Neil Phillips really is a man to know. For as well as being one of the most widely connected personalities in the wine trade, he has a great palate, can hold a room with his wit and repartee, and has an insider’s knowledge of the horse racing scene in his other role as the nation’s favourite – and only – official Wine Tipster. As he prepares his tips for this week’s Cheltenham Festival he gives his behind the scenes tour on how to make the most of the hospitality, wine and dining at this year’s event.
Even if you are not going to the Cheltenham Festival this week you can get wrapped up in the excitement thanks to Neil Phillips – the Wine Tipster – daily tips. Here he sets the scene with his guide to all the drinking and eating you can do between races.
]This week Festival Fever is upon us as one of the biggest and most prestigious events on the UK racing calendar gets underway in Cheltenham, attracting 260,000 people over four days. As well as being the arena for top performances by the world’s greatest horses and jockeys, the Cheltenham Festival is a hospitality hot spot.
So much so that over the course of the next week the Cheltenham Festival will, thanks to the efforts of Phil Roberts, director of Jockey Club Catering, head of culinary, Frazer Wilson, and head chef, Tom Parry, work with a team of 3,500 people, including 350 chefs, to prepare 40,000 fine dining meals.
Working behind the scenes getting the right drinks in the right place at the right time is official wine supplier, Bibendum.
It’s a big week for Bibendum’s catering events manager, Ben Slomka, but the result of months of work to make sure it has the right list for all the different outlets, bars and restaurants across the race course. Slomka says: “Our ongoing collaborative relationship with the Jockey Club has seen the wine list evolve into something we are all immensely proud of. Using our market leading in house insights team we are able to keep their list in line with current market trends, delighting all guests at every level of hospitality.”
But that’s all very well and good, here’s what you need to know if you happen to be heading to Cheltenham this week to take part in all the action, with my eight top tips.
Get there early and start with a glass of fizz.
Get your bearings around the 40,000 square metres of tented village and triple decker hospitality area which is home to 15 restaurants, 240 private boxes, 34 temporary kitchens and 72 mobile catering units. After a good perusal of the race card over a cuppa, my first port of call is always Big Buck’s Champagne Bar in the Princess Royal stand for a glass of Moët & Chandon.
Big Bucks was in fact a Cheltenham Festival champion horse who won the World Hurdle on four consecutive occasions from 2009-2012. If I’m feeling peckish I might also have an excellent smoked salmon snack here with my glass of bubbles, before heading out for some racing. Later, I’ll nip back to toast my successes of the day with friends over a bottle, magnum, jeroboam or even a methuselah, all available here!
Try something different from the 44 bins on the Jockey Club wine list.
There are so many culinary delights on offer including the wonderful Chez Roux experience with Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jr, the Panoramic Restaurant with fantastic views over the course and finishing line and the exclusive Cheltenham Club in the Princess Royal. Across these restaurants you can select from 44 exciting wines and highlights for me include Rocca di Frassinello from Tuscany and still wines in magnums from Catena Appellation Vista Flores Malbec Mendoza and the unsurpassable organic rosé Château Léoube from Provence.
Léoube owners Lord & Lady Bamford are key sponsors at The Cheltenham Festival with the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Gold Cup day.
Explore the amazing British food and wine produce at Cheltenham.
Cheese, wine and smoked salmon go together naturally, right? Well, 100% of the cheese used at The Festival is produced within 50 miles of Cheltenham and 100% of the salmon is cured or smoked within 50 miles, including the Severn and Wye and Coln Valley 100% sustainable Scottish salmon.
In keeping with this theme, some wonderful wines from the UK have been listed at Cheltenham since 2015, so try some out, including the totally fabulous Chapel Down Rosé, the exciting Bolney Estate Pinot Gris and the thrilling duo of Ridgeview Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia Rosé. I hear on my grapevine that the pre-orders for wines from the UK have hit a record number this year.
Head over to the pre-parade ring and grab a Cheltenham Pie.
View the horses who will be running in the next race to assess muscle tone, strength and mood and confirm your choices. Then, head to the course grabbing a famous Battledown ale infused Cheltenham Pie on the way to keep you going.
Visit the unique atmosphere of the Guinness Village.
Where else but to enjoy the craic and camaraderie over a fortifying pint of the Black Stuff. The Irish factor at Cheltenham is huge with this horse racing nation winning a record 19 out of 28 races at last year’s Festival. Such is the Irish invasion on Cheltenham that Ryanair is putting on 30 extra flights from Dublin to Birmingham over the coming days.
If a sit-down affair is more your casual dining style, try a deli style lunch at Mandarin, or head to Quevega for an excellent tapas board paired with some wine on tap including an Aussie Shiraz, a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc or a range of wines by the bottle.
For ale drinkers, The Winged Ox bar and terrace has a full range of draught beers. Alternatively, if you are looking for a non-alcoholic experience then Seedlip is available in certain areas on course.
Take up a VIP position in the centre of the course then dine like a king!
There’s nothing like being in the centre of the course where you are so close to the action, feeling the thunder of hooves as the magnificent examples of equine beauty race past. A special event on Wednesday of The Festival is The Glenfarclas Cross Country Race which takes place in the centre of the racecourse over 32 obstacles.
After all that excitement you’ll need some more fortification, and I recommend a new opening for the 2018 Festival, with Theatre@ The Festival, where you can enjoy a Pan-Asian feast and unrivalled views over the final fences.
Phil Roberts, director at Jockey Club Catering says: “We wanted to create a new world-class hospitality experience that encompassed the latest food and drink trends that were catching our eye. Head Chef Tom Parry and his team have spent the past year creating a brand new dining experience fit for the sport of kings and The Theatre@ The Festival offers guests a raceday menu like no other.”
The menu is matched with vinous delights to complement the spicy Asian flavours, including the sensational Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling from New Zealand and the beautifully biodynamic Sancerre Les Chasseignes Domaine Fouassier.
Visit the Winners’ Enclosure then toast their success at The Golden Millar Champagne Bar
If you’ve got time, there’s afternoon tea and retail therapy too at Cheltenham, but one of my favourite things to do in the afternoon is to visit the Winners’ Enclosure. There is nothing to equal the celebratory atmosphere here where horses, trainers, owners and racegoers with winning wagers gather together in triumph. Drop by at The Golden Millar Champagne Bar afterwards to toast the champions of the day.
My final tip, if you’re visiting the Festival on Thursday is to attend the Tattersalls Sales.
Even if you’re not in the market for a horse, go and observe this fabulous spectacle where the greatest examples of equine muscle strut their stuff to impress potential new owners. Starting after the last race, it’s a great way to end the day. BYO Champagne – and trailer!
* As well as his culinary and wine advice, Neil Phillips will be giving out daily tips via @TheWineTipster on social media which we will be sharing and pushing via The Buyer’s Twitter feed @TheBuyer11. You can also catch him each day on Racing UK.