The Woodspeen, Berks

Growing up in the countryside pubs are everywhere. My own village had no less than five at one point, which I think which was slightly excessive. But good quality pubs are not always plentiful, and something a bit different even rarer.


From the outside The Woodpseen looks like any other quality gastropub, but looks can be deceptive.

This is categorically a restaurant, set inside a former pub which has only been open since October 2014. Head chef Peter Eaton hails from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and owner John Campbell has achieved Michelin star status at previous establishments.

Once inside you feel like you’ve been transported to Scandinavia, or perhaps one of the stylish restaurants you can now find in galleries and museums across the Capital.

Mid-century furniture, wood, tones of grey, plants and a huge skylight create a modern, airy and relaxed atmosphere. The huge windows provide a lovely backdrop to the space, and the roaring wood burner added a touch of cosiness alongside the sheepskin throws that dressed some of the seating.

On arrival I decided to go for a G&T, and when I’m informed they have a choice of over 30, I instantly knew I was going to like the place.

We chose the set lunch menu which turned out to be excellent value at £24 for two courses and £29 for three. The restaurant grows a lot of its vegetables on site, and suppliers are carefully picked by the team.

The wine list is impressively long. It’s daytime though, and one of us was driving so we each chose a glass to accompany our food. Prices start at £5 a glass and include options from USA, Turkey and Austria for under a tenner.

We both picked the same starter, a smoked haddock Scotch egg, with a celeriac and mustard slaw. The egg was perfect and seemed to be more of a poached egg, rather than boiled. The haddock was light and the slaw provided a nice crunchy contrast.

I was having a day off from a January health-kick, so I decided to embrace the one thing I was missing the most – cheese. I opted for a pumpkin risotto, cooked with ‘oakey smokey’ cheddar, and served with a balsamic glaze and hazelnuts. The flavours worked together brilliantly – the portion size not overly massive (in a positive way). Risotto can sometimes be a bit gloopy, so the hazelnuts added an interesting texture.


We pondered pudding and decided yes we would as the options didn’t seem to look too heavy. A deconstructed apple and blackberry crumble was created with a tart berry sorbet, and my rum and raisin baked Alaska was heavy on the rum with the raisins blended into the ice cream for a more sophisticated take on a classic.

The place was packed – unexpected for a friday lunchtime in a village consisting of literally two houses. The mix of clientele was varied – couples, a group of women ‘doing’ lunch, some business colleagues and everything in between.

I’m not surprised the place is popular. The service was fantastic – attentive without being pushy. The produce used here is clearly top-notch and I’d like to see how the menu changes over the seasons. I envy those who have the Woodspeen on their doorstep – it’s a total gem with not ploughman’s in sight.

NB – there is also a cookery school offering a wide range of classes which is worth a look.


Oktopus – Liverpool

Welcome to my first blogpost of 2018. After a short hiatus I’m pleased to announce I am back and ready to bring you some of my favourite places as the year unfolds.

I was lucky enough to have the first week of the year off so booked a ticket to visit a friend in Liverpool. It’s a city I’ve visited in the past with work, so sadly had seen very little bar the inside of a hotel room and the University campus.

This time I had the luxury of being shown round by a born and bred Liverpudlian who like me shares a love of good food and wine.

Following a lovely trip to the Liverpool Philharmonic to watch a film, we popped round the corner to a restaurant called Oktopus. Hidden away in a courtyard behind the Old Blind School, it feels like a place only those with their noses to the culinary ground would find it, and I like that.

The restaurant has only been open since April last year after starting out as a pop up at the Baltic Triangle – a thriving area which I also visited on my trip.

The restaurant is not huge – an open kitchen one end and at the other a canary yellow dresser housing the beer taps from the Black Lodge Brewery who run the joint alongside several other venues in the City.

It’s got the classic industrial vibe – bare brickwork, copper lights and exposed vents etc. However little potted plants, chairs reminiscent of schooldays, tealights and the aforementioned dresser give it a cosy feel rather than feeling stark and generic.

Menus here change weekly and offer simple dishes focusing on seasonal high quality ingredients – in particular seafood. The dishes are classed as small plates which come to the table as and when ready.

Being a somewhat greedy eater with a reluctance to share I’m pleased that small dishes aren’t actually that small – increasing in size and price as you go down the menu, ranging from £6.50 up to £18.

We went for four dishes and not one disappointed.

Firstly we picked a salad of white cabbage, chervil, crayfish and capers. It was light, fresh and zingy with a generous portion of plump sweet crayfish.

Next up was another salad this time braised beetroot, forced rhubarb and Blacksticks Blue cheese. I’m not a fan of the mouldy stuff so let my friend crack on with that, but the rest was delicious – I love golden beetroot and would not have thought to pair with rhubarb.

Again another pairing that I wouldn’t have expected was fresh grilled Cornish sardines with harissa butter. I love sardines which always evoke memories of summer holidays, and the harissa added a new punchy dimension without being overpowering.

Finally onto the standout dish for me. Lamb rump cooked with preserved lemons, butter beans and mojo verde. We enquired what was in said mojo verde and were told the herbs change but on this day it was fresh cumin and coriander.

I’d forgotten how much I loved butter beans and cooked with the lemons they lost their blandness that beans can often be if you don’t jazz them up a bit. I’ve actually recreated this base since I’ve been home, adding leeks and a piece of fish. Delicious and healthy.

The staff were chatty and friendly and more than happy to answer our questions. If you like beer it’s great to have some craft ones to choose from. I had red wine but forgot to note what it was, so sorry I can’t share that with you. It was very nice though if that helps?


In a rare display of willpower I opted out of dessert but instantly regretted it when I saw what was put in front of my friend. She said she would be returning for this pudding alone – buttermilk panna cotta, brandy prunes and pecan praline. It did look ruddy lovely.

Oktopus is great. You could pop in for lunch or a light meal or go full on 3 courses if you wanted. The standard of cooking a was great – unfussy letting the ingredients speaking for themselves.

I’ll definitely be visiting again on my next trip and this time I’ll not forgo dessert.

Oh and if you like your gin and/or whisky pop to Berry and Rye down the road. It looks like a closed up shop, but seek and ye shall find.