Lunch@The Woodspeen (take 5)

The Woodspeen is currently our favourite place to eat.  It is rare to find a place that is relaxed and informal yet consistently delivers food, drinks and service of the highest quality.  We are here for our fifth visit with great confidence that lunch will be outstanding.

Sitting in the bar, Rock orders a Raspberry Crush made by Luscombe, served with a cocktail stick of fresh berries.  I have a Cavalier Golden Ale from the Two Cocks Brewery. These are served with a bowl of home-made crisps.  The crush, the ale and the crisps are all top notch.

We move into the restaurant for our starter of quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree. We are sharing the starter and, one of the things we love about The Woodspeen is that, when you share a dish, they don’t just give you one plate and two sets of cutlery.  They carefully divide the food onto two small plates and dress it – so you receive a proper but smaller version of the original dish.  The quail is superb.

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Quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree

Next I have the roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree.  The fish is perfectly cooked, the pancetta and cavolo nero bring texture and flavour and all the other elements of the dish work together – it tastes fantastic. Rock has the pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato. Another perfectly cooked piece of fish, another fabulous dish.

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Roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree
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Pan fried sea trout with baby gem, peas and horseradish potato

Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet is Rock’s choice for dessert.  I have the tarte of fig and hazelnut with fig leaf ice cream.  Both desserts are sublime.  This is followed by great coffee and petit fours.

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Brown sugar custard with wholemeal crumble, blackberries and a berry sorbet

The whole experience has been as outstanding as we had hoped.  The food has been extraordinary, the service from restaurant manager André and his team has been exceptional.  This consistency of quality is remarkable – every time we come here they manage to wow us!

 

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Lunch@The Pot Kiln, Frilsham

At first glance The Pot Kiln may appear to be a traditional English pub in the West Berkshire countryside but it’s approach to food is quite different to most other pubs. Named as one of the Top 100 restaurants in the UK 2017 by The Sunday Times, the menu has a strong focus on game including venison from locally culled wild deer.

The Pot Kiln was also the original home of the West Berkshire Brewery but no single brewery has a monopoly on the beer on sale today as now it is a free house. This means there should be some great ales for me to try and I start with the Brick Kiln Bitter – created specially for this place by the West Berkshire brewers. It is a dark amber, earthy bitter – perfectly fine but not my favourite from this brewery.

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Rock chooses to kick off with the beetroot cured gravadlax with beetroot in counter and dice shapes, horseradish cream and pickled cucumber. The quality of the dish is outstanding and she is very happy with her choice. I go for the wood pigeon salad served with bacon, black pudding, mushrooms and darts of balsamic glaze. The wood pigeon is quite rare but it is also tender and works fantastically with the black pudding. So far, so very good.

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Beetroot cured gravadlax, beetroot, horseradish cream & pickled cucumber
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Wood pigeon salad, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms & balsamic glaze

I need a second beer and I want to try another West Berkshire ale that I’ve not had before. Mister Swift’s is a light, fruity pale ale, I really like it and it gets a high mark on my personal beer scorecard.

We both feel that the best next move is to choose venison for our main course. I have the grilled pavé of fallow served with pomme purée, cavolo nero, game stuffing and a pool of red wine gravy. The pomme purée could have been creamier but, I’m really nitpicking, overall the dish is fabulous. Rock has the venison burger served with incredible crispy potato wedges stacked like dominoes (I sneak some of them onto my plate), a rich home-made tomato sauce and their own coleslaw. Wow, that’s a real winner!

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Grilled pavé of fallow served with pomme purée, cavolo nero, game stuffing & red wine gravy
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Venison burger, crispy potato wedges, home-made tomato sauce & coleslaw

We have really enjoyed decent beer, fantastic food and fabulous service from Claudia. If you are looking to find a great place to eat game – don’t take up some sort of trivial pursuit – the Pot Kiln is the only game in town!

Lunch@Bill’s, Newbury

Bill Collison used to be a greengrocer but these days he has a string of restaurants around the UK. We are visiting Bill’s in the Market Square of Newbury for lunch.

I start in my usual way by examining the beer menu and I find that it would be inappropriate to order anything other than Bill’s IPA. Brewed exclusively for Bill’s restaurants by the Adnams Brewery of Southwold, it is a light and golden India Pale Ale with just a hint of citrus.  Rock has Bill’s elderflower cordial with sparkling water and, as a connoisseur of elderflower cordials, she is impressed.

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The lunchtime menu is an interesting mix of British favourites, with other dishes influenced by Italian, Asian and Cypriot cuisines. Rock and I decide to mix and match – we pick dishes that will work together and I’ll swap some of mine for some of hers.

Rock’s choice is easily the most interesting. Roasted aubergine, lentil & chickpea dhal served with cherry tomatoes, coriander chutney, toasted almonds and a grilled flatbread. It is beautifully put together and works extremely well with my Thai green chicken curry. The green curry is fiery, boosted by the flavour of fresh lemongrass, sugar snap peas and served with coconut rice.

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I’m briefly fascinated by a conversation at the next table. The couple want to order a ham omelette from the breakfast menu but they stop serving breakfast here at midday on weekdays. However, these diners are incredibly insistent and the manager is called. He explains that the breakfast chef has finished for the day but says that he will personally cook them ham omelettes. I think the manager deserves a pat on the back.

We are impressed enough by our food so far that we decide to share a dessert. The banana and honeycomb cheesecake served with frozen yoghurt and salted caramel sauce tastes like a variation on a banoffie pie but the frozen yoghurt brings it back from the overly rich sweetnees of banoffie. It is good.

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Bill’s is not fine dining but it does appear to be a restaurant chain that can produce both simple, familiar dishes and more interesting international plates.

Lunch@The Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth

Today I’m meeting Antonio at The Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth. The Ibex Inn is a country pub in a small, picturesque Berkshire village. I’ve read positive reports about their food and their chef, Kai Taylor, seems to have some interesting ideas. Antonio loves his food almost as much as I do – so this should be a great place to meet.

Antonio gets there before me and, as he is by himself, he orders a pint of Billy No Mates.  It is a very decent pale ale from Chaddleworth’s Indigenous microbrewery. When I arrive the sun is shining and so I order another beer from the Indigenous range – the Summer Solstice, even paler and refreshing on a summer’s day.

The menu consists of British pub classics with a modern twist and all the produce is sourced from within a 40 mile radius apart from the fish – which is delivered daily from Brixham. Antonio decides to try the Ibex steak burger with bacon, cheddar & fries. It is a very high quality burger, well presented with fabulous fries. He loves it.

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I want to be slightly more adventurous and ask for the curried crispy Brixham cod loin with fries and a Bombay mayonnaise. When it arrives the cod is covered in a beautiful crisp batter, with great fries and the Bombay mayo carries just the right amount of curry spices. Fantastic. Kai comes out of the kitchen to check we, and other diners, are enjoying the food. He talks to us about his approach and shows a real desire to please his customers.

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We have enjoyed our food so much that we are now tempted to try the desserts. I pick Kai’s bounty bar torte with textures of pineapple. It is artistically presented, the chocolate torte is rich, I’m pleased that the coconut element is not too pronounced and the mix of fresh pineapple, pineapple pearls and coulis are refreshing. But, overall, I don’t enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed my main course. Antonio likes the sound of the caramel pudding & brownie sundae. When it arrives, he really likes the taste of it too.

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The Ibex Inn is a really good find. Friendly and excellent service and a clear desire to produce pub food that is better than most. We will definitely be back.

Lunch@The Dundas Arms, Kintbury

Today I’m catching up with Gary at The Dundas Arms. The Dundas Arms is a picturesque 18th century riverside pub in Kintbury, Berkshire. In the past the food here has been very good but neither Gary or myself have been here for a while, so…it will be interesting to see if the food is as good as we remember.

Gary has the grilled Cornish sardines to start with herb buttered toast and tomato & bacon jam. I have the scotch egg with date & apricot chutney. Gary really enjoys the sardines, while my scotch egg is not as exciting as some I’ve had recently but I love the chutney.

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The breast of free range chicken has Gary’s name on it and he also gets Wye valley asparagus, lemon crushed potatoes and a salsa verdi. I decide to be adventurous and try the pork belly, spring onion & herb potato cake served with tenderstem broccoli and a red wine sauce. Interesting and enjoyable.

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I can rarely resist a crumble and I don’t even attempt to resist today. The apple and raisin crumble is served with vanilla ice cream – I should have resisted, it is good but I really don’t have room for it. Gary, though, polishes off the sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream….without any difficulty at all.

Great to spend time with Gary and great to find that the food at the Dundas Arms was worth the trip!

Sunday lunch@The Woodspeen

Going out for Sunday lunch can be a challenge if you don’t want a traditional roast. We are with our good friends Rufus and Lani and, with this in mind, we want to introduce them to the wonders of The Woodspeen. Late changes to our plans meant that we were late booking a table and, as a result, there are no free tables until 2.15pm.

We arrive early, knowing we can sit in the bar area, with the hope that a table will become available earlier. The restaurant is absolutely packed – even the bar area is busy. Lani has a glass of champagne, Rufus a G&T, Rock has an elderflower pressé and I have a Cavalier bitter from the excellent Two Cocks Brewery. Our hopes for an early table dissolve and we are finally seated at around 2.35pm.

Rufus starts with the pigeon, pickled parsnip, apple, watercress and malt crumb. Rock has chosen the game terrine with duck parfait, quince, smoked apple & raisin chutney. Lani has the cured mackerel with horseradish remoulade, crab croquette, fennel and orange dressing. I cannot resist the roasted scallops with pork cheek, mulled wine pears, thyme and shallot purée. We may be late to the table…. but it has been worth the wait.

We order a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine du Colombier that should work well with game dishes. It is a medium bodied red with flavours of dark fruit and spice…perfect. Rufus and Lani are both having the venison pave and faggot with mustard mash, bacon choucroute, swiss chard & blackberry jus. I have picked the partridge with home-made black pudding, blackberry & apple compote and cavolo nero. Rock does not ignore the game theme and goes for the rabbit tortellini with pumpkin soup, sherry vinegar syrup and celery cress. We are all very happy with our choices though my black pudding was maybe a little too moist for my taste.

We are enjoying ourselves enormously and it would be unreasonable to leave without looking at the dessert menu. Rock and I share the pistachio and olive oil cake with fennel, honeycomb & goat’s cheese ice cream. Rufus and Lani share the spiced cranberry and orange pavlova with lime cream. Both desserts are truly beautiful.

We came looking for something other than a traditional Sunday roast and, once again, The Woodspeen has delivered. Creative cooking, fantastic flavours and, apart from the initial wait for our table, great service.

2016 Food Awards – Part 1

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 will focus on restaurants, part 2 on pubs and part 3 on small independent food providers.

We have had an extraordinary year in terms of visiting restaurants of the highest quality. As usual, we have narrowed it down to 3 UK restaurants that we loved the most, plus a new award for the best international eating experience. The top UK restaurants are listed in alphabetical order followed by the winner of the international award.

UK

Aizle, Edinburgh

This place creates a 5 course menu from monthly ‘harvest’ ingredients that are all at the height of quality and seasonality. They create dishes and cocktails that are sensational. Aizle Review

Carters, Moseley

3,5,or 7 course set lunch menus cleverly balance big flavours and a variety of textures. It was a joy to find such a diamond of a restaurant in a relatively unassuming suburb of Birmingham! Cart Review

The Woodspeen, Woodspeen

This beautiful airy restaurant was featured in the 2015 awards and we couldn’t resist going back. They spoil diners with exceptional service and consistently fabulous food. Wood Review – Jan 16. Wood Review – Aug 16.

International

Kodbyens Fiskebar, Copenhagen

Skilful kitchen teamwork helps to create fish dishes and desserts that are fantastic to look at and even better to eat! Despite the restaurant being very lively, the service is still superb. Kod Review

Parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next few days.