The ‘foodie’ pubs around Northamptonshire where I grew up have changed very little in the past five years. Once the places where I would beg my parents to take me, they now feel outdated, lacking in imagination and overpriced. Living in London, or be it any area known for the quality of its food, creates an environment of creativity that inevitably drives progress. Without this direct competition some rural restaurants lag behind, stuck in the glory days of the gastro pub heyday. Coppa Club a restaurant in Sonning however, has recognised the need for change, undergoing a recent refurbishment that cements its position as a place for modern dining.
Aiming to unite the best elements of hospitality to create a space that is totally enjoyable for its guests, Coppa Club is aware of the growing appeal that a rural, all day restaurant/social hub has to offer. Looking at the likes of Soho House’s ventures for inspiration, its refurbishment brings a touch of the private members club luxury, without the hierarchical exclusivity, to Berkshire.
With a terrace overlooking the river Thames the location couldn’t get much prettier, especially on a sunny, late September weekend. Looking back at the restaurant from the river, the gold Coppa Club logo shimmered in the afternoon sun. Sitting outside, drinking a beer and eating some exceptionally creamy Marcona almonds watching the canal boats go by was idyllic.
The appeal of the restaurant is all encompassing. In the day it is a prominent family location. Young children are not discouraged and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. In the evening it becomes more adult and lively. The bar is host to a local crowd in for a drink and to watch the rugby, whilst the restaurant holds a clientele that ranges from large celebratory groups to those out for a romantic dinner. On Sunday you could very much imagine bringing your whole family together for a leisurely lunch or brunch, the avocado on toast and black pudding are delicious.
The menu is modern, notably Italian influenced and incorporates ingredients that are fresh and current, feather blade steak, fregola and nduja for example. Gone is the static menu layout, comprising of starter main and dessert. Instead it is replaced by a more contemporary format whereby the menu is separated in terms of food categories and portion size. With small plates and sharing an option, Coppa Club is able to appeal to a wider, all day market.
To whet our appetite we started with a plate of Balthazar Bread with Planeta Olive Oil and Balsamic. The selection was varied and interesting, a rosemary focaccia, salted breadstick and sourdough. The pouring of the balsamic vinegar at the table was in keeping with the affordable luxury concept yet in practice was awkward for both waiter and dinner.
For our starter upon recommendation, we shared the Fritto Misto; crispy fried scallops, king prawns, squid and sustainable, seasonal white fish with homemade tartare sauce. This was lighter and less oily than expected; the fish had been cooked exceptionally, crisp tempura batter gave way to soft flesh, no mean feat especially when cooking squid and fish of various sizes.
Following on from this I chose the ‘Scorched Fingers’ Lamb Chops, new season lamb with a minty salsa verde and a side of Rustic Potatoes whilst he opted for the Coppa Club Hot, a pizza with nuduja, chilli and spicy salami. The lamb presented simply with the salsa verde and some watercress, showcased the chefs cooking ability and confidence in their produce. The meat was juicy and tender with sweet marbled fat that was saved from being too rich by the punchy acidity of the salsa verde. His pizza, slow proved on a sourdough base was generously topped with good flavour but the base was a little doughy and needed longer in the oven. The potatoes lacked seasoning and the attention to detail of the other dishes.
For dessert, two extremely reasonably priced Espresso Martinis (£5.95) and a slice of Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake. Rich and close textured the pairing of an orange crème fraiche worked wonderfully with the cake, which was an ideal size for sharing. All of the cocktails we found to be too sweet, yet the drinks menu on the whole offered a great range of wines and spirits, our Chablis in particular was excellent.
We stayed the evening in the adjoining Great House, a set of out buildings that form the hotel. Our room was a little dark but a good size with a comfortable bed and great power shower. In keeping with the Coppa Club, the head board and cushions were the same colour as some of the restaurant interior which tied the two together nicely.
Finally special mention needs to be given to our waiter Charlie and the service in general which was seamless in both establishment and enhanced the experience considerably as a place of retreat. Charlie was engaging, knew the menu completely and gave great recommendations that both upsold the more unusual items and were honest to his personal taste. From the moment we arrived we felt relaxed and at ease and reading the papers outside on Sunday morning with coffee and breakfast, we didn’t want to leave.Coppa Club, The Great House, Thames Street, Sonning on Thames, West Berkshire, RG4 6UT ££ 7/10