Newly awarded Michelin starred English pub in the Michelin 2020 guide
The Royal Oak in Whatcote is one of two Michelin starred pubs that were awarded Michelin stars in the 2020 guide (the other being Michael Wignall’s Angel at Hetton). This pub opened in 2017 from a husband and wife team with Richard Craven (formerly of The Chipping Campden) and I loved the huge log fireplace in the main bar which was a wonderfully cosy place to be taking refuge prior to my table. The restaurant takes a cosy 26 covers (as I could see) and serves simple dishes with precision presentation and actually, what you would most probably wish to eat. My 4-course meal of £55 represented very good value for money and I would come back to here in a heartbeat.
The primary menus range from the £55 for the four courses that I had, £7o for 7 courses tasting menu or an a la carte menu for an average of £50. What was a lovely surprise to see was the Friday and Saturday set lunch menus of 2 courses for £24 / 3 courses for £29 available in the evenings on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. Having a superb value set menu in the evenings is rare and can be found at other good finds such as Michelin starred pub Red Lion Freehouse and remarkably at Le champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham as well.
Originally a 12C workmen’s drinks shelter (the main bar area), Michelin reports that it is also reputedly one of the oldest pubs in the country with Oliver Cromwell supposedly staying here before the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. Produce is very carefully and locally sourced with a strong ‘farm to fork’ philosophy here, fish being sourced mainly from Fine Fish in Cornwall and the butter being made onsite from wonderful milk from Holmleigh Dairy in the Cotswolds (where Richard Craven is from).
That brings us to the start of the meal where a mix of wholemeal and brioche bread was served with pork dripping with pork crackers and their gloriously golden butter I was delighted to hear has a very short shelf life – most of the best things do. There was somehow an almost smokey quality to both butter and dripping and these are worth a mention in themselves and the homemade bread became the spatular for this butter and dripping.
Muntjac tartare with celeriac, apple and horseradish ice cream was my starter and thank god I went for this option as this was terrific. The lighter style venison of muntjac had diced apple cubes, a lovely crunch from the fried and crispy alliums and the clincher of the horseradish ice cream at just the right kick. All finished with parsley oil, this is a standout and superb tartare.
Next up was pigs head and black pudding lasagne with toasted hazelnut and a cider reduction. The had pleasant pork flavour and the cider notes were obviously a good match but I was less convinced about the filling on this dish as the overall feel was quite stodgy and sticky in texture. The good pasta was somewhat eclipsed by the richness of this dish and I felt it could do with something either green or with inherent moisture to make more manageable. Good flavour with the black pudding but overall a little too heavy for me.
The halibut with Jerusalem artichoke, sunflower seed and monks beard (crisp, green shoots) on the other hand was an absolute masterstroke. The generously portioned fish was delightful and basted with butter with artichoke served three ways and was paired perfectly. Practically seasoned to perfection by the artichoke crisps and butter, this was simply a brilliant dish in its simple and quality execution.
The forced rhubarb dessert was another very good dish. Forced rhubarb (grown with the heads of the rhubarbs covered) are slightly more sour (so on their own is not their forte), but these were complemented beautifully by white chocolate and fennel Crémeux (interesting lift from the fennel) and the aerated white chocolate along with a very nicely balanced rhubarb jelly. What was also very good to see was the top end coffee one can gain of Difference coffee, which can go for up to £25 per cup at the 3 Michelin starred restaurants it is offered to when using Panama Geisha. Thankfully, the far more reasonable Rwanda champion cup of Excellence was the Difference coffee sourced here which is arguably far better than any of the highest grades of mainstream coffee and a fraction more expensive at the dining table. Homemade madeleines in the bar with this coffee was a nice way to finish.
This is a lovely addition to the Michelin starred family of the UK and especially good for the Michelin starred pub family to increase with yet another well-deserved newcomer. This is also something that other countries simply do not have and I would commend a visit here.
Food Grade: 77%
Location (Click google logo for directions)