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.

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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.

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