Chef Simon Bonwick was previously at the Three Tuns and The Black Boys Inn, and had trained at The Waterside Inn and with the late, legendary Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu. He has bought the freehold to this little village pub near Maidenhead and works alone in the kitchen here, having started here in late 2013. The building is 400 years old and has a very low ceiling, tables set out in two sections, with a few tables by the window at the front; just over 30 diners can be accommodated at one time. The menu is written up on a blackboard, with starters priced from £3 - £13, main courses £15 to £19, vegetables at no extra charge and desserts at £6.
Bread was made from scratch and was excellent, both white rolls and baguettes having very good texture (15/20). We sampled a few of the starters. Mushrooms came with tender butter beans and herbs, with a dressing providing nice acidity (13/20). Duck liver pate was served in a little jar topped with lentils, and had smooth texture and good liver flavour (14/20). Crab, artichokes, capers and onions was a simple but enjoyable dish, with fresh crab; perhaps the chef should put an ultra-violet lamp on his Christmas list, as there were a couple of pieces of shell in the crab (13/20).
Avocado prawns came with rocket, lemon and a lime dressing that was just a touch too oily for me, though the avocados were very ripe (12/20). Herrings from Cromer were very good, served with potato salad, gherkins and shallots, the quality of the fish high (14/20).
For a main course, cod came with little shrimp, cucumber balls and herbs, and was carefully cooked (13/20). Venison steak pie was served on a bed of mash with a little gravy, and although it could have been presented more attractively, the venison had pleasant flavour, nicely seasoned (13/20). On the side was a dish of mixed vegetables with leeks and particularly impressive carrots that had really excellent flavour. When I inquired about these it turned out that they had been picked from the garden of the chef’s father-in-law the previous day.
Cranachan, a Scottish dessert of cream, honey, oats, whiskey and raspberries was very enjoyable, the raspberries having good flavour (14/20). Macadamia nut coffee cake had a base that seemed rather too rich and sweet, though it came with nice caramel ice cream (13/20). Coffee was from Nescafe capsules, and was decent, charged at just £1 a cup.
The bill came to just £47 a head including a bottle of very enjoyable Gewürztraminer. Service was charming, with a barman who used to work at the Hand and Flowers and a friendly waitress that turned out to be the chef’s daughter. This is stripped-back, simple cooking in a basic pub environment, but it is done with skill and enthusiasm, the food generally between 13/20 and 14/20 in standard. It is a bargain.