Belgian Arms

Holyport Street, Holyport, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2JR, United Kingdom

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The Belgian Arms is (as of September 2012) the sister of The Royal Oak, with Dominic Chapman executive chef for both, but Ed Dutton doing the actual cooking at The Belgian Arms. Ed trained at Pied a Terre under Shane Osborne. The pub is two centuries old, renamed during the First World War from The Eagle to The Belgian Arms. There was a prisoner of war camp in the village of Holyport, and as German POWs were marched past they used to salute The Eagle (the black eagle was the Prussian coat of arms). Many of the locals had fought in Belgium, so switched the name to avoid allowing the POWs this little act of defiance. The village of Holyport was a resting point for pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to St Davids in Wales, the name actually derived from “Horrig-port” or “Muddy Market”, a fact probably not highlighted on the local tourist brochures, but these days the village looks quite pretty. The pub is down a side-road off the village green.

The restaurant dining room is quite plain with a mix of tiled and wooden floor, and bare tables with rather murky lighting (hence the matching photos). The dining room can seat around 45 customers at capacity and there were four chefs working in the kitchen on the night of my visit. The menu had around half a dozen choices at each stage, plus some bar snacks. The wine list was short (26 bottles) and focused on fairly cheap wines, ranging in price from £14.95 to £33 with an average price of £23. The mark-up level averaged 2.8 times retail, which is not wildly generous but is cheap by London standards. Example wines were Pinot Grigio Anterra 2011 at £18 for a wine that you can find in the high street for about £8, and Frog Haven 2008 Pinot Noir at £29.50 for a wine that retails at £12.30. There is however, an additional fine wine list available on request, with wines such as Antinori Tignanello 2009 at £130 (plus service) for a wine that costs £52 in the shops. Bread was bought in from The Bread Factory, a good source, and was pleasant white slices. We drank the excellent 2005 Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino at £80 for a wine that retails at around £49.

There were a few bar snacks, such as pig’s ears, which were deep-fried, crisp and had good seasoning. Butternut squash with ginger soup (£5.50) was served with sourdough bread. The soup had good texture and had quite rich flavour, nicely seasoned with the ginger coming through well to enliven the potentially bland taste of the butternut squash (easily 13/20). A salad was comprised of Rosary goat cheese, beetroot, walnuts, apple and watercress (£7). I liked the toasted walnuts, but in terms of balance there was an awful lot of beetroot and rich goat cheese, and not that much in the way of balance from the apple and watercress (12/20).

Fish and chips (£14) had crisp, golden deep-fried haddock on a bed of minted peas and served with chips on the side. The fish was presented on a mock newspaper (“The Belgian Arms Bugle”). The frying was accurate, the haddock had good flavour and the batter was excellent, while the chips were crisp (14/20). Partridge from Berkshire (£18.50) was served in two forms, as breast and also leg within a sausage roll, with red cabbage, cranberry and chestnut. The cabbage in particular was excellent, carefully cooked and with just enough fruit vinegar to provide some sharpness. The partridge breast was nicely cooked and had good flavour, the sausage roll perhaps a little under-seasoned. This was a very enjoyable main course (easily 14/20).

Tarte tatin (£6.50 per person) had a cinnamon stick and also star anise embedded within it, and although pleasant enough suffered from a rather soft pastry base. Moreover, although the apples were not over-cooked, more caramelisation could have been achieved (12/20). Coffee was Musetti and very good, served with some pleasant shortbread biscuits. Service was friendly, and the waitress remembered who ordered what dish, a fairly basic skill that eludes a disturbing number of restaurants. The manager previously worked at The Royal Oak, and prior to that at Zafferano and even in the old days of The Canteen in Chelsea Harbour. The bill came to £70 a head, but that was with some excellent wine. With a mid-priced wine it would be possible to eat comfortably for under £45 a head. Overall the Belgian Arms, while it is still not quite the finished article, is already producing good quality, appealing food. The best dishes, such as the partridge, show considerable skill in the kitchen.

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