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Harters

Royal Oak, Paley Street, Berkshire

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The building and the name are pretty much all that remain to tell the visitor that this was once a pub. Inside, it’s fitted out and staffed in entirely restaurant style. So, let’s regard it as a restaurant and, indeed, one with a Michelin star, rather than a gastropub where one might go to drink as well as eat.

There’s no freebie amuse bouche, but there are a few nibbly pre-starters to buy. Scotch egg, perhaps, or a couple of rollmops. Or, for me, rabbit rillettes on toast. Well seasoned bunny with a few slices of cornichon to contast.

Game, in the form of pigeon breast salad continued to be my choice. Thin slices of rare pigeon, quails egg, a little frisee, a little radicchio, a scattering of pine nuts and sultanas. They all worked well together. It felt a bit Italian and that part of the world was certainly the theme of my partner’s starter – a courgette flower stuffed with ricotta and served warm. Alongside, and served at room temperature, pine nuts and sultanas, sliced artichoke, a little beetroot and a few raw peas. All very summery.

Lemon sole, served on the bone, was excellent and came with a salad of pea shoots, marinated cucumber and brown shrimps. If the starter hadn’t been summery enough, this sorted it out properly. On the other plate, venison haunch came with a very zingy pepper crust – the sort that harked back to the peppered steak of the 1980s. But here, the dish was softened by wilted spinach and a mash which was, to my taste, more sloppy than it needed to be (but then, I’m someone who likes their mashed potato to be potatoes mashed, rather than pomme puree)

Desserts were a mixed bag. Strawberry jelly and elderflower cream shouted “English summer”. And, including pieces of fruit in the jelly and topping it with a strawberry sorbet, meant it was shouted pretty loud. I liked this a lot!

Rice pudding was as well made as your granny would have made it. It came with two jam doughnuts. Now these seemed to be fashionable dessert accompaniments three or four years ago (at least in our part of the world). They weren’t a good idea then and the passing years havn’t improved the concept.

Service was generally good, although the order taken seemed to do a runner towards the end of service which left us, and other tables, doing a bit of finger tapping until we managed to flag down a passing waitress who consented to take our dessert order.


John Hartley

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