The Beetle & Wedge
Here's one for when the sunshine finally appears - a South Oxon former boathouse in the prettiest location.
Here’s one to bookmark for warmer months – and they must be coming, right? RIGHT? Muddy’s Sascha Way has paddle-boarded past this South Oxon riverside stalwart many times (she’s sporty like that) and popped in for a quick drink on occasion. But she’s never got stuck into three courses in the elegant restaurant. So we sent her along for a dinner, on the understanding that she didn’t wear her wetsuit.
For as long as I can remember, this former boat house has been a restaurant with rooms. It’s all about location location location – it’s on an idyllic stretch of the Thames in the village of Moulsford, just south of Wallingford. It tends to attract an older crowd although is busy with local families lunching on the weekend, it’s a popular wedding venue and when I last popped in they were also holding one of their regular Market Days with locals selling a range of produce, jams and bread.
I wish I could tell you we visited on a balmy summer evening and lounged on the outside terrace, watching the boats meander by… but actually it was dreary, dank and drizzly, so we headed straight to the bar to plonk ourselves by the roaring fire (which also doubles as a charcoal grill for cooking steaks and seafood during the summer months). Upstairs, the airy conservatory dining room, with its high beams and white linen tablecloths, has a sedate, grown-up feel. It was quiet on our visit, with just two family groups, a couple and a solitary business diner in attendance but I know from experience that on sunny weekends it’s a buzzier spot, with boaters mooring up (sometimes overnight) for lunch or dinner. The service was impeccable – we were served by manager Charlotte, a staffer with 18 years under her belt who has everything running like clockwork.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The food is well-prepared with a focus on traditional dishes rather than gastro-experimentation. I started with a goat’s cheese, pesto, pine nut and leaf salad while my husband tucked into crispy duck with a ginger risotto cake and plum sauce.
I moved on to good ol’ fish and chips with posh peas and tartare sauce, while Pete had a grilled pork chop with creamed potatoes and wild mushroom sauce. The portions were extremely generous, with all main courses also mystifyingly arriving with a dish of rosti potatoes. If you’re carb-loading for a marathon, this is your Mecca but, for us, the double-potato action was a bit much.
That said, like the troopers we are, we managed to squeeze in dessert. Namely a fluffy, totally indulgent sticky toffee pudding and an excellent crème brûlée. I washed it all down with a glass of the decent house Malbec. I was driving but if you’re not it’s worth noting that all the house wines are a very reasonable £18 per bottle.
OUT & ABOUT
Moulsford is a lovely Oxfordshire village and if you fancy a pre or post prandial stroll, there’s a beautiful walk through riverside meadows right outside the door (turn right and follow the towpath). If you’d prefer something more testing you can cross the road and climb the hill on to the Ridgeway for some spectacular views (although if you’re taking along your four-legged friend he’ll have to wait in the car on your return as dogs are not allowed in the restaurant). A couple of miles away you’ll find Goring & Streatley, these two adjoined riverside villages are full of interesting indie shops, a great deli, café and a couple of pubs. Plus Goring was home to George Michael if you fancy paying homage.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Family celebrations or Sunday lunches, couples looking for a romantic evening alfresco on the river on warmer days or cosying up by the fire in the winter. It’s a good call for treating older relatives who like a classic menu and decorous ambience.
Not for: If you have especially feral children, the riverside location and genteel atmosphere in the dining room might give you a headache. Raucous groups in search of a wild night out will be disappointed, ditto gourmet hipsters who Instagram every bite, and vegans/vegetarians – I only spotted one veggie main on the menu. And, while soggy paddle-boarders are welcome for a quick pitstop pint, they can’t venture into the restaurant.
The damage: Reasonable value at around £35-£40 for 3 courses à la carte, with starters around £8 and mains from £14 to £27. There’s also a decent set menu which is 2 courses for £17.50 and 3 courses for £20.
The Beetle & Wedge Boathouse, Ferry Lane, Moulsford-on-Thames, Oxon, OX10 9JF; 01491 651381.
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