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The Miller of Mansfield

Friendly pub meets fine dining at this Goring restaurant-with-rooms, a village retreat with serious aspirations.

A gourmet overnighter at dearly-departed George Michael’s chichi local? Before I could punch The Miller Of Mansfield‘s Goring address into my sat nav, local journo and Muddy contributor Anna Brech had checked in *thwarted face*. So Anna, pray tell us, did it take you to the edge of heaven?

 

THE LOWDOWN

This 18th century coaching inn has long been a village stalwart in Goring-on-Thames, set up by a plundering miller who was said to have fled the wrath of the king many moons ago. It has all the elements you’d expect from a good country pub: wooden beams, roaring log fires, and a gaggle of pint-swilling locals.

But it also comes with a dash of foodie star power, too. Owners Mary and Nick Galer, who arrived in 2014, both trained within Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Group. Their ambitious approach to seasonal cuisine and service has clocked up a string of awards in recent years, putting their baby firmly on the map. Food is the headline act here, so it’s wise to come armed with a gladiator appetite (not a problem for me). And you can count pop royalty in its bag of tricks, too – the late singer George Michael lived just down the road and is a much-missed Miller of Mansfield regular.

THE VIBE

When we arrived on a grey Friday night (aka “Fruity Friday” with discount cocktails) the bar area was heaving. We had to eke out space to order a drink with a shoulder shimmy or two, but it was worth it for the punchy Twisting Spirits gin and Good Old Boy ale sourced from a nearby brewery.

Everyone knows everyone at The Miller of Mansfield, at least in the pub bit, but it doesn’t feel cliquey or parochial. It’s just a friendly place to be; punters are greeted on a first-name basis, and you can sense the community vibes a mile off. Monty, an affable golden Labrador, appeared to have free rein of the place on the night we were there, wandering between punters, wagging his tail and graciously receiving pats.

It’s not just a local boozer, though; there’s a boutique feel too. The service is en pointe, and both the pub and restaurant area are upscaled with sleek furnishings, quirky design elements (such as rustic Wessex Mill flour bags placed here and there) and bold pops of colour. This is the kind of plush hideaway you can wear your skinny jeans and heels to on a Friday night. But beware you may, like me, end up popping the top button by the end of the evening: the food is that good.

PILLOW TALK

If you’re the kind of person who likes to scour a hotel room for hidden delights (*raises hand*), you won’t be disappointed. A quick sweep of our nesting hole revealed luxuries such as a Nespresso machine, Ren toiletries, and deliciously chewy homemade golden syrup biscuits wrapped in wax paper with The Miller of Mansfield’s own seal. Soon enough, I was happily ensconced with a Birchall red berry tea, sniffing out my neroli and grapefruit body cream with an ardour that would impress Monty the lab.

Rooms are divided into small, standard, superior and suite, each individually designed, with wildly varying themes and a hefty side dollop of charisma. Our superior room had Hollywood glamour at its heart, with a mirrored dressing table, gold-tinted drapes and retro flowered wallpaper. It felt like a very grown-up boudoir, with a four-poster bed, velvety throws and matching gold-and-brown lamps. Such an outré vision won’t be to everyone’s taste but, in a world where hotels often play safe, I admired the sense of fun behind it. And we could hear the owls hooting at night from the park opposite which was rather lovely.

SCOFF & QUAFF


Things kicked off with a seriously good-looking bread starter: a “brioche in a bag” tucked away in a hessian sack, a whole miniature loaf of home-baked bread, a scoop of smoky bacon dipping sauce and cylindrical coils of thickly salted butter. Next up was a Scottish sea trout version of gravad lax on a bed of punchy celeriac remoulade, with a wee crispy quail’s egg that oozed out, exactly on cue, across the fish.

 

Another starter, native lobster, came with vivid puffballs of carrot puree and a flourish of crispy samphire. It’s the attention to detail here that really stands out. Chef Nick shows his pedigree in beautifully thought-out flavour combinations, so you just know that you’re in safe hands. My Cornish grey mullet main was flaky and delicate, and the gooey tang of hollandaise sauce was its perfect  partner.

Chunky hunks of aged salt chamber beef were supercharged with a hint of salted crust, and a tarragon sauce that was super-tasty without being overbearing. The generous wine list didn’t hurt either, with an intense Ontañon Rioja that would make any meat dish sing. Oddly, I think my standout nugget from the night would be the potato side: layered paper-thin in a creamy stack. It wasn’t the showiest option, but a moreish take on the humble veg.

The friendly staff served us three desserts because we couldn’t decide.  All were delicious, but my favourite was the signature Miller Battenberg, served on a vintage tea tray. Again, the detail came into its own, with a gloop of Earl Grey tea that could be poured over the pink grapefruit cake, a sugared tuile and a crowning pouffe of honey yoghurt. I could practically hear my arteries groaning in protest, but it was worth every bite.

KID-FRIENDLY?

As we arrived on a boozy Friday night and left the next morning, we didn’t actually see any kids in the vicinity. However, the fact that most of said boozers were mums and dads would suggest that this is a child-friendly arena. Nick and Mary have two boys themselves, so their children’s menu is well-versed in little ones’ favourites (there’s a popcorn starter and everything). On Christmas Day, they even create a kid’s version for every one of nine tasting courses, which is true dedication to the cause.

OUT & ABOUT

For a diddy place, Goring-on-Thames is packed with small businesses so it’s a real delight to have a nose around. Ruby Pepper and Mary S Interiors are two knick-knack shops of the kind that high streets used to thrive on, so go have a mosey to unearth a trove of delights.

If you’re being organised about it, try to time your arrival in the village for about 4pm the day before, to book in for a hot stone massage or express manicure at Virgo Beauty, just down the road (it’s in Muddy’s Little Black Book – it’s that good!). In the morning, head for Goring Grocer for a takeaway coffee and homemade pecan and parsnip cake. Then hit up the Thames, mere moments away, with a riverside footpath snaking around the weirs and boats that is lovely even on a misty November morning.

Wannabe chefs, it’s worth noting that once a month, Nick runs live cookery demos from the hotel, where you can learn to rustle up food like a pro, followed by a group lunch together Finally, Wham! fans can pay homage to the singer with a look at his house, on the right as you leave The Miller of Mansfield (opposite Pierreponts Café).

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Top-notch food and service, teamed with decadent design. Bookmark this for an indulgent night away with a lover, your mother or a friend.

Not for:  If you crave somewhere tucked away and tranquil for a weekend break. Granted, our room was directly over the bar on a Friday night, and the babble below seemed convivial rather than intrusive (it also cut out on the dot of midnight). But still, this is a livelier destination than some.

The damage: Starters will set you back around £10 each, with mains coming in at over £20 a pop, and cocktails hovering at the £8 mark; the same price as children’s mains. This is not the cheapest place to dine out, but the calibre of food means it’s worth it for a treat.

The Miller of Mansfield, Galer High Street, Goring, Reading, RG8 9AW; 01491 872829

 

Words: Anna Brech

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