I met my sister in Windsor on Wednesday for a belated birthday shopping treat. We loved the shopping and the catching up (the sunshine helped too) but our best bit of the day was lunch at the most wonderful little restaurant called Gilbey’s. And now you know about it too, lucky chops.
Gilbey’s it turns out, is a bit of an institution in Windsor and Eton. Run by the same family – the Gilbeys of Gilbey’s Gin fame – for the past thirty years, it is well-known and well-loved by locals. Brothers Bill and Michael, and their wives Caroline and Lin are currently in charge. Even Emma the GM has been here for 12 years, and she tells me her mum used to work behind the bar while Emma played upstairs as a child.
The restaurant itself, just a 5 minute walk over the bridge from Windsor, is cosy and informal with a light, bright conservatory out the back and a courtyard garden – a Summer visit is definitely on the agenda. With its terracotta tiled floor, topaz walls, scatter cushions, fresh flowers and modern art splashed about, it feels like the home of a very stylish and continental friend (I think I’ll call him Juan).
We are tucked into a charming window seat in the restaurant for lunch, but our lovely waitress (service is excellent btw – warm and welcoming) tells us that in the evenings they fill this front room and the conservatory out the back, and the place is buzzing.
The a la carte menu is lively modern British – fizzing and banging with all kinds of excitement – potted ham hock and rhubarb with toasted ciabatta, spiced sweet onion and mustard seed compote or gilt-head bream with scallion and red chilli crust with basil and saffron quinoa and fennel ceviche.
The a la carte prices are more credit card than debit card – just short of £10 for a starter and £17-25 for mains – not surprising given the restaurant’s location (I wonder if One has ever popped in for One’s lunch?) but depending on your hungry-ometer there are several levels of gluttony, and cost.
A la carte obviously, but there is also a set menu, £19.50 for two courses, £25.50 for three, and a one course lunch menu for £13.50. We opted for this, having already started the day with breakfast at Carluccio’s (don’t judge me – it was a birthday treat remember).
I chose smoked haddock, gruyere and sorrel fishcakes with anchovy aioli, purple cabbage and fig slaw and hot, crisp frites. Punchy flavours and a perfectly made fish cake with a crust to sink your teeth into. The strong aioli went brilliantly with the dish and the sharp, tangy slaw was the ideal balance to all the hefty flavours.
My sister went down the classic comfort route with the local outdoor-reared shoulder of pork sausages with creamy leeks and mash and onion gravy. The sausages were enormous and had a lovely dense meatiness to them. Again a beautifully presented dish, full of flavour.
Ooh, almost forgot, let’s talk wine. Apart from the gin link, the Gilbey family were previously wine importers too, so as you can imagine, the wine list is sound. From around £16 and upwards you can drink very well indeed. They also have their own vineyard in Hambleden producing their Pheasants Ridge wines which you can buy in the restaurant, the sparkling they describe as their ‘pride and joy’.
It’s an absolute gem of a restaurant, but the Gilbeys have gone a step further with an elegant private dining room seating up to 18, and on the top floor, Emma shows us round the latest addition – a stylish studio suite as charming as the restaurant, with views across to Windsor castle.
It would make the perfect night away, to enjoy dinner in the restaurant knowing that you are just three steps to Heaven – your very own luxury bolt-hole with crisp white sheets and a lie-in. With or without Juan…