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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Stoke Park

Humphry’s Restaurant - Stoke Park

Chef Chris Wheeler - Stoke Park


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Hotel Reviews
- Stoke Park

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Stoke Park

Humphry’s Restaurant - Stoke Park

Chef Chris Wheeler - Stoke Park

Stoke Park

It’s the kind of country-house estate that we believe has disappeared. How can there be anything this magnificent so close to London (only 35 minutes from the capital and 7 miles from Heathrow Airport)? But here it is in all its splendour. In fact it’s such an icon of classic British architecture that it’s been featured in films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and several James Bond films. The scene in Goldfinger where Odd Job decapitates a stone statue was filmed just outside these very buildings.

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I can’t understand the thrill of golf but I guess if you must whack balls then Stoke Park is the place to do it. It’s been a country club for over a hundred years and the Mansion still rings with evocative music of the 1930s during dinner. But the estate existed a long time before the advent of plus-fours and flapper dresses.

Stoke Park’s history dates back over 1,000 years to before the Domesday book, in which everything from a ham to a hamlet was recorded. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 the estate was inherited in a direct line of descent for over 500 years until it was sold to the Crown in order to pay the outstanding debts of Henry Hastings, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon.  Francis, his father, was Commander in Chief of Henry VIII’s army and it’s he who commissioned the building the original Manor House in the mid-1500s. About a third of this still exists, a short distance from the present Mansion.

london restaurant review John Penn, whose family gave its name to the US state of Pennsylvania, built most of what we find at Stoke Park today as his private family home. The newly-founded Government of the United States paid £130,000 for the 26 million acres of land in Pennsylvania that the Penns had owned, and much of that money was used for the project.

Stoke Park is a name-dropper’s dream.  The Mansion was designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III) who worked on the development of The Mansion and surrounding monuments from 1790 to 1813. It’s a Grade I listed building and that ensures its preservation, although that status does bring its own problems: the kitchens are a warren of small rooms in the basement; but there are moves afoot to extend onto the ground floor.

The parkland is the result of an alliance between two of Britain’s most celebrated eighteenth-century landscape architects. ‘Capability’ Brown planted trees and designed sweeping grassy swathes that were later to give way to the prestigious 27-hole golf course of the modern Stoke Park. It’s considered one of the finest parkland courses in the country and was created by renowned golf-course architect Harry Shapland Colt in 1908. It hosted the first PGA Matchplay tournament in 1910.

Humphry Repton, the second gardening genius, is the architect of the romantic bridge across the lake that one can see from the Mansion. It is lit at night and one has a unique vantage point from the restaurant which is also called Humphry's, paying homage to the man who did so much to make Stoke Park the stunning estate that we can all enjoy today.

The hotel offers three dining options: the relaxed and elegant Orangery; an Italian brasserie called San Marco's; and Humphry’s, which has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes. It offers Modern British cuisine with a bit of delicious innovation from Chef Chris Wheeler’s signature dishes. The food, decor, service, ambiance and even the music make this restaurant a destination in its own right. It’s open to hotel guests and non-residents alike.

The Mansion

london restaurant review Within the 50,000 square foot building are the Mansion’s 21 traditional bedrooms, Humphry's fine-dining restaurant, President's Bar, Orangery, and various function rooms. A stay here offers that classic experience of which memories are made. The public spaces are sumptuous, with corners for settling with the Sunday papers or that good book you have been saving for a quiet afternoon. The winter months, and this year most of the spring, will find open fires blazing, which add still more to the impression that you have been transported back in time.

Although the bedrooms are described as traditional it’s unlikely you will have anything like these at home. The Pennsylvania Suite was featured in the hit movie 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. But we stayed in The Coke Room which is named after Edward Coke, whom you will all remember from your history books. No, he wasn’t the man who invented a dubious carbonated beverage but was the prosecutor of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, tried and convicted within the one day, January 26, 1606.

Guy Fawkes had been discovered in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament. He had with him enough gunpowder to make a mess of the building, and the Jacobean equivalent of a box of Swan Vestas to seal his fate. Tickets for the trial changed hands like seats for the Cup Final, with Sir Edward Coke describing the attempt at political mass murder as: “the greatest treasons that ever were plotted in England.” As a reward for his services he was first knighted and then made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Coke died on 3 September 1634, aged 82, as a result of a horse falling on him. He didn’t die in this bedroom, as he would have been living in the original house, the remains of which can be seen from this 18th century mansion.

The Coke Room is a splendid example of romantic English furnishing, with a high four-poster bed with large fluffy pillows, a sofa with large fluffy cushions, and a bathroom (big enough to accommodate a tea dance) with large fluffy bath robes. Stoke Park is mindful that however much you might appreciate being wafted back to a gentler time there is still going to be the need for communication that only technology can provide. Wi-Fi access and a flat-screen TV will also be yours, along with an open fire which will provide a much more calming picture.

The Pavilion

Completed in 2002 the Pavilion is very much the younger sibling to the Mansion but there is no mistaking its pedigree. Stonework and sympathetically designed windows match the Park perfectly. This new hotel complex houses a state-of-the-art gymnasium and sports facilities. There is an indoor swimming pool (kids have their own times for splashing about), spa and steam rooms, San Marco restaurant for casual family meals, and supervised crèche and under eights' playroom. All hotel guests have access to these facilities.

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In 2008, 28 new luxury contemporary bedrooms were launched along with the Garden Lounge on the first floor of the Pavilion. The bedrooms here are all individually furnished and decorated – film posters along with four-posters here, mirror-finish desks, and shelves of modern novels just in case you forgot that good book. These rooms have a totally different ambiance from those of the Mansion, but quality provides continuity.

Take advantage of great offers this month. Relax, enjoy the spa and try your hand at some tennis.
    Overnight accommodation
    Three-course Dinner
    Full English breakfast 
    Complimentary use of Health and Racquet facilities
    (indoor swimming pool with hydro-seats, state-of-the-art gymnasium, multi-surface tennis courts, steam rooms, dance and fitness studio)

From £150 per person per night based on two people sharing a Superior Room. Standard upgrade charges apply. If you would like to book, call reservations on 01753 717171.
Available Friday nights in May, subject to availability.

Sunday Afternoon Decadence

Why not make your Sunday a little more special with a relaxing break at Stoke Park? Take Afternoon Tea with sandwiches, cakes, scones and clotted cream, along with your choice of a wide range of teas and coffees. Yes, afternoon tea is available all over London but here you have a backdrop of stunning views of the estate. Visit the Health and Racquet Pavilion with its tennis courts and gym or unwind in the award-winning spa.

The Sunday Package includes:
    One night’s accommodation
    Full English breakfast
    Late check-out at 3pm (subject to availability)
    Traditional afternoon tea for two
    Complimentary use of Health and Racquet facilities
    (indoor swimming pool with hydro-seats, state-of-the-art gymnasium, multi-surface tennis courts, steam rooms, dance and fitness studio)

From £198.00 per room. (Offer based on two people sharing a Superior Room. Normal supplements apply. If you would like to book, please call reservations on 01753 717171 and quote 'SUNTEA'.)

Valid until Sunday, 30th December 2012
(Excluding 3rd, 17th & 24th June, 29th July, 5th, 12th & 26th August)

Humphry's is open to all for:

Lunch: noon - 2.30pm
Dinner: 7.00pm - 10.00pm

Stoke Park
Park Road
Stoke Poges
Buckinghamshire SL2 4PG
Phone: 01753 717171

Visit Stoke Park here

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Humphry’s Restaurant – Stoke Park

london restaurant review

It is indeed a park, and a world-renowned 27-hole golf course set in landscaped grounds. Lots of facilities for club members, as well as for those taking advantage of day-membership and hospitality packages. But there is a stunning little corner of Stoke Park which is open to the general public and at a price that will surprise and delight.

london restaurant review Humphry Repton (1752 –1818) is considered the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century. He has been described as the successor to the celebrated Capability Brown. He gives his name to the restaurant which has a view of the bridge across the lake, which he designed. It’s a testament to enduring British quality, and so is the restaurant. Humphry worked with trees rather than truffles; chef Chris Wheeler still maintains those timeless high standards.

Chris is a member of the Craft Guild of Chefs and his culinary CV is creditable, as one would expect for a man at the helm of such a prestigious restaurant. Chris was Group Head Chef of Jean-Christophe Novelli’s empire. Chris has worked in various Michelin-star restaurants and in 2005 Jean-Christophe invited Chris to appear with him on TV's ‘Hell's Kitchen’.

london restaurant review Chris joined Stoke Park in 2003 and has built a reputation around using only fresh and, where possible, British ingredients. Humphry’s has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes in recognition of its outstanding food and customer service. Now this fine dining restaurant is open to everybody. The prices are remarkably reasonable for such food and ambiance, although it’s a friendly restaurant which gives every visitor a warm welcome.

Humphry’s is every inch an 18th century dining room. High ceilings, gold-papered panels, and windows overlooking that eponymous bridge, which is shown to greatest advantage at night when it is flood-lit. This is indeed an ideal spot for a romantic dining interlude. Chandeliers twinkle and illuminate one of the most striking restaurants you are likely to find anywhere. The background music will make diners of ‘a certain age’ smile – a selection of tracks that would have been familiar to those guests in the 1920s and 30s, when such places were the private domain of well-heeled flappers and the plus-foured set. (I’m sure I heard the mellow crooning of a youthful Louis Armstrong.) Ordinary sorts are now welcomed, without an invitation from a club member or the need for a hyphenated surname.

london restaurant review The menu changes frequently but every evening will offer dishes that showcase the best from land and sea. Chris comes from Dorset so it was no surprise to find crab from his home county: a starter of Dorset Crab, King Prawns and Avocado Tian with Cucumber, Soft-Boiled Quails Egg and Pink Grapefruit Segments – a beautiful presentation and a light start to our substantial feast. The citrus fruit gave a fresh tang to the sweet seafood.

‘Grilled Fillet of Sea Bass with Potato Puree, Samphire, Clams and Teign Mussels Nage’: that sounds cheffy, but a nage is simply stock used for poaching delicate seafood. It’s usually flavoured with white wine, vegetables, and herbs, then reduced and thickened with cream or butter. The broth was delicious but the bass was the star, with tender flesh and crispy skin.

Spiced Poached Baby Pears with Deep-fried Cardamom Rice Pudding, Home-made Plum Jam, Almond Ice Cream and Spicy Bread Crisp was my guest’s aromatic choice for dessert, and illustrated why folks dine out. One could make a stab at the bass main course at home, but this dessert had several elements that only a confident cook would tackle. Come to Humphry's and enjoy the efforts of the professionals.

london restaurant review Yes, it’s a smart place but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Chris offers a whimsical dessert, or more accurately a slew of individual bites, called Humphry’s ‘Snickers’ - Milk Chocolate and Peanut Mousse, Salted Chocolate Caramel, Caramel Foam, Peanut Tuile. If you are a lover of that moreish chocolate bar then you will delight in this deconstructed and very classy version here. All those original flavours and textures are moulded and mounded to give a truly sophisticated dessert that could even constitute a small sharing platter, if you are filled to near capacity by the previously-consumed savouries.

Whilst it’s true that Humphry’s is a refined restaurant with all the polish for which one would hope, the staff are attentive but unobtrusive. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their bill of fare and able to give advice not only on the food but on suitable wine pairings, should you need some support. Humphry’s is the sort of place that one might have expected to reserve only for very special occasions, anniversaries and birthdays, but in fact it’s an accessible and friendly fine-dining restaurant that will encourage one to return just because it’s affordable luxury.

london restaurant review

Humphry's is open to the public for:
Lunch 12.00pm - 2.30pm
Dinner 7.00pm - 10.00pm

Humphry’s restaurant - Stoke Park
Park Road, Stoke Poges
Buckinghamshire SL2 4PG
Tel: 01753 717171
Fax: 01753 717181
View all that Stoke Park has to offer here

Mostly Food and Travel Journal Interviews

Chef Chris Wheeler - Stoke Park

Mostly Food and Travel Journal Interviews Only 35 minutes from the capital and 7 miles from London Heathrow airport, Stoke Park offers everything you might want from a sport and leisure resort, and in the most magnificent surroundings, combined with one of the best hotels and restaurants. It’s been used as a film location for James Bond’s Goldfinger and for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The estate dates back more than a thousand years but the facilities here are much newer, indeed state-of-the-art, and can be enjoyed by Club members as well as those who just want a day or two of activity, pampering and relaxation, or just the opportunity to enjoy some outstanding food.

The Mansion was designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III) and it’s now a Grade I listed building, and it looks the part after extensive yet sympathetic restoration. The kitchens are still in the basement and they are a maze of small rooms, although new facilities will soon be flying from drawing board to reality.

That labyrinth of kitchens is the domain of Chef Chris Wheeler and his staff who have earned an enviable reputation along with a brace of AA rosettes for Humphry's, the restaurant. That is named after the architect of the 18th century bridge that is the centrepiece of the view from the restaurant windows – a view that becomes more romantic and striking at night when it’s floodlit.

Chef Chris Wheeler was born in Swanage, Dorset, on England’s south coast. His family didn’t have a catering background but his Dad has a massive allotment and loves gardening, and his grandmother loved cooking. “My Mum was at home, and we used to run back from school for lunch and there was always something from the garden freshly made: vegetables, shepherd’s pie – it doesn’t take long to make a good shepherd’s pie!”

Mostly Food and Travel Journal Interviews  He wanted to start a career in food and so signed up for a 2-year course at Bournemouth College. After the first year Chris had the choice of going to France or staying in the UK for a restaurant placement. He chose to cross the Channel. “I trained back-of-house with a chef and that really changed me. When I came back to college I found I was so much more passionate about food. I had worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was amazing – that was the experience that decided me: I really wanted to be in food.”

The life of a chef was a mystery to Chris’s parents, but they wanted to be supportive. “When I was leaving college my Dad got me a job at a fish-and-chip shop, for £150 a week. I didn’t want that job but neither did I want to upset anyone by turning it down.” Chris had won a Student of the Year award at college and applied for a job with Jean-Christophe Novelli, at £50 a week, and with lots more hours than at the fish-and-chip shop! He started work on a busy Saturday and Jean-Christophe asked Chris to stay on for Sunday. So he didn’t go home and slept in a chair to be ready for the next day.  “I had loved doing the Saturday night service, and knew that I was not going to cook fish and chips – I really wanted to do the Sunday service. So I told my Dad that I was going to earn the same money! As it happened after a few weeks I was up to £150, so it worked out alright.” Not so much an economy of truth, more a premonition.

After college Chris went to work for Jean-Christophe Novelli full-time at Le Provence in Hampshire, but he wanted to be a pastry chef, and so took time away to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant with a pastry chef for 6 months, to perfect his art. “I think a lot of chefs don’t know pastry, and I like to be ‘hands-on’. After all, it’s a three-course meal and my name’s on the menu, so although I have a brilliant team of chefs, I need to be able to jump in if something goes wrong.”

Chris returned to Jean-Christophe Novelli armed with that new patisserie skill, but instead of baking he worked front-of-house as General Manager for a couple of years. “That changed the way I work with serving staff. I saw that waiters have to smile all the time when they are serving, then come downstairs to be verbally abused by the chefs! So I send all my staff to work upstairs for a week, to see the other side.”

Chris wanted explore other aspects of the food industry and so did some freelance work for a year, preparing corporate lunches, but that didn’t have the buzz of ‘service’ and didn’t offer the same level of motivation. He came to Stoke Park initially for a few weeks just to help out, and it really did impress the young chef. “It had the ‘wow’ factor as I came up the drive! I fell in love with it straightaway, and we’ve had a good relationship ever since. It’s really exciting for me, and the team, to be associated with filming Bridget Jones, and with catering for golfing events and the top tennis players in the world, who come for the Boodles championship just before Wimbledon. It’s nice that we have now opened our doors to the public and can say ‘Come and try this food.’

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