Monkeying around in Bray
A new hotel brasserie in Bray with an ex-Simpson’s on the Strand head chef. We felt it our duty to nail three courses *ahem* actually make that five.
One of the hottest hotel launches of 2019 has finally opened. After a few false starts, Monkey Island Estate in Bray (sister hotel to the Gainsborough Bath Spa) has been resurrected from a crumbling Grade I listed wreck to a luxury crash pad and party palace for a cosmopolitan crowd (well there is a long tradition to keep up)..
For over 800 years the sliver of land has been the playground for royalty, aristos, artists and well-heeled Berkshire locals. Edward VII had afternoon tea, it hosted famous singers Clara Butt and Dame Nellie Melba, and HG Wells and lover Rebecca West, would often slope off to Monkey Island for clandestine shenanigans (not gonna lie, it’s the perfect spot for that sort of naughtiness).
Monkey Island is on the fringe of the gastronomic enclave of Bray – the Michelin stars guiding you in like an airport runway. Head down Ferry Lane, over the motorway bridge and, ta-dah, the white Palladian stucco of Monkey Island peaks out through the greenery. Park up, cross the pedestrian bridge, you’ll spy the Dutch barge – home to the hotel’s bijou spa – before clapping eyes on The Temple (bedrooms are here), with The Pavillion, home to the bar, Monkey Lounge, Whiskey Snug and Brasserie.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Before you raise a quizzical eyebrow at the amount of food I’m about to consume, Will served five small dishes on the menu. To start I tried the Estate smoked salmon with infused goat’s curd, shallots and capers with foraged sea herbs and pickled cucumber. The smoked salmon was one of the best I’ve tasted and worked beautifully with the salty curd and pickled elements.
Next up, the English heritage tomato salad, an absolute showstopper. The humble tomato has been given a rock star makeover – and it’s all down to the Bloody Mary dressing. I didn’t want it to end and happily moped up what was left of the dressing without actually drinking it from the bowl.
My least favourite dish was a 35-day dry aged steak tartare. Unfortunately for Will, the last time I had steak tartare was at The Waterside Inn, and it was epic, so the bar was ridiculously high. The egg wasn’t runny enough for me and I think the beef lacked a bit of flavour. But the Wood smoked pepper risotto, that followed, was an absolute joy. It came out in a bowl with a lid, and the colour and smell that drifts out when you lift it off are phenomenal. One of my favourite plates of the day.
The final course (defeated before we got to the puds, sorry) was a rich duck breast (crispy skin heaven), duck leg sausage roll, with scorched kale, wild mushrooms and potato dumpling. It was indulgent, comforting and bloody lovely. Right up my street.
The dessert menu has plenty of ‘there there’ puds from sticky toffee and bread and butter to Death By Chocolate and a British cheese board. I think you’ll love the Little Monkeys menu for kids. There’s not a chicken goujon to be found but plenty of family faves like fish and chips, pasta dishes, a burger, mini roasts and steak and chips.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The informality will suit families, the anonymity will suit the naughty and the location will be loved by everyone looking for a peaceful spot to enjoy lunch, dinner, afternoon tea or cocktails on the terrace. It’s an oasis of elegance and charm.
Not for: For those who enjoy starchy table clothes and fine dining and dedicated followers of food fashion. This is not Michelin star food, but it’s a lovely place to hang out with your other half, friends and family
£££: It’s good gastropub prices, so won’t shock Berkshire residents. Starters kick off at £12; mains are £17+ (£32 for a 35-day dry aged 10oz sirloin); desserts from £12; kids meals are £8 and chef will make mini portions for any dish on the regular menu too, if you’re child has a more refined palate than fish fingers, chips and beans..