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Orwells

Shiplake Row, Binfield Heath, RG9 4DP, United Kingdom

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This roadside pub is in an 18th century building, but has been running as a restaurant for the last few years (since May 2010). The joint chef/proprietors are Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotmann, who worked together at the Goose in Britwell Salome, gaining it a Michelin star before quitting in a row with the owner about the ambition level of the food. Liam had trained at Winteringham Fields, Ryan at Troisgros, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire before returning to the UK and working at Winteringham Fields and The Elephant. The menu is quite ambitious by pub standards, and as well as a selection of a la carte choices there is a six course tasting menu priced at a rather chunky £70, which is more than that at The Sportsman.

A nibble of candied tomato and a little jar of goat cheese, fried onions and pea mousse was very pleasant, the pea flavour coming through well (14/20). Bread is made from scratch on the premises, something that I applaud, but it was not the very best. Herb focaccia was far too dry, the main herb coming through in the flavour being oregano. Red Leicester bread had better texture and decent flavour, the best of the trio of breads being the granary (13/20 bread on average).

Foie gras was roasted, served with smoked eel, a bed of pearly barley and a few pickled mushrooms. The foie gras was good and the vinegar of the pickled mushrooms created balance, though the eel lacked flavour (14/20). Crab was topped with a jelly of grapefruit and served with apple and capsicums, nicely presented with some edible flowers. The crab had good flavour but the grapefruit was surprisingly subdued, though the apple lifted the dish (14/20).

Monkfish with cauliflower, peanut and curry on a bed of lentils had fish that avoided chewiness, but was rather dried out. The curry flavour barely came through, tasting more like piccalilli (12/20). Duck was served both with the breast cooked pink and with the duck leg wrapped in greens, with broccoli, scallions, pickled mushrooms and a few drops of sauce made from the cooking juices. It was a pity that the sauce was just there for artistic effect, as the dish really needed more of it. The duck was pleasant enough but the dish badly needed more sauce (13/20). On the side, mash was slightly better than chips, which were not very crisp.

For dessert, lemon curd with nuts and chocolate ice cream was oddly lacking in enough lemon acidity, while the advertised passion fruit appeared as just a blob of sauce (12/20). Better was a chocolate sphere with cherry sorbet. The cherry had that cough-mixture flavour that cherries often seem to have in England; I had just spent the last few days prior to this meal in the Black Forest, so these were never going to compare well. The chocolate was a little soft in texture but had nice flavour, and this was a pleasant enough dish (13/20).

Coffee was bitter and not enjoyable, supplied from a company called Darlington, served with a rum and coconut truffle. Service was very good, the waiter who served us friendly and helpful. It was a busy night, and the pace of dishes was leisurely: from sitting down to eat until coffee arrived took two hours and forty minutes. The bill, with a bottle of Riesling to share, no pre-dinner drinks and with one extra glass of dessert wine, came to £82 a head, which seemed an awful lot of money for the standard of what appeared on the plate.

Overall, although there is clearly some ambition in the cooking here, I wanted to like the food more than I actually did. As ever for me in a restaurant, the key issue is value. For £82 a head I can eat a pretty serious meal in central London, and here the rent etc is surely a lot lower. Overall, it was a decent enough experience, but it is not somewhere to which I would journey back to at this price point.   

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