The Vanilla Pod’s discreet dining room is tucked away behind the elegant black door in Marlow’s West Street. Once home to T.S. Eliot, one of the most distinguished literary figures of the 20th century, the elegant home has been transformed into a modern, stylish restaurant. Rich colours and clean lines give a contemporary and luxurious feel, reflecting the outstanding quality of the food. Sociably round tables with high backed chairs give a sense of privacy and spaciousness. Sophisticated air conditioning has also been installed to further enhance comfort. The kitchen is run under the watchful eye of Chef Proprietor Michael Macdonald, who uses local produce to inspire a creative and extensive menu that changes frequently, which you can enjoy in the main dining room or the upstairs T.S. Eliot private dining room.
The Vanilla Pod is a fine dining in a beautiful location, where the professionalism of the service allows you to relax and enjoy your experience.
The Vanilla Pod Chef Owner
Michael Macdonald: I was born in Aberdeen and moved to England when I was seven. I started cooking at a young age as my mum brought me up by herself and needed help when working. Later I found that the schools cookery classes were an excellent way of meeting girls (tip for young lads – there are nearly only girls in these classes and they are easily impressed by your soft sensitive side!).
After two years at college my first position was for Herbert Berger at Keats in London. This was a big eye opener for me in new tastes, textures and kitchen discipline. My first taste of eating in a 2 star restaurant was after I had saved up for 5 months to eat at Chez Nico, owned by Nico Ladenis. Wow – this was an experience that set me on my way and I then knew why I was working the hours for the pay. After this meal I set my sight on working in these high standard establishments. I started at Chez Nico and later moved to Nico at 90 on Park Lane. There I won the William Heptinstall scholarship which took me to a variety of Michelin starred kitchens in France such as Les Jardins de l’Opera, Le Close de la Violette and Le Moulin de Mougin. In all these restaurants I worked for free with aid from the scholarship prize money. Back in England I took up a position in Pierre Koffman’s kitchen at La Tante Claire. This was a time of great learning of flavours and rustic French cooking. Later I worked for Eric Crouillere-Chavot at Interlude de Chavot. Working with a chef who was so exciting and passionate about what he was doing brought fun and a great skill, and it was difficult not to have some of this passion and infusion not rub into you. My wife and I decided to settle down and it was time for me to head my own way and start to develop my own style of cooking, bringing all my experiences from each restaurant to one. This brought me to the Compleat Angler in Marlow, which was a good start on learning management skills; but my stay there was short as they were moving in a different direction to where I wanted to go. My next position as executive chef at Danesfield House hotel in Marlow was a good period of stability and where I really started to find my own style of cooking.
In 2002 I opened The Vanilla Pod. My vision was to create a restaurant where my wife and I could build a restaurant from scratch. We build the restaurant to where we are today completely with our own savings and resources, and we are still improving as we go. We obviously wanted to provide an outstanding standard of food and service, but also to create an atmosphere where our guests can relax completely. By having only one sitting per evening, the guests can more freely choose dining time and have all the time they wish, to appreciate the food and each other’s company and truly unwind from the outside world.
I chose Marlow as it is a lovely town with a magnificent suspension bridge over the Thames, charming high street with a large number of small, independent shops and restaurants, beautiful Georgian architecture. Marlow’s atmosphere has also inspired many writers and it has fascinating literary heritage. My own restaurant was once the home of T.S. Eliot during which time (1917-1920) he wrote many of his most famous poems. It is also here where Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein”. On warm summer evenings, after the restaurant has closed, I often relax by fishing with my son at a spot next to the Two Brewers, a riverside pub in Marlow, where Jerome K. Jerome wrote “Three men in a boat”.
One of the most satisfying things about being this rural is that it allows me to source many ingredients by forming relationships with local producers, and actually see where my ingredients are coming from and how they are grown; however this does not mean all my ingredients are local, as some are sourced from Scotland, Wales and France and other parts of England, to insure that quality is maintained. My menu is constantly changing with the seasons. I can serve produce such as strawberries and asparagus which can be picked in the morning a mile away from the restaurant and served for lunch. This gives me the confidence, that my customers are getting the freshness and flavour that is never possible with produce that is out-of-season. On a personal level, it also gives me the satisfaction of supporting my local community and doing a little bit for a greener earth.
One of my favourite ingredients – which I’m afraid Buckinghamshire cannot provide – is vanilla. Over the years I have researched and experimented with this wonderful plant and I have discovered that vanilla can be used to incredible effect; not only in sweet dishes but also with meat and fish.
Buckinghamshire is a beautiful county, boasting a diverse range of restaurants to cater for every taste and budget, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be a part of it.