Muddy eats: The Royal Oak
This village pub on the outskirts of Marlow has an ex-Soho House head chef in the kitchen. So we felt it our duty to nail three courses and report back. Seriously, the things I do for you.
‘Dogs, children and muddy boots welcome’ is the friendly motto of this local favourite in Bovingdon Green, just outside Marlow. With its well-worn dark floorboards, cosy dining room and well-stocked bar, The Royal Oak is a proper British country pub.
You’ll get far more than a pint of local beer and a convivial chat here, though: The Royal Oak recently won The Good Pub Guide’s Buckinghamshire award for Dining Pub of the Year for the sixth time. And with good reason – the seasonal menu changes regularly and is full of flair and originality, with no hint of pretension.
As well as its cosy interior – perfect for snuggling up next to the wood burning stove with a nice glass of red – the Oak also boasts a lovely garden, ideal for lazy summer afternoons where you’ll also find a tepee tent which can host up to 30 people for an atmospheric party, whatever the weather.
Owned by David and Becky Salisbury, who also have three other Chilterns pubs in their stable of Salisbury Pubs including the brilliant Alford Arms in Frithsden, The Royal Oak is as far from a chain boozer as it’s possible to get.
Atmosphere oozes from every brick, beam and floorboard at The Royal Oak, and the staff, dressed in checked shirts and jeans, are friendly, relaxed and knowledgeable. From a quiet nook by the fire or a stool at the bar to the open dining room, there’s a space to please (nearly) everyone – like many village pubs, it’s probably not your number one choice for a glam night out on the cocktails with the girls. It’s a traditional country pub so don’t expect a Soho Farmhouse-esque interior but Merlot-red walls and heritage fabrics compliment the age and style of the building without being overly ‘designed’.
And while the food is a huge draw, the Oak distances itself from the now hackneyed ‘gastropub’ term. They prefer to style themselves as a proper pub where you can also get a good meal, so among the diners you’ll also find plenty of locals who have stopped off for a pint (but who more often than not will end up staying for dinner). With no need to book weeks in advance for a table, it makes for a pleasingly spontaneous experience – rare when the food is as good as this.
SCOFF & QUAFF
With the kitchen led up by former Soho House Head Chef Dave Green, you’d expect a great menu and The Royal Oak delivers. Classic British dishes are given an international twist, and an emphasis is placed on seasonality, with ingredients are regularly foraged from the local fields and hedgerows.
When I visited on a Thursday lunchtime, the pub was buzzing with tables of diners both inside and out in the spring sunshine, and after an abstemious glass of ginger beer (I had to do the school run later) my mother and I deliberated over the menu. As well as their standard menu which changes with the seasons, there’s also a daily list of lunchtime specials.
I opted for the chestnut and taleggio arancini above with rosemary aioli, while my mother went for the crispy halloumi, heritage tomato and cucumber salad with parsley oil from the specials menu. The servings were generous without being overwhelming, and both dishes were beautifully cooked and seasoned. The arancini was crisp and golden, and gorgeously gooey within, ditto the halloumi. The ingredients were perfectly fresh and the chefs had allowed the quality of the produce do the talking.
Main courses ranged from the Chiltern lamb shepherd’s pie and locally made free-range sausages to a shrimp burger with chilli tartare sauce. I chose the Pan-roast Devon hake fillet above with potato, fennel and chorizo chowder. The crisp-skinned fish flaked beautifully and the chowder, which could have overpowered the delicate fish, complimented it perfectly. The buttered seasonal vegetables and courgette fries with mint yoghurt were a delicious accompaniment.
My mother chose this Moroccan vegetable tagine with tabbouleh and mint yoghurt and opted to add merguez sausage at our waitress’s recommendation. It was a great suggestion, and made this lighter dish a really hearty affair. The tagine had a firey kick which might have been too much for some but the tabbouleh and mint yoghurt helped to cool it down.
There’s always room for pud in my world, and The Royal Oak boasts a pretty irresistible menu. The milk chocolate brownie with Maldon sea salt caramel ice cream won our vote, and it would have been rude not to try the Earl Grey crème brulee with a raisin cookie shard. Made with Tregothnan tea – the Cornish tea plantation and the only one in Britain – this was a really grown-up pudding, and the caramelised sugar gave a pleasing crack to reveal delicately flavoured custard within. The brownie was an absolute show stopper.
OUT & ABOUT
The Royal Oak might be the archetypal country pub, but it’s just five minutes up the road from buzzy Marlow high street. If you’re looking for retail therapy, you’ll find branches of The White Company, Space NK, Mint Velvet, Jigsaw and Whistles. And if you need to walk off a big lunch, there are lovely walks in the Chilterns and down by the river including the lovely Higginson Park with its large playground for smaller kids.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pretty much everyone – romantics, a jolly family lunch, a birthday party in the teepee or impromptu drinkers will all work here. Unusually for a rural pub, vegetarians are catered to just as well as carnivores and there’s a dedicated gluten-free menu.
Not for: It’s very much a sedate village pub so possibly not the venue for slamming down sambucas with your lairiest squad. Plus Marlow centre is a mile down the road so it doesn’t work as a pub crawl stop-off.
The damage: Starters all come in at under £8, and mains range from £12.75 for sausages to £26.25 for a Hereford rib-eye steak. The hake was £18.50 and the tagine was £15.50 which included a £2 supplement for the extra merguez sausage. The sides are all around the £4 mark, and the puddings were both under £8. You can get a good bottle of wine for around £25
The Royal Oak, Frieth Road, Bovingdon Green, near Marlow, Bucks, SL7 2JF. Tel: 01628 488611
Words: Jessica Jonzen is the co-founder of online homes and lifestyle magazine The Home Page