Orwells 333

Shiplake Row, Binfield Heath , Henley-On-Thames, RG9 4DP

3 reviews

45 British Oxfordshire

  • Orwells restaurant Henley on Thames
  • Orwells restaurant Henley on Thames
  • Orwells restaurant Henley on Thames
  • Orwells restaurant Henley on Thames

SquareMeal Review of Orwells

Named after George Orwell, who spent his childhood in the area, this brilliant eatery has been painstakingly realised by Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman – “two chefs who think seriously about seasonal ingredients, flavour and texture”. Well-bred pubby charms, good looks and reasonable prices belie a defiantly British repertoire of “attractive modern cuisine” based on locally sourced ingredients, foraged pickings, home-grown vegetables and honey from the owners’ hives. The kitchen works hard, setting the tone with sourdough bread made with a ‘starter dough’ that has reputedly been kept going “for 30 years”. After that, diners are treated to a cavalcade of picture-perfect plates ranging from a “delightful” beef tartare with charcoal wafer to chocolate ganache with honeycomb, pistachio and “voluptuous” tonka bean cream. In between, readers rate the pan-fried turbot in verjus with sultanas, Jerusalem artichokes ‘three ways’ and mild spring onions as well as the Wiltshire lamb with crosnes, “deliberately cold” sprout leaves, broccoli and squash. Set menus offer outstanding value and wines are thoughtfully chosen, while “friendly, approachable staff” ensure that Orwells always delivers.  

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9.0

Food & Drink: 9.0

Service: 9.0

Atmosphere: 9.0

Value: 9.3

Food & Drink: 5.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 5.0

Value: 5.0

Paul A. platinum reviewer 25 October 2017

There are a number of things you can guarantee when you dine at Orwells: the proper welcome and the friendly, professional service, the certainty that there will be a whole bunch of courses on the menu that you won’t have had before, the quality of the top-class Coravin wine flight, that none of the courses will look or be obvious from the wording of the menu, and the outstanding cooking. The intriguing and spare descriptions of the dishes on the Taste the Season menu confirmed our intention to go for the tasting menu, and after a lively discussion with the excellent sommelier, Arnaud, we opted for the impeccable wine flight. Simple but surprising was our reaction to the first course, which somehow seemed more than an amuse-bouche - three types of home-grown tomatoes with goats cheese and sweet onion, a thoughtful composition which certainly got our palates primed. This led into a succession of “starters” beginning with delightfully delicate lobster contrasting with crunchy chicken skin and accompanied by chanterelles and samphire and a superlative, temperature-perfect lobster jus, followed by exemplary sea bass backed up by a wonderful match of ingredients such as red-flesh radish, seaweed, tiny balls of cucumber and a dash of dashi, and then something similar to a sweet jacket potato sprinkled with caviar, chives and sea purslane - unbelievably simple yet so striking! Duck & crumpet sounded a bit chain restaurant-like, but we were confounded once more by the duck actually being brilliantly finished hearts in a surprising match with the spongy crumpets in a duck jus. This was followed by what was basically one of the best vegetarian dishes we’ve ever had: home-grown, salt-baked pumpkin with a memorable parmesan crisp, pine nuts, walnuts, sea buckthorn, chicory and pear slices all combining to produce a lovely, mouth-filling whole. We were then lucky enough to be treated to one of the à la carte starters, staggeringly good breaded veal sweetbread with charcoal mayo and charcoal, really fresh salsify, cabbage and pickled cabbage, and lettuce, which somehow gave the impression of sweetness yet had a salt tang - a masterpiece of well-balanced tastes, textures and temperatures. From there we moved into the three “mains”. Firstly sea-fresh monkfish with moreish salty crispy kale, roast cauliflower, brown butter and cream, then local hare, the fantastic taste, which is sometimes lost by overcooking the meat, here pointed up against the sage and apple accompaniment and sauce, and finally tender juicy lamb (again local) with crispy artichoke, broccoli and broccoli purée. The perfectly-judged size of the dishes and their order of presentation meant that it was not difficult to find room for the two desserts on the menu. The pre-dessert of lemon curd, sorrel, raspberry and oats and nuts served very well both as a sort of palate cleanser and a dessert, and the dessert proper, delicious honeycomb in a heavenly chocolate cream was a triumphant climax to a brilliant fine-dining experience. However, the Michelin enigma remains: How can this restaurant be properly ranked by The Good Food Guide in its Top 50 and given a score equal to that of a number of Michelin two-star venues, and superior to some others, and Hardens justifiably award it top marks, and yet not get even one measly star from the tyre company.

Food & Drink: 5.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 5.0

Paul A. platinum reviewer 07 November 2016

Given the way that industry awards are scattered about willy-nilly, even the bestowing of a prestige title like Good Food Guide restaurant of the year can lead to a questioning approach from seasoned punters who have not always been convinced of the qualities of award winners. Friends had recommended Orwells long before its elevation to GFG top dog, but we were still prepared for disappointment after our less than positive experience at the “National Restaurant of the Year” the previous week. The tasting menu was intriguing, presented as basically four courses preceded and interspersed with appropriate small plates. This made for a genuinely generous but never overheavy sequence of dishes, leaving the diner properly comfortable right to the end, and the Coravin wine flight allows for suitably top-class liquid accompaniments. The attention to detail is prefigured by the sourdough bread made from a starter dough reputed to have been kept going for 30 years. We started with very good smoked crab, smoked avocado and a touch of pink grapefruit, then moved on to a delightful beef tartare with a charcoal wafer, and then a mix of tomatoes from the garden with edible soil, mozzarella, pickled kohlrabi and a clever tomato gel. Our palate was now well prepared for the super scallop with roasted cauliflower, pearl barley, and beautifully balanced against a white chocolate smear which pointed up the sweetness of the shellfish. Then came two more intermediate dishes, a superb cod, cucumber and dehydrated curry combination with perfect deep-fried capers, followed by another winner in roast chicken skin crisp, pumpkin purée, anchovy cream, nasturtium leaves and mild radish. The fish course was exemplary fried turbot in a verjus with surprisingly good sultanas, Jerusalem artichoke done three ways - purée, raw and cooked - and mild spring onion. You wouldn’t expect scrambled eggs on toast to follow turbot, but for the purposes of this small plate the eggs were actually cod’s roe accompanied by truffles and an historic brown sauce ice cream! We had hardly had time to digest this marvel before we were served with a celeriac remoulade and a tower of ingredients comprising langoustine, pork scratchings, classic pork with apple, in this case a sphere of smoked pork in a pork reduction with small apple balls, all of which contrasted wonderfully with the celeriac. Our main course was tender Wiltshire lamb with crones, deliberately cold sprout leaves, broccoli and squash, in what was definitely the most classical dish of the evening. Back to inventiveness we went with a lovely palate cleanser of sorrel sorbet seconded by sweet beet, strong ginger and the taste of aniseed from the fennel at the close. We really loved the chocolate ganache dessert, the honeycomb and pistachio providing good texture and the tonka bean cream a voluptuous balance. Here we have two chefs thinking seriously about seasonal ingredients, flavour and texture matches and how best to present their dishes with a dash of humour, and succeeding in spades, serving up inventive, attractive modern cuisine in good surroundings with attentive, but relaxed and knowledgeable staff with the overall result that this is yet another restaurant criminally underrated by Michelin - thank goodness for the Good Food Guide, which rates Orwells correctly as the equal of most two-star venues.

Food & Drink: 3.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 4.0

Foodess platinum reviewer 22 June 2012

Update – Jun 12 What more can one ask – great atmosphere and some good food’n wine, but – a small but Pheasant Egg & Pork Belly was the dish of the day followed by Asparagus minus the Orange Hollandaise sauce which was too buttery (or maybe I just don’t like the butter used presently) or more likely perhaps there was insufficient citrus to cut through the rich sauce, because this dish was excellent last time – tiny pieces of orange zest may have helped elevate the flavour or reduction of orange could have done it possibly . Nevertheless hot flavoursome asparagus with chopped pistachios and 3 quail’s eggs which produced sufficient sauce to make the hollandaise superfluous for my liking and therefore somewhat healthier – bonus! In at third place was the lobster because it was so fresh, cooked to order, but it could have been eased with a kitchen knife at the shell edge just prior to plating up – remedy a steak knife which was promptly delivered. Coming in at fourth place was Pork with garlic mushrooms sauteed with rosemary and parsley. Sadly the Pork T-Bone didn’t make the grade. Mushrooms stunning – we requested extra which duly arrived. Still not impressed with the chips – they don’t seem quite like triple cooked to us. Good but very importantly dishes are seasoned properly. The duo at the helm are not quite maintaining consistently good standard yet. Now, a big positive for me : At last a local restaurant with a good choice of wine by the glass ranging from reasonable to double figures for a champagne or for a very good burgundy – Great idea, especially when I often choose fish and partner chooses meat – gives more scope to match wines to food and gives you chance to have one small glass of quality if you are driving. The new MD was not au-fait with the dishes listed on the menu and stumbled, but in fairness he is very new. Andrew has moved on, however, we still mourn Dylan now at Chapter 1 in Kent; he was a special talent. I am being rather picky here; I am sure we will get to know the successor. The balance of my last ‘glowing’ review needs redressing and I have adjusted the scores accordingly. Overall we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly but we know the potential of these guys, proved time and time again at our one time favourite haunt. If you like game and foraged locally sourced produce this is a place to visit in the area………Impressive having opened in the middle of a recession and two years on they are doing well, which says it all really. First Review I'd always considered Ryan a Great British Chef having dined at his restaurants dozens of times (Liam, sous chef and business partner can handle the pass too…you can watch them at work through the window they have fitted between ‘The Room’ and kitchen). My scores say it all. They have turned this pub/restuarant around and are now steadily and confidently striding back up to the usual high standard. It is only a matter of time before a Michelin star is re-gained. Weekends are regularly packed with punters. The ever evolving menus have changed since the Squaremeal review, e.g. no Muntjac Burger with TCC's anymore. Definitely one to watch!

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Orwells is included in the following SquareMeal lists