Some of you might know The Royal Oak at Paley Street as the pub that Michael Parkinson co-owns with his son Nick. That along with it’s Michelin star gave me and my gentleman companion enough gusto to make the hour and fifteen minute drive from London to visit for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Being one of only 13 pubs in the country to hold a Michelin star we had high hopes.
The pub itself was small and rather charming, however we were seated in the recently built extension which had a village hall feel to it. It was bright and airy at least but we felt it lacked character and that “ye olde public house” feel that the rest of the place had.
We avoided the slightly costly a la carte menu and opted for the set lunch priced at 3 courses for £30 with what seemed like a good selection of dishes to choose from.
We decided to live a little and treat ourselves to a scotch egg (£3.50 each). Crunchy breadcrumbs encased rich succulent pork which revealed a perfectly soft boiled quails egg. This was a yummy scotch egg. A generous selection of freshly baked bread followed and were all devoured in quick succession.
To start I opted for the fried Cornish sprats with tartare sauce and I was a little disappointed with the cafe style presentation. The sprats were huge and perfectly cooked but the tartare sauce was a little bland. It was pleasant but I didn’t feel it was at Michelin level. I know we were in a pub but I expected more.
My gentleman companion went for the Devonshire duck, chicken liver, bacon and pistachio terrine with celeriac mayonnaise. As terrines go it was fine – totally inoffensive but lacking ooomph. The celeriac mayonnaise was in such a small quantity compared to the terrine that it was hardly worth putting on the plate.
Mains took it up a gear and we were finally introduced to some really lovely flavours. My Gloucester Old Spot pork chop with Savoy cabbage, carrots, bacon and red wine sauce looked pretty. It was however on the small side and really lacked a potato of some kind. The red wine sauce was a little too tangy and acidic for me to really enjoy.
My gentleman companion’s Cornish cod with chorizo, cockles and tomato was equally as teeny but at least his was accompanied by a copper dish filled with silky smooth mashed potato. The amount of cockles and chorizo included in the dish was minuscule too – it all tasted good we just wanted more of it all.
If main courses had taken us up to 3rd gear then desserts had well and truly slumped us back into 1st. My banana and passion fruit Eton mess was as simple as it sounds. It was a bit banana heavy, I would have liked more meringue and it was served at fridge temperature meaning the flavours were all a little distant.
My gentleman companion’s Bramley Apple and Yorkshire rhubarb crumble with custard was a good but not great crumble. There was the correct amount of crunch present from the topping and the rhubarb brought some tartness which was pleasant but it didn’t excite us. And it certainly wasn’t the best crumble we’ve ever eaten.
It wasn’t a horrendous lunch and we certainly didn’t regret making the schlep out of London for it but we did find it a tad disappointing. The main course portion sizes were simply too small to really fill us up. If I was 60 and lived locally then I’d probably become a regular but as I’m not and I don’t, I doubt I’d return.