Acqua Restaurant at the Forbury Hotel, Crowne PlazaBy Kim Francis
December 31, 2008
Many of the finest restaurants are located in hotels – think of Reading’s own Cerise and Eden restaurants headed up by former Michelin-starred chef and food monthly writer Daniel Galmiche at The Forbury Hotel.
Run by head chef Paul Riley, Acqua at the Crowne Plaza hotel on Richfield Avenue is fast becoming known as a local dining destination, having recently been awarded 2 AA rosettes following an inspection in October.
I recently visited to taste the difference that Paul has made to this restaurant.
Situated just off the hotel’s main lobby, it is large and airy with a perfect view of the hotel’s coming and goings.
This makes for a buzzy atmosphere and also has the benefit of neither feeling intimidating nor so intimate that you’re afraid to raise your voice above a whisper.
That’s not to say the setting isn’t romantic. In fact, you can easily tuck yourself away unnoticed in a private corner where your mutual sweet nothings are unlikely to be overheard.
After enjoying a drink and nibbles from the bar while we pored over the menu, we were led to our table and promptly ordered a half bottle of the Rioja white (£8.95). As the designated driver, it is good to know that half bottles are available if only one of you is drinking.
We began with some bread and olives (£3.50) while we waited for our starters. It was so satisfyingly warm and soft that I couldn’t help eating far more than my fair share, filling me up.
But, once my seared Falmouth Bay scallops (£8.25) appeared, the enticing simultaneously sweet and savoury aroma was enough to revive my appetite.
The scallops were the perfect texture and had an almost nutty aroma with a subtle ginger flavour that was enhanced by a divinely sweet vanilla overtone. A bottom layer of cubed parsnips was paired with a topping of parsnip crisps to add a crunchy texture.
Darren went for one of Paul’s signature dishes for his starter, the pressed ham hock (£6.95).
The ham came with cubes of parsley potatoes and black pudding set into the centre, alongside some slices of French toast and a separate jar of homemade piccalilli that was sweet, strong and tangy.
Paul’s signature dish from the main course options is a beautifully cooked fillet of brill (£18.50) and I was eager to sample it. Not only did it look great but the smell was amazing and really tickled the tastebuds.
A broccoli and rosemary crumb with pine nuts added a crunchy dimension to the dish, which was complemented by the subtle flavours of a thick white bean veloute, and a finely chopped, strongly-flavoured wild mushroom mix on top.
Darren went for a burger – or more precisely 200g of organic Laverstoke Park steak mince (£11.25).
Topped with onion relish, smoked bacon and Emmental cheese, it was spicy, crumbly and meaty rather than fatty.
This was a quality burger stuffed inside a ciabatta bun and Darren ate every mouthful, but it was the goose fat chips that did it for me. Now, I’ve seen big chips but these were the biggest blighters I’ve ever come across and Darren got seven of them.
They were really hot and astoundingly soft right the way through. In fact, they were perfectly cooked chips.
Shared side orders of tasty fine beans and shallots (£2.75) and sautéed spinach in plenty of garlic butter (£2.75) completed our mains, although there was more than enough food without these.
We couldn’t leave without trying Paul’s fabulous desserts, and with me a lover of warm puddings, I was only ever having the pecan pie with toffee fig ice cream (£6.50).
Darren went with the waiter’s recommendation of aromatic rice pudding, crème fraiche ice cream and mango smoothie (£6.50).
The pecan pie had a gloriously crumbly texture while the ice cream was lovely with toffee fig pieces set within it. A separate jug of custard had a rich, vanilla flavour while some spun sugar added crunch.
Darren’s dessert was really interestingly presented. Three individual miniature helpings were laid out lengthwise along a slate, with the cardamom-flavoured rice pudding first, then the ice cream and finally an individual glass filled with mango smoothie.
The flavours of all three married brilliantly and Darren, normally so generous, barely left a smidgen for me to try.
We ended with coffee (for me) and a liqueur (for Darren), remarking on the quality of the food as well as the restaurant’s ambience, before heading home.
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