Home of two of the UK’s five three-Michelin-star restaurants and the only location outside of London with any, competing in a region known by foodies across the globe for its exceptionally high standards is no easy task, but L’Ortolan in Reading, Berkshire, especially in the more than capable hands of head chef Tom Clarke, can confidently stand with the region’s restaurant giants like Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Alain Roux’s The Waterside Inn as one of Berkshire’s truly must-visit dining destinations.
Having proudly held its Michelin star since 2003 under Alan Murchison, who later passed the command to Tom Clarke, who was rewarded for his culinary skill with his very own Michelin star in 2015, if you’ve never experienced Tom’s cooking for yourself, you’re missing out. Tom Clarke trained with legends like Raymond Blanc and Jean-André Charial, and all of these chef’s influences reflect in his creative blend of classical French flavours and modern techniques.
“We couldn’t wish for a better location for L’Ortolan than the spot we have in the charming village of Shinfield, just outside of Reading – the green fields are perfect for local game and foraging, and are home to local cheese-making farms, wineries and breweries. Berkshire boasts a wealth of alternative sources for great British produce, which makes chefs’ lives much easier.
This year, L’Ortolan has celebrated its 18th birthday and in order to promote such a special occasion I decided to participate in lots of local food events. I therefore spent my summer hosting cookery demonstrations during Wokingham Festival, The Great British Food Festival, and Goring and Streatley Food and Drink Festival. As well as a great chance for me to see what other chefs in the region are up to, it was another great occasion to showcase and highlight the quality of the produce in our local area. I will always champion keeping strong relationships with our local suppliers.”
Running a successful restaurant in 2020 is not without its difficulties, no matter how talented the chef is or how rich the region is in quality produce. We spoke with Tom Clarke about the stresses he faces as head chef of a Michelin-star restaurant and what he does to combat this:
“I’m at my most relaxed when walking through the Berkshire countryside with my children and dog, when I can momentarily take my mind off the day-to-day challenges facing our industry and enjoy the fantastic local area, which is rich with heritage. In terms of the challenges we’re facing, recruitment in particular is always tough. I like to recruit young, passionate chefs willing to learn the tricks of the trade, and train them personally to become the new generation of professionals.
The food scene in this country is developing very quickly, and it’s becoming more varied and looking even more exciting every single day. Given the inevitable shift we may be in for after Brexit, we are constantly researching the most efficient ways of sourcing even more great ingredients from our homeland, which has a rich offering waiting to be discovered and utilised.”
Showcasing some of the finest restaurants in the county, be sure to pick up your FREE copy of our Berkshire Food & Drink Guide 2019-2020 here or read a digital version of the guide here, where you can also check out our review of L’Ortolan in Reading, Berkshire.