Eat here: The Plowden Arms, Shiplake
As you know, I chomp my way through a lot of pub food in my quest to be the fattest blogger in the Home Counties. Often the pubs are good – I think we’re blessed around here actually – but occasionally I come across one that really gets me a bit tingly and superexcited. The Plowden Arms is one of these special pubs, mostly because the food is just so goddam brilliant.
Shiplake is a few miles outside Henley, a well-heeled tranquil village with its own station, a thirteenth century church (where Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, fact fans) private school and of course this pub, which manages to feel like a proper local inn at the same time as delivering really fabulous quality food.
So let’s get down to it shall we? First thing to say is that the interior is gently quirky with twinky twonky old-fashioned music, some sweet touches like the old typewriter on the bar and sewing machine as decoration, and a general feeling of early twentieth century nostalgia, whilst a slick paint job, shelves of home-made preserves and candles and some funky looking staff keep it from feeling too ale-and-pipeish.
We ate inside in the main ‘restauranty’ side, though there are also tables in the bar area. There’s actually a lovely large garden to the front and side of the pub (be warned, the front garden is very close to the road, a more relaxing experience will be further back), but it was a really hot day and we needed cool. Also, having had the food, I’d say it deserved more attention than a garden table and umbrella would give it.
I didn’t have an entree, for which I am now kicking myself, but ploughed straight into mains. I ordered an exquisite sea bream with fennel, grillbed baby artichoke and chervil dumplings (below) that I polished off in minutes.
… while my brother, never a man to hold back when a meal is on me, went all out for the rump steak. Cooked to perfection (I know this because I nicked some), the jus in particular was just incredible – so good that I nobbled the chef to find out how he made it, but it requires days and days of stewing, reducing and all that jazz, so I’ll never pull off that trick at home *sigh*
Dessert was a no brainer. A dark chocolate tart with creme fraiche for me and a lemon posset and shortbread for my brother. Both utterly delicious and beautifully presented.
I didn’t bring my kids here though I’ve heard plenty of reports from others (from whom I received a tip off about the pub in the first place) that it’s very child-friendly. The menu on the day I visited was quite adult – not sure if the pathetic palates of the Muddy bratlets would have found anything to their taste – but the Sunday lunch menu quite clearly caters for little people, with a raft of roasts and other meals available in smaller portions and costing a very reasonable £10 for two courses.
There is not even the smallest sniff of doubt that I’ll be returning with the whole family for a Sunday lunch. There’s a lovely walk that takes you from Shiplake to Henley and back along the river (about 7 miles in total) or a circular walk around Harpsden Woods (around 5 miles) if you want to justify scoffing one of those lovely desserts. Add good service, an interesting menu that explicitly offers a modern take on traditional food, and really, you’re onto a total winner with this pub.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies, anyone looking for a pub with character, groups of friends or families. The enclosed garden offers little people the chance to roam safely and there are plenty of board games for those who just want to come in for a casual Pie & Pint on a Wednesday (£9).
Not for: Tricky little eaters might struggle to find something on the daily menu. The proximity to the main road might put off casual diners looking for a rural idyll, while the loos need updating if that kind of thing worries you.
£££: On the upper end of mid-range. Starters are roughly £6 – 7.50, mains start at £12.50 but most sit around £15. Pudding are reasonable at £6ish. Kids Sunday lunches are £10 for 2 courses, adults £22.50 for 2 courses. Worth every penny.
The Plowden Arms, Reading Road, Shiplake Cross, Henley, RG9 4BX. plowdenarmsshiplake.co.uk