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The Baskerville, Shiplake

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It’s been quite the season for pub reviews. It’s fairly slim pickings in my neck of the woods for truly great pubs, but my God they have it good down Henley way. Particularly, it must be said, in the tiny village of Shiplake, that boasts not one but two excellent pubs – The Plowden Arms and The Baskerville, both managing to feel lively, local and full of character but with properly superior food.

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The Baskerville has just won Silver in the Tourism Pub of the Year at the Beautiful South Awards 2015 so has good reason to feel buoyant at the moment. The sturdy red brick building isn’t as pretty as some other pubs in the area, but it’s definitely cosy and welcoming on the inside. Visiting in the day, the main dining room felt intimate and relaxed – I’m a big fan of those warm red walls, and all the twinkly lights. Looks gorgeous doesn’t it? On an evening with the candles lit, it would give a romance and atmosphere that’s so tricky for many pubs to create.

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One of the biggest things going for The Baskerville is the manager Kevin, who’s the son of the owners, and oozes friendliness and authentic charm from every pore. I really liked him, and I can see why even on the damp week day when I visited, The Baskerville had its fair share of busy tables.

I think it’s fair to say that the main draw of the pub is the food – most of the space is dedicated to the restaurant, although there’s a small lounge bar to the side, and  alarge garden area and BBQ facility outside for summer drinking and eating. I think you’ll have to imagine a sunny day and flowers out, as it’s hard to take a photo that does the garden justice right now! In the summer it would be perfect for young kids as it’s all enclosed and has climbing frames at the ready and all that jazz.

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Anyway to the food, which is definitely the main event here. The Sunday lunches are famous – too many people have told me about them for me not to flag it up to you! – but as I was here on a week day I held back and went for panfried scallops with black pudding, pea puree, peashoots, truffle oil and pancetta for my entrée (OMG, so beautiful, and the pancetta gave the scallops a delicious saltiness)

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… followed by a a 28 day dry-aged Angus fillet steak. Because, you know *cough* I don’t want anything too heavy in the day.

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The meat was incredibly tender, cooked exactly to medium-rare, those chips had the crispy/fluffy combo down to a tee, and really the whole thing was pretty much perfection.

That would have been enough, but then I had the option to taste a small portion of all the desserts on the menu. Yep, you read that right. All the desserts. Now that is an offer too good to resist when you have a stomach as stretchy as mine. And so the dessert odyssey began.

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Even I’m not such a pig that I can eat this entire plate. For a job this big, I need my brother as a plus one, and thankfully he was on hand. All the desserts were divine, but special mention should go to the creme brulée and the chocolate fondant if you’re looking for a steer on the menu.

There are bedrooms at The Baskerville, so if you think it’s too far to come for a romantic tryst, problem solved. Comfy, neat, homely rooms from £105 for a double or twin. No antique chandeliers to swing from but a fabulous English Breakfast in the morning which is *sniff* just as important in my book (though if you’re still breaking the bedboard, all power to you).

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THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Foodies, families and friends for a good Sunday roast. Romantics for evening meals amongst the fairy lights, gatherings where you need rooms too (there are 4 in all). There are beautiful walks around Shiplake and into Henley so it would be a lovely day trip out – do a walk, and refuel over 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).

Not for: Country idyll seekers. No thatched roof, no gardens rolling down to the river. The lounge room is ‘of its time’ – the carpet, shiny armchair and Venetian blinds might not do it for you.

£££: Reasonable. Pub classics like fish and chips, pies and beefburgers come in around £14, while more restauranty fare starts around £18, going up to £23.50 for the to-die-for steak (though chips and salads are extra so factor that in). Sunday lunches come in  £15-18, with £6-7 for desserts.

7 Station Road, Lower Shiplake, Henley, RG93NY. Tel: 01189 403332. thebaskerville.com

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Bucks & Oxon