Review: The Vine House
Paulerspury, United Kingdom
Great food; decide for yourself about their attitude
104 people found this review helpful
If I had to sum this establishment up in two clauses, it would be “sensational food; bad attitude”.
I was in two minds about visiting this establishment in the first place because of conflicting reports. The Good Food Guide was rating it as a four, which means “Dedicated, focused approach to cooking; good classical skills and high-quality ingredients” whereas I had seen a Telegraph review by Zoe Williams with the title “While the food may be excellent at The Vine House, the atmosphere is way too antiseptic” and which started with the words “I haven't eaten anywhere as ugly as The Vine House since the 1980s; even a humble Harvester has more cheer, more corporate know-how.”
Anyway, we were trying to book a restaurant at very short notice, our top choice (The Plough at Bolnhurst, see my separate review) was fully booked and this place could offer us a last-minute booking, although they made it quite clear that if we turned up at 9 pm or later they wouldn't be willing to serve us. After all, rules are rules. More than my job's worth. Just an early hint of the front-of-house attitude at The Vine House in Paulerspury.
The food was absolutely beautiful in presentation and totally amazing in taste. This is a chef that totally understands complex flavour combinations, obviously loves trying unorthodox pairings of tastes and is a total master of his art. My problem here is not the food, which was spectacularly brilliant. Definitely the best cooking that I have experienced in Northamptonshire in more than ten years of living there, even surpassing the excellent food that we had at The Roade House in Roade. Great food, no doubt about it, although portion sizes are tiny and you might need to call in at Macdonalds on the way home. Unfortunately a fantastic dining experience is not just about the food, it includes other elements as well. When we visited the dishes on offer were:
Marinated beetroot – figs – truffle oil – goat's cheese
Smoked haddock – gazpacho mousse – heritage tomatoes
Parma ham – peaches – yogurt – pistachios
Fillet of herb cured turbot – crushed peas – watercress aioli
Confit of corn fed Goosnargh duck – braised beans – salsa verde
Saddle of Suffolk lamb – garlic mushroom pate (sic) – wild mushrooms
honey junket – toasted brown bread – raspberry ketchup
Crème caramel gelato – coconut crackling
Whipped summer fruit jelly – mascarpone – lemon – meringue
When we went there they were charging £33 for three courses, they charged us £3 for a glass of lemonade, £18.50 for “house wine” and they wanted to charge us a 12.5% service charge on top. Our meal for three people cost us £124.45 but it would have cost us £140 if we had paid their “compulsory” 12.5% service charge. I have started a thread on the Silver Travel Advisor forum outlining how I feel about these “service charges”, which has the title “Are restaurant service charges a cancer within the UK?”
The Good Food Guide had a campaign against these “service charges” when it was owned by The Consumers' Association, aka Which?, and Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert has also campaigned against them. You can't be sure of who that money will go to, and they cannot legally insist on you paying a service charge. It would have represented more than £46 per person, as it was we paid just under £41.50 per head. We are fully aware of our legal rights, we made it quite clear throughout the meal that we weren't happy with the fact that their menu said that they would be charging a 12.5% “service charge”, and when it was time to pay I explained that I wouldn't be paying it. I explained that I would be leaving a cash gratuity on the table instead.
At that point the attitude of the (female) staff became extremly aggressive and Julie, the proprietor and wife of the chef, started trying to bully me into paying it. I was informed that “Our menu, our website and our literature all make it clear that it will be payable”, but I am fully aware that it is not legally enforceable. I informed her that we wouldn't be coming back to eat there again, at which point the bullying continued to try to make me pay the 12.5% service charge. That wasn't going to happen, because I know my rights, but I was forced into saying “I wasn't happy with the service” before Julie would agree to removing the service charge from the bill. Then the waitress started rushing around in high umbrage because I had been bullied into saying that I wasn't happy with the service. Uncomfortable.
I put a ten pound note on the table – which I believe is a fair tip on a bill of more than £124 – and told the waitress that I had left it there for her. This was to make sure that the waitress received the money, and is what is recommended by Martin Lewis. “Oh well, I'll put it in the charity jar as you're obviously not happy with my service” she snapped at me, very petulantly. At this point I managed to resist the temptation to walk back to the table and put the note back into my wallet, we paid up (minus the “compulsory” service charge of £15.55) and headed for the door.
Unfortunately this establishment seems to suffer from “Behind The Bus Stop syndrome”, where the food and waiting staff are OK but the proprietor has an attitude problem, and I am unable to recommend it for that reason. The food was absolutely breath-taking but in my opinion they are flouting consumer law by trying to enforce a “compulsory” 12.5% service charge and then trying to bully people into paying it. We won't be going back, which is a big pity after finding an oasis of fine dining hidden away in the culinary desert of Northamptonshire.
If you are comfortable with restaurant prices being inflated by “service charges” then there is no reason not to eat here, as the quality of the food is excellent and presentation is superb, definitely better than the presentation of The Plough at Bolnhurst. Please bear in mind that you are only presented with a choice of three starters, three main courses and three desserts here, whereas The Plough at Bolnhurst has a much more extensive menu. It's also possibly worth mentioning that the clackety terracotta tiles in the anteroom of The Vine House that were denounced in the Telegraph review have subsequently been covered with carpet.
104 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.