A neatly manicured hamlet just outside Newbury, Bagnor boasts leafy lawns, green fields and picturesque woodland that all but cry out for a quality country pub. Enter Dom Robinson, ex-head chef for Tom Aikens, who has revitalised The Blackbird from run-down boozer to vintage-styled hostelry. Simple yet refined food at markedly reasonable prices is the attraction, with the outlay especially low for the lunchtime and early-evening set menu.
Three West Berkshire Brewery ales top the polished-wood bar, alongside craft lagers, spirits and a compact-but-serious wine list suited to drinkers as much as diners. Loaves of freshly baked, oaten soda bread sit cooling in one of two connected dining rooms, while an old pump organ, retro radio, original checked tiling, and tabletop candelabras set an antique, homespun tone.
Nothing is too modern or over-styled: a concept reflected in Robinson’s cooking. His modest menu might feature a fat ravioli of Kennet crayfish with buttered leeks and foaming bisque sauce or a tartare of local venison dotted with raw Jerusalem artichokes, hazelnuts and truffle shavings. In season, partridge is a treat – roasted and carved with acute precision and served with a lobe of duck liver wrapped in cabbage, buttery mash and a classic choux croute. Or try venison haunch teamed with a stack of ‘lardy’ chips and caper hollandaise, then prune and Armagnac sundae for a properly grown-up pudding. Service is all smiles.