Great House at Sonning
Watch the boats float by as you enjoy al fresco dining on the picturesque terrace of the Great House at Sonning. This dream location, in the conservation village of Sonning-on-Thames midway between Reading and Henley, can be seen from the bridge as you cross the water, and will make you stop in your tracks. The four-acre estate consists of six separate buildings: the original White Hart Hotel, the 16th century Palace Yard and Hideaway, the 17th century Coach House, the 19th century Manor House and the newly constructed Clocktower. Together, they house great conferencing facilities, rooms for private hire and 59 of the most luxurious ensuite bedrooms in the county. Where better for the occupants of these bedrooms to recharge and relax, than in the hotel's Regatta Restaurant. In winter, when I visited, this comfortable and contemporary restaurant provided an ideal shelter from the cold, whilst still allowing full views of the delightful gardens outside. I recommend ordering pre-dinner drinks in the well-stocked and laid-back Ferryman's Bar before sitting down to dine. An à la carte menu offering both fish and meat dishes with a choice of accompaniments was extensive and enticing, but best value is the evening set menu. At £19.50 for two courses or £23 for the full three, you can select from a generous list of exciting meals. Service, as you would expect from a quality hotel, is very professional and we were given suitable time to make our choices. The wine list itself takes some time to examine with reds and whites from all corners of the globe. Starters, with a selection of five, range from crab salad with avocado and citrus fruits to goat's cheese and asparagus tart. With our appetites suitably whetted, the tender slow-cooked lamb Provençale with garlic and rosemary served with vine tomatoes and roasted vegetables was my juicy pick of the main courses. My guest enjoyed the sunny flavours of her grilled salmon with tomatoes, baked mushrooms and asparagus risotto, equally. At the Great House they also pride themselves on their Sunday luncheon menu; children under nine-years-old can eat for just £12.50 and I've heard that it is a feast deserving of high praise. Despite a wonderfully satiated feeling, we took little persuading to browse over the menu again for desserts. The apple tarte tatin with créme Anglaise was served hot and was delicious, while I could not resist a wandering spoonful of my guest's créme brûlée. While reflecting over coffee, we both agreed to return in the summer for the alternative experience, and not least so we could enjoy a romantic stroll along the riverbanks. The hotel is licensed for civil wedding ceremonies, and I can't think of a more apt or peaceful setting to celebrate such a special day.