Fine dining in beautiful Henley-on-Thames? When Bitten was invited to sample Ember’s tasting menu, I jumped at the chance!
Ember is the brand-new restaurant at Crockers Henley, a stylish hotel-with-dining housed in a Georgian townhouse on the Market Place. They welcomed us warmly. A preview of the friendly, attentive service – and took in the vibe of relaxed elegance and comfort. A series of small rooms offer the perfect boutique experience. Very cosy décor of exposed brick, grey walls, and warm brown leather. The restaurant has two sleek, modern open kitchen areas for special ‘chef’s table’ bookings. This is where you can watch your meal being prepared! That’s a whole other evening and on my radar for a future visit.
The intrigue of dishes ‘inspired by fire and flame’ only added to the interest of the evening.
Tasting menus are a great way to get an insight into a restaurant’s style and a well-designed one will present a carefully-selected range of the chef’s signature dishes. Tom Westerland created the Ember menu and it features six courses of refined seasonal food. Our preview evening included a flight of paired wines, so all we had to do was sit back and appreciate the meal.
We started with a little plate of rabbit topped with rarebit sauce and Wiltshire truffle. The meat was delicious, with just a hint of caramelisation on the edges, and the truffle added a heady muskiness. I really like the taste of rabbit and found the blast of truffle to be a little bit too much. Though my companion welcomed the intensity. Pillowy-soft tiger bread with Branston pickle butter and cheese arrived with it. This upscale riff on the flavours of a ploughmans’ lunch was a charming touch. A good example of the kitchen’s creativity.
The second course was a smooth duck parfait. Barbecued pineapple, rum-soaked raisins, and hazelnuts topped it. While the duck mousse wasn’t particularly distinctive, a piece of brioche topped with the jewel-like elements together was lovely. The contrasting textures worked well and I enjoyed the almost-over-the-top sweetness of the dish. The Gewurztraminer wine pairing added even more notes of fruit and honey.
The plate of octopus that arrived next was one of the highlights of the meal.
The octopus was cooked in a sous vide to a firm tenderness before being fried in a Kentucky spice blend. A pickled cucumber and a chorizo ketchup was paired with it which was a perfect match. Everything was well seasoned and didn’t overwhelm the star ingredient: the sauce. It had just a hint of paprika, while the pickle mix was delicate and light. I wasn’t able to persuade our server, the manager, or the chef to divulge the secret spice mix (I tried!). So, the only way I’ll get more is by returning to Ember very soon.
The classic beef fillet was another delectable plate that got everything right. Served rare, the little steak was perfectly tender and buttery. The rich bone marrow complemented the mildness, along with the stronger flavours of tiny smoked onions and sweet clove-spiced red cabbage. Paired with a smooth French Malbec, this deceptively simple main course tasted of delicious refinement.
Dessert was in two stages, starting with a cute little palate-cleanser called the ‘Fab’. The strawberry-gin sorbet shaped like the iconic lolly was amusing, fruity, and a little bit boozy. It set us up nicely for the beautiful main dessert, ‘Ember’, which was two rich chocolate truffles on a plate of glowing coals fashioned from mandarin shards and crunchy popping candy. I thought of it as a luxuriously pimped-up chocolate orange. The ‘Noble Riesling’ dessert wine added extra sweet citrus and helped bring our dinner to happy conclusion.
Overall, dinner was well executed, inventive, and full of delightful flavours.
The ‘fire and flame’ concept was a bit of a stretch for a few dishes, but it didn’t really matter. We left feeling very indulged and I’d highly recommend sampling Tom’s menu when you are in the mood for a culinary treat.
The Chef’s menu costs £60, is only available for dinner and must be taken by the whole table. There is a vegetarian option. Most dishes are also on the a la carte menu at lunch and dinner.
We dined as guests of Ember, all views remain our own.