The Eastbury Plough has been on our extensive list of places to eat for far too long! Rock and I are taking the opportunity to get over there for lunch and see if it is as good as some people seem to think it is.
It’s moderately busy when we arrive but nowhere near full. Yet, with only two staff serving, we have quite a wait to be served drinks and menus. I have a pint of Doombar and Rock has an apple juice & soda – nothing too exciting there. The specials board has crisp confit duck with black pudding and an orange & balsamic jam – which appeals to me. The duck is well cooked though not really crispy and works well with the black pudding. However, the bitterness of the orange in the jam is too harsh for me.
I move on to a pint of Deerstalker – a marked improvement on my previous pint. It is a traditional amber bitter from the Ramsbury Brewery and well worth trying.
Rock has the peasant pie as her main course. Her pie is filled with a mix of oxtail and venison and is rich with flavour. I have the 18 hour ox cheek, a fillet of beef with a bacon & black pudding crust, dauphinoise potatoes and an ox jus. The ox cheek and the fillet are both beautiful and a nice contrast in texture – the cheek is soft from slow cooking and the fillet both firm and tender. The dauphinoise is really good too and there is a little shredded cabbage. But, generally, there is a marked lack of fresh vegetables – there aren’t even any vegetable side dishes on the menu! The meal concept of meat and potatoes really belongs in the 1950s.
We finish by sharing the cheese board – pieces of Barkham blue, Witney cheddar and brie are served with crackers and a pickle. Nothing out of the ordinary but well kept cheese served at the right temperature (not straight out of the fridge).
Overall, the food has been good, the service has been friendly but at times a bit stretched. The lack of fresh vegetables is bizarre. I would come here again but it isn’t going to be at the top of our list.
Time for our first Japanese meal of the year. We are meeting our good friends Antonio & Elisabetta for lunch at Arigato in the centre of Newbury. Set in a Georgian building on the edge of the Avon & Kennet canal, Arigato appears to be a great setting for some interesting culinary experiences and for catching up with friends that we haven’t seen for a while.
We are running late so, when we arrive, Antonio & Elisabetta are already there. Antonio is enjoying a glass of red wine and, as it is impolite to let anyone drink alone, I order a pint of Asahi Super Dry. This is a clean, dry Japanese rice lager with some slightly sweet notes that can be picked up as it goes down. The more sensible and more generous ladies have ‘volunteered’ to drive.
Food soon arrives and the first dish is a Miso soup, made from a dashi stock of fish and seaweed, it is a pleasant beginning. Antonio and Elisabetta are both having sushi rolls – sesame covered sticky rice rolls filled with salmon and fish roe. Rock and I are sharing tuna Tataki with Miso and seabass tempura. The tuna is perfectly prepared – marinated, then just seared on the outside – then sliced to show the inside almost raw. It is lightly coated by something that is both a sweet and sticky and accompanied by a sharp and tangy sauce. The tempura batter is very delicate and the seabass inside is beautiful. Meanwhile, the next dish for Antonio and Elisabetta has arrived…crispy squid served with lime and salad vegetables.
The conversation is lively and covers a very wide range of topics – work, Yorkshire, appearing on TV, holidays and other great places to eat.
Chicken Katsu curry
Next Rock is having the vegetarian Gyoza, steamed Japanese dumplings served with a dipping sauce. Antonio & Elisabetta are enjoying the chicken Katsu curry – the breaded and fried chicken has been added to a silky rich curry sauce and served with rice and salad. I’ve moved on to the chicken Teriyaki noodles – ginger, honey and sesame oil flavours work their way through the dish and I’m really enjoying it.
Antonio and I still have room for dessert – he picks the green tea Mochi and, knowing Rock’s love of chocolate, I pick the chocolate Mochi. Very intense flavours, interesting consistency – well worth trying.
Green Tea Mochi
Good food and great company – it’s what lunch should always be about!
The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2017 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. 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 an award for the best international eating experience. The top UK restaurants are listed in alphabetical order followed by the winner of the international award.
Arras is relatively new and we hope it continues to thrive… as it produces very interesting dishes. Balancing a combination of flavours is the key when being inventive and this kitchen contains people with very finely tuned palates. The balance of flavours often borders on perfection! Arras review
When you visit a place that has two Michelin stars it is impossible not to have very high expectations. At Marcus they delivered food that met and exceeded those expectations and the level of service and attention to detail was extraordinary. Marcus review
The Woodspeen, Woodspeen
The Woodspeen is the only establishment in any category to have appeared every year in our Awards. Their success is due to the excellent food and service that they consistently deliver every single time we visit. Wood Review 1Wood Review 2
The Artist, Bucharest
The Artist gave us one of the best eating experiences we have had anywhere in the world. Extraordinary food presented in exceptional ways – almost like a culinary theatre! Artist review
The WadeandRockandFood Awards parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next few days.
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.
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.
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.
Tarte of fig & hazelnut, fig leaf ice cream
Coffee & petit fours
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.