Editor's note: The Yew Tree has changed hands since my visit, so please treat the notes below as being mainly of historical interest.
The Yew Tree is a restaurant with rooms in a building dating back to the 17th Century (at one time it had Marco Pierre White as a shareholder, but he sold his stake in mid 2011). It is near Highclere Castle, which features heavily in the TV Series Downton Abbey. The menu was firmly in British territory, but with ingredients at times rather more elevated than would normally be seen in a pub, and indeed the Yew Tree feels more restaurant than pub. Starters ranged from £7 to £12.50, main courses £15.50 to £22.50 and desserts were £7.50.
The two page wine list started at £17.50 and had selections including Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 at £32 for a wine that you can purchase in a shop for £10, Ken Forrester FMC Chenin Blanc 2008 at £49.50 for a wine that will set you back £30 to buy, and Antinori Tignanello 2007 at £110 compared to a retail price of £55. We drank the excellent Vina Tondonia 1991 at £95 for a wine that costs £53 in the shops, if you could actually find it. As can be seen, mark-ups were very fair by London standards.
The dining room has a low ceiling with exposed beams, brick pillars and a grey carpet. The atmosphere was that of an informal restaurant rather than a true pub, with carefully ironed white linen tablecloths on the tables. Lighting was low, and for some tables very dark indeed. Bread was made from scratch, with a white bloomer bread that was decent and a somewhat better pumpkin seed brown bread (14/20).
A French onion soup had plenty of onion flavour and well caramelised onions, though soggy croutons (13/20). My risotto of girolles had nice quality girolles and rice with reasonable texture, though I did not think the heap of pea shoots as garnish added much; the shaving of truffles was a nice touch, though (13/20).
Fish and chips had properly cooked fish and good batter, while chips were reasonably crisp; mushy peas on the side actually tasted of peas (easily 13/20). The best dish was steak pie, the pastry good, the steak tender, seasoning at a sensible level. It was only let down by some soggy red cabbage (14/20). For dessert, lemon posset had a good balance between the lemon, cream and sugar, though the texture was a little odd, being firm at the top and quite runny at the bottom; still, the flavour was fine (13/20).
Service was friendly but amateurish. Our starters were presented the wrong way around, and for the main course the waiter gave up entirely and asked who had ordered what dish. The wrong wine was brought to the table, and our dessert appeared without cutlery. Topping of up of water and wine was cursory, and towards the end of service when we tried to get the bill there was not a waiter to be seen in the dining room. The bill came to £88 a head, but this was with one of the best wines on the list. Around £60 a head would be a likely price with a moderate wine. This was above average cooking, though the lacklustre service may put some off.