Head chef Shaun Dickens reflects on the silly season

The other day one of our lovely guests asked me if I was ready for the ‘silly season’ to begin. As a restaurateur my immediate thought was ‘when isn’t it silly season?’

However, for all of the (enjoyable) madness of the summer months with the Henley Festival and Regatta, it’s this time of year that I really enjoy as a chef .

As the seasons change, the team and I look at new menu items that reflect the time of year - the winter months cry out for dishes incorporating wonderful ingredients such as pumpkin, butternut squash, quince and venison with long hearty braises.

We get some lovely feedback from our diners about new menu items but I sometimes wonder if they realise just how much fun and enjoyment the kitchen team get from creating them. A new season is a blank canvas and time to get creative.

Other changes at The Boathouse as winter draws ever closer is the launch of our festive menu from the end of November which my 5 year old son Alfie takes as a sign to start his Christmas list.

We have pointed out that Christmas is still some time away but his argument that if we’re serving turkey it’s Christmas, which is kind of tough to argue against.

Our claim that it isn’t quite Christmas has also taken something of a hit with the introduction of igloos to our deck.

Igloos? Yep. You read that right. On the banks of the river Thames in Henley we have two igloos for guests to enjoy breakfast, lunch and evening drinks, whatever the weather. Remember I was talking about year round silly season!

The deck is a wonderful place to watch the world go by, but last year the weather was so poor that our guests couldn’t make the most of it.

You might remember that twice last year I had to write about how the restaurant had flooded and the cost, inconvenience and, if we’re being honest, heartache that brought.

So, when we saw these igloos we thought that they were a really fun way to offer an outdoor dining experience with the comforts of the restaurant. They are heated and can seat up to eight people each and are, quite frankly, brilliant and bizarre in equal measure.

Outdoor dining is a rare treat in England and hardly ever possible during the winter months, so the bemused but excited looks they receive from people walking by are great. The igloos are already proving popular and we even took bookings for office drinks and Sunday lunch while we were building them.

So, from saying silent prayers last year that the snow would hold off to enable diners to get to us, this year all we can imagine is how amazing it would be to dine in an igloo in the snow!

Whatever the weather brings we’ll deal with and work hard to finish what has been another great year at the restaurant.