Dominic Chapman gained a Michelin star for The Royal Oak, and in August 2014 struck out on his own, taking over the Beehive in White Waltham. This is very much a village pub, overlooking the local cricket ground. On the autumn night that we visited there was a huge bonfire in a field nearby that I presume was the remnants of a firework display, but did look worryingly like an outtake from the film The Wicker Man. The Beehive seats around 75 guests at any one time and the main room is carpeted, meaning pleasantly restrained noise levels even on a packed evening. The menu is particularly appealing – I could have happily ordered every single dish on offer tonight, which makes a nice change when so many chefs seem anxious to show how clever they are by introducing ever more bizarre ingredients and peculiar flavour combinations. Prices were kind: Starters ranged from £5.95 to £9.95, main courses £11.95 to £21.50, side dishes around £3 and desserts £5.25 to £6.95.
The wine list had just a couple of dozen bottles, ranging in price from £16.50 to £45, with a median price of £27 and an average mark-up of just 2.5 times retail price, which is very fair by UK standards. Example labels were Lamark Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2013 at £20 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £11, Downton Abbey Claret at £30 for a wine with a retail price of £13, and Devaux Grand Reserve Champagne at £45 compared to a shop price of £30.
Bread was bought in from the Bread Factory and had good texture, tasting very fresh (14/20). A Scotch egg (£3) was made to order with a liquid quail egg yolk at the centre and plenty of pork taste coming through (14/20). Cauliflower soup (£5.95) with toasted almonds and Stilton had plenty of flavour and was seasoned well, the almonds giving a useful textural contrast. It is possible to pack even more into such a dish, as I recall from a remarkable version of a similar soup at The Hardwick, but this was certainly a very good starter (14/20).
Crab linguine (£9.95) with chilli lemon and mint had good pasta and a decent amount of crab; I could have done with a touch more chilli, but this is down to personal taste, and overall it was a most enjoyable dish (14/20).
Haddock and salmon fishcakes (£12.50) with leeks and tartare sauce worked well. There was a generous amount of fish, the coating was crisp and the leeks were excellent, avoiding the wateriness than can often afflict them in less skilled hands; the tartare sauce also had a nice sharpness to it (14/20).
Venison (£19.95) was loin of fallow deer on a bed of red cabbage alongside gratin dauphinoise. The potatoes were very good, not too creamy and retaining some firmness. The cabbage was carefully cooked but a touch more vinegar would have improved it, and although the deer was cooked pink it had a slightly chewy quality in places (13/20).
Blackberry trifle (£6.95) was excellent, the component layers of the trifle nicely prepared, the overall dish in balance (15/20). Lemon posset (£5.25) came with excellent shortbread biscuits and a garnish of nice raspberries, but the posset itself was a touch too creamy; a little more lemon would have improved the balance. As it was the lemon curd at the bottom provided a touch of welcome acidity, but not quite enough (13/20).
Service was very friendly and capable. The bill came to a very fair £43 head, albeit with us bringing our own wine. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a realistic bill for two would be around £55 a head. Although it was early days for The Beehive, the cooking is already at a strong level, and the overall experience was most enjoyable. It will be very interesting to watch as the kitchen team comes together and the cooking develops further.