The Royal Oak, Bishopstone
David Crabtree-Logan and Sariann Lehrer have fed me a number of extremely memorable meals, since first I met David at Scratch Series, back in early 2015.
Accordingly, it was a considerable pleasure to tootle down the road to Bishopstone near Swindon, to lunch at the Royal Oak, a country pub on Helen Browning’s organic farm, where David and Sariann are now plying their trade.
I was staying with my friends Kathryn and Rene in Oxford, so this provided an excellent opportunity for a visit, and to renew their acquaintance with David’s cooking which they’d first sampled at the Edinburgh Food Studio’s Istanbrunch, just a couple of months ago.
On the county border of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire, the venue is a classic country pub with a warm and welcoming feel. Previously two compact bars, it has been remodelled into one open room which offers a nicely flexible dining and drinking space.
Tim Finney is the man in charge and he soon came to say hello once we’d been shown to a smart table in the corner.
The menu is seasonally driven and unsurprisingly focusses on some of the excellent produce available on this and the neighbouring farms, with other things like the seafood sourced from a range of excellent suppliers.
Ordering was undertaken by us collectively settling on the three dishes we couldn’t possibly not order from each section of the menu, then deferring who would eat what until it arrived. We basically all ate everything, in the final reckoning.
To start, Kathryn and I had a Cornish oyster each – delicious – then we all tucked in to asparagus served with a cheese that Sariann had made, some brown shrimp with pickled kohlrabi, and some pork ribs. We ended up needing to order some of their excellent sourdough to mop up the sauces, particularly the outstanding BBQ one for the ribs.
The asparagus was as seasonally fresh as you’d expect and the cheese was superb, with a deliciously fresh sweet cicely finish. The brown shrimp were profuse and quite spectacular. The ribs showcased the farm’s pork to extremely good advantage. I can’t think of a more flavourful pork dish that I’ve eaten.
For mains we opted for sirloin steak from the farm served with chunky chips, octopus and ramiro pepper stew served on polenta, and more of their excellent pig work in the shape of a pulled pork bun.
The steak was superbly prepared, with excellent beef butter, exceptionally good chips and delicious aioli.
The pork was, once more, an absolute flavour-packed delight. There was lots of fresh greenery, on this and many of the other dishes.
The star of the show for me was the octopus stew, which packed in sweet ramiro peppers and chickpeas atop polenta, then itself was topped with nuggets of crunchy crumb. The cooking of the octopus was just outstanding with any notions of toughness banished in favour of compelling softness and lovely sweetness.
Armed with sweet-toothed companions, I ventured into the desserts with renewed fortitude.
The sweet woodruff pannacotta topped with stewed rhubarb was tremendous, as was the peach pavlova. A portion of the chocolate and caramel tart arrived as a little bonus and was a resounding success with Rene.
I also stuck to my usual method by trying the cheeseboard. This brought together three unpasteurised beauties, with the Stawley goat’s cheese particularly fine.
We then had the chance to go and meet the piggies, with Tim driving us to their homestead. The friendly little boys and girls were curious then very inquisitive, with our shoes given a thorough investigation. Tim offered great insight into the farm’s approach and ethos which couldn’t be more commendable, open, generous and warm-hearted.
The following day was their annual Pig Racing Festival, so it was on with the preparation for that for all on the farm, while we drove off into the afternoon gloom with full bellies and beaming smiles.
So overall, the Royal Oak is an absolute marvel and one of the finest places you’ll find to dine. David and Sariann look to be a perfect fit for what Helen and Tim are doing with the farm and its various businesses. Make sure to add a trip to Bishopstone to your itinerary very soon; you will be very impressed.
Blythe scores the Royal Oak
5/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4.5/5 for service
4.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 18/20
Today’s questers were: Kathryn, Rene, Blythe
We ate: asparagus with Sariann’s cheese; brown shrimp with kohlrabi; pork ribs; Eastbrook sirloin steak; pulled pork roll; octopus stew; chocolate and caramel tart; peach pavlova; rhubarb and sweet woodruff panna cotta; cheese; bounty truffle
We drank: Arkell’s ale, water, coffees
We wore: green trousers, blue trousers, red trousers
Total bill: £117
Address: Cues Lane, Bishopstone, SN6 8PP