Most of us can recommend somewhere local to grab a quick lunch. There’s no doubt a half-decent sandwich shop near where you live. Maybe even a bistro near the office that has a cracking linguine and glass of wine lunch deal that leaves change from a ten pound note. How many of us can offer up a really reliable recommendation for a business lunch in the Thames Valley, though?
Restaurants need a few things in order to host an impressive lunchtime networking event. For starters, it should be accessible for everyone in attendance. The venue needs to be able to comfortably accommodate the number of people expected, both inside and in terms of parking. Good food is a must too, with a private dining area a bonus.
Those criteria in mind, we cast our eye over the restaurants of the Thames Valley and came up with a list of our very top picks. Each one’s more than capable of hosting a fabulous business lunch, but all for slightly different reasons.
Location: Reading, Berkshire
Somewhat bizarrely, we begin our restaurant odyssey with a visit to a swimming pool. Bear with us on this one…
The Edwardian swimming baths on the edge of Reading’s King’s Meadow fell into disrepair in the 1970’s and sat lifeless until the team behind Bristol’s Clifton Lido obtained the site and invested some £3.5m into it. It is primarily a large heated outdoor pool, but plenty of visitors leave their swimwear at home, visiting the lido purely for its delicious culinary offerings.
Not content with providing guests with a Grade-2 Listed 25 metre outside pool, sauna, hot tub, various massages and treatments and a popular poolside tapas bar, the Thames Lido also offers top drawer meeting space. Their large, modern and well-equipped first floor function room offers a more private alternative to the restaurant. However, given the poolside view and pleasing ambience, you may well be more than content downstairs.
In their words: “With poolside views, the restaurant includes many original features such as the vaulted beams surviving from its original build in 1902, creating a breath-taking eating space. Our kitchen team work with the finest ingredients sourced from small-scale, hand-picked suppliers. Cooked using wood burning ovens and a charcoal grill, the food is strongly influenced by traditional dishes from Spain and the Mediterranean.”
Top features: Informal tapas-style food, premium pool/spa facilities, large modern meeting space available upstairs.
Location: Oxford city centre
Our second selection is a much more straightforward pick. The unusually-named Quod is well known in The City of Dreaming Spires for being one of the best restaurants on Oxford’s High Street. A busy brasserie in an old bank, such is the frame-heavy decor you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into an art gallery. Right up until you’re served a plate of head chef Rohan Kashid and the team's exquisite European fare.
Lunchtime visits see the surprisingly inexpensive set menus come out, a nice bonus for anyone hosting a lunch but seeking to avoid battering the company credit card too much. For a spot of seclusion there are two handsomely decorated private dining rooms available to reserve. The heated Italian garden terrace offers yet another option, lending an air of Florentine piaza to any business lunch.
In their words: "On Oxford’s bustling High Street, peering out onto St Mary’s Church and the iconic Radcliffe Camera, Quod Restaurant with its unrivalled location forms the lively hub of the Old Bank Hotel. Regulars and visitors alike flock to Quod for its broad menu of European classics with an emphasis on British produce, daily blackboard specials and a superb value weekday set lunch menu."
Top features: Stunning building, central location, afternoon tea option, superior drinks offering, large private rooms, attractive garden terrace, good value set lunch menu
Location: Marlow, Buckinghamshire
From T.S Eliot to Courtney Love, Percy and Mary Shelley to Shakin’ Stevens, picturesque Marlow has attracted plenty of luminaries in its time. Poet Eliot actually called the building in which our third pick resides home just over a century ago. The timbered former house now provides the perfect intimate setting in which to host a business lunch over fine dining inspired by classic French cuisine.
A huge favourite with locals, the limited covers and scale necessitate planning and reservations, but you and your guests will be glad you made the effort. Your biggest challenge? Keeping the conversation work related with so many delectable courses heading to the table.
In their words: "The many culinary delights of the Vanilla Pod are masterfully created by chef and owner Michael Macdonald. Where customers can enjoy exceptional food in a relaxed atmosphere."
Top features: Outstanding food, top drawer service, good value lunch menu, impeccable local reputation
Location: Shinfield, Reading, Berkshire
If you’re really looking to wow your guests, there’s no better way to do so than by treating them to lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant. Well, okay, there is a better way… but two or three Michelin stars? That’s a little over the top just for lunch, isn’t it?
The village of Shinfield may not exactly be a business hub within the Thames Valley, but just five miles south of Reading hardly makes it a pilgrimage. In fact, being a scone’s throw from the M4’s Junction 11 probably makes the place more convenient for many attendees.
Three exquisite and charming private dining rooms offer privacy if required, but if you’re happy to be seated in the main dining space, you and your delegates will find it a light, airy and thoroughly agreeable space. Either way, L’Ortolan’s events coordinator can talk you through planning the perfect afternoon.
In their words: "Enjoy exceptional modern French cuisine, exquisite wines and a very warm welcome in the elegant and relaxed surroundings at L'Ortolan. For corporate events, we have a stylish room with a capacity of 22, ensuring everybody will be delighted to celebrate your success or hear what messages you need to get across."
Top features: The Michelin starred dining, dedicated events coordinator available, multiple private dining rooms, high-end touches
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to high-end restaurants in the Thames Valley. So why not make use of them? The next time you’re putting on a business lunch or networking event, forget the tired old hotel conference rooms and the upstairs of that chain eatery you’ve used a dozen times. Tap into the unique quality on your doorstep.