery, and pretended we were back in Bordeaux or similar, we were entertained by our helpful host, Paul, a veritable mine of information about the vineyard. I was particularly interested to learn that if the temperature drops below one degree centigrade, whatever time it is, day or night, the vineyard manager gets an automatic text so that he can race over to activate the heaters and protect the fragile vines from the frost. And that applies even if it’s three in the morning!
Back at the château-like visitor centre, and looking forward now to dinner, we boarded the glass lift and whooshed up to The Gallery restaurant. What awaited us was a simple, contemporary, loft-like setting – all wooden beams, smart white tablecloths and huge glass windows – designed to set off those views to their best effect. And what views they are – the spectacular rolling vineyards giving way to the dark green foliage of the surrounding Surrey Hills; we could almost have been in our own private French valley.
As we perused the menu, a tray of tasty canapés was dispatched as well as a glass of Denbies’ Broadwoods Folly sparkling wine – one of a number of their offerings that have achieved international acclaim. Crisp, dry and very more-ish, it made the perfect aperitif.
The menu itself is made up of a small selection of seasonally changing dishes, several with a local twist, such as the starter of warm goat’s cheese accompanied by Shere Drop Ale Chutney and salad leaves from nearby Secretts, or the main course of Denbies Beer Battered Cod.
As both of us are vegetarian, we were immediately drawn to the duo of vegetable soups for the starter – although I don’t think either of us could have guessed quite what was coming. Beautifully presented, one half of the bowl was literally tomato and the other half butterbean! While Marc mixed his up, I dipped my spoon into each half, alternately savouring the different tastes. Whichever way you choose to eat it, the flavours really sing out – and the vegetable crisps on the top were a nice touch too.
Coupled with the fantastic fresh bread rolls, which even Marc had to admit were good enough to rival those in a French bakery, we were both equally thrilled with our choice.
And so onto the main course, and once again we both went for the same thing – the Mushroom, Brie, Hazelnut and Cranberry Wellington with garden salad and a new potato cake. Not normally a fan of pastry, even I had to admit this particular pie was pretty much the best I had tasted – while the verdict from the other side of the table was equally enthusiastic.
Meanwhile, we washed it all down with a glass of Denbies’ Rose Hill, a dry, light rosé with flavours that veritably leapt from the glass.
Feeling fully satisfied from the generous portions, we couldn’t manage dessert, but there were some very enticing-sounding options such as Traditional Summer Pudding served with clotted cream and strawberries poached in Denbies’ sparkling wine. We were also tempted by the platter of three locally produced cheeses, but decided in the end to resist. Instead, we sipped on our drinks, gazing out at the mesmerising scenery as the sun slipped behind the hills in a pink-haze.
In summary, this is definitely the place to go if you have a visitor to stay – there can be few restaurants that show off the Surrey Hills to quite such spectacular effect – and we were entranced.
If we had one small quibble, we did feel that the restaurant was perhaps slightly understaffed on this particular night, with the service a little on the slow side, but to be honest we were so busy enjoying everything else that it didn’t really matter.
Our food was also excellent, and at £55 for the full Horse & Carriage Experience, which includes the carriage ride, sparkling wine and canapés and a three-course dinner with coffee, we felt it was pretty good value too.
Best of all though were those views, which are incomparable locally – our own little piece of France here in Surrey.
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