Tired of the fame of Heston Blumenthal, you might find joy in knowing the madhatter chef isn’t the only celebrity in Berkshire with stellar eateries. The Royal Oak Paley Street is your other alternative. Owned by Sir Michael Parkinson this is a pub restaurant, which two years ago, earned itself a little red macaroon AKA the Michelin and is still holding it. Yet, unlike other M-starred pub-restaurants, say The Hand and Flowers or The Sportsman, the Royal Oak didn’t look too much like a pub. Quite dark (for lunch), demure, done up, no tablecloth, nearly fine dining, a bit more fancy.
The kitchen headed by Dominic Chapman creates a celestially English menu utilising very fine British produce, which has been attracting gourmands and chefs far and wide across the British Isles. Dishes were individually priced. The cheapest main was £17.50 and the dearest £34. Lunch menu was available at £22.95 for a three-course. Bread arrived and so did bar nibbles, Roll Mops (1) and Scotch Egg (2). The latter was crowned the “World’s Best Ever Scotch Egg” by Olive Magazine in 2009. Both were travel-worthy. Roll Mops were the delight of taste bud. Voluptuous fillet of pickled herring. The silvery skin still sparkled. The touch of genius came with this paradox of sweetness and acidity in finely sliced pickled onions. That said, they each were huge and do not try eating it in one bite. The Other Bib choked. Poor him.. The scotch egg was densely delicious. Perfectly soft-boiled quail’s egg with its yolk so runny. The meat had good firm of texture and neatly packed with flavours; the golden brown crumbs so crunchy they made noise at a bite.
I settled for three starters. Fried Sand Eels with Mayo (3) looked mental and stuck out everywhere as if it hoped for a Big Brother entrance invitation alongside Jedward. Meaty. Delicate and light batter. Quite a winner (unlike the Twins) though I wished there would have been twists in the yolk-y mayo. Fricasse of Lamb Sweetbreads (4) was rustically served. Three chunks of sweetbreads with crispy skin and creamy flesh. Concentrated broth almost as rich as a jus but nicely balanced by this delectable citrusy acidity. The joyful freshness from peas, crunchy baby gem lettuce and a mild note of mint restored the spirit of summer into the dish. Courgette Flower with Ricotta, Baby Artichokes, Pine Nuts and Sultanas Vinaigrette (5) to share appeared dazed and tasted rather confused. Apart from the items billed, there were also beetroots, peas and tomatoes. In such an entourage the beautifully roasted courgette flower did lose its limelight. The paste with subtle tomato-like acidity did not quite bind everything together.
Main.. our eyes went straight to Roast Grouse (6). Here it arrived with bread sauce, crab apple jelly, gravy and game chips. Homey. This grouse landed with a pleasant aroma and wasn’t particularly game-y. The season has just started and they were only hung for two days. Tender meat and gentle flavour. Personally we would have loved it done more pink.We also had to pace ourselves with the gravy as its mouth-watering intensity could easily drown the taste of grouse. Lovely, nonetheless. The homemade chipolata sausage was nicely done but a piece of grouse offal – a liver, a heart, perhaps? – on the plate would have made my heart pump in excitement.
The desserts, sadly, did not deliver the similarly robust excitement as the savoury dishes. Blackberry and Bramley Apple Crumble with Custard (7) was good but not special. Solid flavours from the zingy apple infused with fresh blackberry. A scattering of nuts provided a contrast of crust. The 2-in-1 dessert of Warm Vanilla Rice Pudding with Jam Doughnuts (8) fell short of success. While the rice pudding was slightly impressively al dente, luxuriously creamy and nicely perfumed, the doughnuts were awkwardly heavy (for their size) and an effort to chew (we both are not yet 30 and our teeth are natural). The heaviness of the dough cancelled out the otherwise enjoyable jam filling. The two elements did not complement each other either.
.. and as I had forgotten to snap a shot of Rice Pudding (boo!!), you may need to indulge with a very pretty image of the same dish on CC’s here
The bill – with water, two glasses of wine, a orange juice – came to £158. The service was slightly laissez-faire and did not exude warmth. We were only friendlily conversed with at the end of the meal. That said, the meal did have its momentum. Honest food. Heartily English. Good but not special. Did not strike me as a destination restaurant, though if you pass by and pop in, I’m sure Royal Oak Paley Street won’t disappoint. When calling for the bill, we took note of Parkinson roaming the bar. And on my slow walk back to Maidenhead station, I took time foraging some blackberries .. and stalking horses.
My head rating says, “7.5 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
THE ROYAL OAK PALEY STREET
Tel. 01628 620 541