“It’s hard to imagine ever falling out of love with somewhere like this”, admits a long-time fan of The Royal Oak – a traditional roadside inn that’s been impressively remodelled with bags of comfort, style and panache. It may have Michelin-starred status and celebrity owners (Sir Michael Parkinson and his son Nick), but this Berkshire favourite couldn’t be more cheery or unassuming. Although Dominic Chapman has moved on to The Beehive in nearby White Waltham, his former sous-chef Michael Chapman (no relation) is right on the money when it comes to delivering sturdy food from an inviting seasonal menu. Starters such as candied beetroot and William pear salad with Innes goats’ cheese set the tone, ahead of punchy mains of diver-caught plaice with brown shrimps, cucumber and dill or duck breast with tarragon polenta, broad beans and roasted shallots. Memorable desserts could range from greengage tart to raspberry Arctic roll, and there are some glorious wines too.
This 17th-century pub got a Michelin star three years ago, and the 50-or-so Champagnes on its list suggest it’s rather more restaurant than it is pub. Nonetheless, the range of quality Rhônes, Burgundies and, particularly, clarets (a lot of good second, third and fourth growths) is impressive. The Sommelier’s Selection is also a nice touch.