Crockers: fine dining without the fuss
Desperate to make an occasion of it? The Chef’s Table experience at this superb new Henley restaurant with rooms is just what you need. The Muddy verdict is in.
There’s a new restaurant in town and he’s a handsome fella. You’ll find Crockers sitting flush on Market Square, bang in the centre of Henley, with its confident dark signage, wide windows and outdoor seating. You’re a few minutes’ walk from the river here, about, ooh, ten seconds to the nearest retailer, and very much in the buzzy bit of this elegant Oxfordshire town. This is the second Crockers, the first (much smaller) bar/restaurant fizzing since 2018 in Tring, Hertfordshire. Crockers Henley launched in March of course closed again almost immediately due to Covid, only re-opening its doors in August.
Well it depends where you’re sitting. The front of the restaurant feels quite informal, relaxed and busy (there’s a small bar there for starters) and looks out onto the square. The day I visit a family with two young kids was eating there, and three young stylish friends. As you weave your way back through the building it feels more grown up and ‘restauranty’ though there’s a lovely small courtyard that is perfect for those just wanting a drink.
Finally as you push the doors into one of the two chef’s table spaces, it gets a bit tingly and exciting with 16 elegant velvet chairs on three sides of a brushed metal table, with views onto the open kitchen. It’s like entering an theatre – it felt like an intention to have an experience, not just a meal which I love and there is much made of the idea of fine dining without the pretension here. I dressed up a bit because it’s been so long since I last went out somewhere special but you’d be just as welcome in jeans.
SCOFF & QUAFF
You can choose between two chef’s tables – Pan Asian with head chef Iain Dixon (former head chef at Foxhill Manor); or Modern British with head chef Dean Westcar, below, ex head chef at Michelin-starred Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park, runner up in National Chef of the Year and MasterChef: The Professional finalist – so, you know, not too shabby.
I took the ball-and-chain to experience Modern British, 10 courses (£95) with wine flight (an additional £65), and we were both blown away by the food, which was exquisite and the fun of watching the chefs at work, cooking, plating up (the attention to detail was extraordinary) and then serving us each course. It’s hard to pick out favourite courses but the risotto with black garlic-infused balsamic vinegar, tomato, ricotta and basil, below, was virtually an X-rated experience for my palate, all the flavours delicately balanced.
Other highlights were the seaweed and cod entrée with lime and avocado, slightly too big for me to dispatch in one mouthful (though we were encouraged) but all the better for savouring twice. Only the cheese course slightly disappointed where a crumpet base slightly messed with my traditional preference for individual slabs, though full marks for using Nettlebed Creamery’s local Highmoor cheese.
But seriously, I’m being picky here. You can see for yourself how beautiful it all was -the images below speak for themselves. (Spoiler: attach napkin now to prevent drooling).
The wine flight was interesting too, predominantly French and well thought through. There was a fabulous Gusbourne British sparkling wine from Kent to start which was a smart touch.
There are 7 bedrooms, all to the same broad interior theme of four poster, roll top bath elegance, a swipe of leather, a cool graphic print on the wall and a whopper full English breakfast the morning after the night before. Some of the rooms look out onto Market Square so could be a bit noisy on weekends (this is a guess, I haven’t stayed overnight yet), but I imagine you’d be too smashed to care after a 10 course wine flight anyway. There’s a separate entrance for staying guests and an elegant winding staircase that takes you to the rooms. The bedrooms are the secondary experience to the food, but not by far.
OUT AND ABOUT
Henley is my secret ‘wish I lived here’ town because there’s so much going on – it’s perfect for a night or weekend away. Retail-wise there are some lovely indie shops (Fluidity for fashion, The Bell Bookshop, Tiny Gallery and The Ferret for antiques) amongst the high street staples of Whistles, Joules and Paperchase. You can hire boats from Hobbs of Henley and cruise around this gorgeous stretch of the Thames, or walk the tow-path and the locks for miles in each direction. Henley has an excellent park for kids too, just outside the family-friendly River & Rowing Museum.
Greys Court, one of my favourite National Trust properties is just outside Henley (go in the spring for the extraordinary bluebell forest) and 850 year old Stonor Park (above), with its house, gardens and playground is another great day out. Historic Cliveden is a 15 minute drive (walk from the National Trust carpark following the river up to the house for a stunning approach). Reading is your closest city at 15 minutes – you’ll have to go 45 minutes to experience Oxford’s more picturesque charms.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Foodies on a Michelin-quality mission, romantics or friends who want to make a special occasion os things with the option to stay over.
Not for: Parents with toddles will struggle unless they’re super well behaved (in which case, bottle your secret and make a fortune). The Chef’s Table is an exquisite concept but one that comes with a chunky fee, so it’s special occasion stuff.
The damage: £95 for a 10 course chef’s table, £75 for the wine flight. Dine and stay from £380 for two with dinner at one of the Chef’s Tables, three-course breakfast at the Chef’s Table and two glasses of English Sparkling wine on arrival.
Crockers Henley, 20 Market Place, Henley-on-Thames RG9 2AH. Tel: 01491 529837