Lately, I’ve found myself returning home to the soil that nurtured me much less frequently. Work and London life in general mean that I rarely get the chance to make the (admittedly short) journey out to see the parents and get some fresh air. However, one thing sure to entice me back is a birthday, particularly my sister’s, and the prospect of lunch at what is fast becoming my favourite restaurant only sweetened the deal. I was sold, Saturday 11th July 2009 was going to be a no-breakfast day, something I almost instantly regretted as my grumbling stomach complained aloud to the world on the drive out.
After the exchange of presents, and the admiration of my sister’s cake, lovingly cooked and crafted into yet another wonderfully relevant shape (a champagne bottle) by my mum, we strolled up the road (another plus point, walking distance, everyone can drink!) to the rather gorgeous Wellington Arms.
I have many memories of this pub, back from when I was knee-height to a grasshopper, and it was an old man’s boozer. A handful of mental pictures of sitting in the garden (as a child, I was thoroughly banned from the interior) waiting for my Mum or Dad to be served through the window from the bar. Fast-forwarding, oh, 15 years, and the place was bought by a husband and wife team, who cleaned up the interior, reduced the bar space, refurbed the kitchen and turned it into a restaurant, with a small bar for the regulars, to ease the transition.
Just over a year later, these trailblazers moved on to pastures new and the now-proprieters Justin King and Simon Page, chef and front-of-house respectively, took over the place, gave the interior another facelift and set to work on the food, vastly improving its provenance and expanding the home-grown reach of the menu. Rescued battery hens scurry around the garden, laying eggs which are both used in the kitchen and sold by the half-dozen inside. A magnificent herb garden stretches out from the back of the kitchen, segueing past the veg, well, patch seems a little tame, but that’s where it comes from.
One thing that immediately hits you about this place is its size. From the photo above, it doesn’t look huge, and it isn’t, which is absolutely brilliant. 25 seats, max, mismatching tables, chairs on one side, heavily-cushioned window seats on the other, jars of chutney on the walls, a fireplace with a champagne ornament next to it. Straight ahead is a blackboard-painted oak beam advertising bin end wine, to the right a hanging sign for home-made marmalade.
To the left is the menu, a blackboard-bound list of changing wonder, promising the world, from steak to scallops, cod to pidgeon, lobster to lamb, neatly arranged in two columns – starters and mains.
Settling down, we ordered:
- Mum: Goat’s cheese souffle followed by Line caught scallops with samphire
- Dad: Hen’s egg tortilla with smoked salmon, followed by Berkshire Down lamb chops with courgette, beans and rosemary
- Sister: Vine-ripened tomato soup with basil & olive oil, followed by crispy fried pumpkin flowers, stuffed with Ricotta
- Me: Terrine of wild venison and wood pidgeon, followed by Berkshire Down lamb chops with courgette, beans and rosemary
We managed to cover the menu pretty well. We ordered a bottle of white to go with this lot, sadly, I wasn’t drinking, trying to kill off the last few remnants of a cold, which means I didn’t pay as much attention as I should’ve to the chosen tipple, I will do better in future! I also need a better camera, but that’s for another post…
There now follows a couple of photos, mainly because they’re the best that came out. I’m afraid this is where my camera rather let me down, so I only have two good snaps, boo, but behold! Our starters:
The souffle, although I didn’t partake on this particular occasion, I’ve had before and, judging by my Mum’s approving noises and clean plate, was as wonderfully cheesy and fluffy as I remember it. I would’ve ordinarily plumped for it, but I had a real meat craving going on, and the prospect of venison & pidgeon, wrapped in pancetta was too much to give up. I was not disappointed. Big, meaty chunks of deer and the humble pidgeon oozed flavour, even more so when schmeared over some thick grilled toast and topped with the gorgeous apple chutney, the sweetness of the latter providing a nice counterpoint to the strength of the meat(s).
As any round of starters should, we were chomping at the bit for the next stack of food, and, on cue, they did arrive:
In a flash of poor form on my part, as soon as my lamb arrived, I ripped into it like it was the only food left on earth – hence the rushed photos – and neglected pretty much everything else going on around me, including a small pot of sauce that I only ended up sampling after placing the last gnawed-to-the-nth-degree rib back on my plate and looking up and the rest of my family. Wonderfully juicy, with a good level of charring, I tore through the lot (and there was a lot – 3 very meaty bits) in double-quick time. I’d like to think if I’d been drinking that might’ve slowed me down a bit as I savoured the interactions between the wine and the lamb, but, well, I wouldn’t put money on it…
The lamb was lovely, a tasty edge of fat clinging on to provide texture and an extra level of flavour, the centre nicely pinked, oozing enough juices to warrant a cleanup operation with a latent bit of bread from the pre-prandial calm, I chewed the bones clean. The courgette slivers and bed of beans providing a nice bit of veggie balance to the intensely meaty chops, I was thoroughly stuffed. My Dad, finishing with satisfaction after me, had similar sentiments, if expressed through slightly tangential vocabulary (“God, that was good”).
My sister went for the pumpkin flowers as soon as Simon told us they had them on the menu, and demolished them about as quickly, before I could get a nibble, horribly unsporting of her, I let it slide as it was her birthday… From memory, they’re just as good, lightly crispy batter giving way to semi-molten ricotta inside, fluffy and textured, packed full of flavour.
My Mum’s scallops were a starter-sized portion, but still bursting with flavour, and the addition of samphire gave two nice flavour points to quite a simple dish, the latter was duly shared around for sampling, a bright, fresh green and very tasty indeed.
That left pudding. Mum & Dad balked at the idea and plumped for coffee, but my sister and I were not so daunted. She went for an elderberry jelly with vanilla bean ice cream and I for a mango sorbet, sadly I only have an in-focus picture of the former (I really, *really* need a new camera)…
The elderberry was a nice, light finish to the meal, and the ice cream the very essence of vanilla, velvety smooth and flavoursome. All their puds are made in-house, as are their sorbets, hence why I decided I should give the latter a try. I was not disappointed, nor was anyone else who I was forced to share it with. A chorus of “mmm, that’s *very* mangoey” echoed around the table, as did a string of “awww”s as I picked up my tiny warm shortbread and nibbled away on it, only getting about a hundred crumbs all over myself, and I was sober!
This post was always going to be unashamedly congratulatory, I’ve visited this restaurant about a dozen times, indeed, we booked the place out for my sister’s birthday last year with 20 or so of her friends, but there is a reason why we all keep going back, and why I’d happily make the journey from further afield than London to visit. The quality of the ingredients, the homely size of the place, the skill it’s all cooked with and the changing, seasonal menu are but a handful of this place’s attributes, and why I recommend it to anyone. Also, I went there before Giles Coren did, *sticks tongue out*. Oh, and the cost rounded out at about £40 per head, so when I say it’s worth it, I really mean it.