Berkshire restaurants: The Bull Inn in Bisham

PUBLISHED: 11:04 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2013

The Bull Inn

The Bull Inn

Tom Fahey enjoys his tasty trip down a gastronomic memory lane at The Bull in Bisham

Tom Fahey enjoys his tasty trip down a gastronomic memory lane at The Bull in Bisham

There is a definite dearth of restaurants that unashamedly embrace nostalgia. Given the impact food memories have on us, it's surprising that dessert trolleys, menus written in French (no prices for the ladies), waiters in black bow ties and waistcoats, table theatre, silver service, and Anglo-French classics like lobster thermidor, sole bonne femme and coquilles Saint-Jacques, have all but disappeared.

Well qualified

It takes real confidence and experience to carry off this sort of approach nowadays, but I doubt there are many more qualified to do it than the Lopez family, who have owned and operated The Bull Inn at Bisham since 1992, and been in the restaurant business since the 1960s.

The Bull itself has been around in one form or another since 1250. Inside, it's a quiet country pub, with low beams, exposed brick, and horse brasses - it's only the formally dressed waiters that hint at the spotless white table clothes, folded napkins, red velvet chairs and general pseudo-70s feel of the dining room.

Table theatre, you'll be pleased to know, is alive and well at The Bull. Before dinner we were presented with a range of produce including huge prawns, lobsters, rack of lamb, whole bass and sole, and several different steaks. Showing off actual ingredients is fun and interactive, and means a lot more than a few notes on the menu.

And, so, the food

In terms of the food, a simple starter of fat, juicy asparagus with a classic hollandaise sauce (£7) did not suffer from a lack of seasonality - the spears were just cooked and the sauce had the right balance of tart and butter.

Coquilles Saint-Jacques (£9.50) as a dish embodies the idea of nostalgic food. When it's done right you know why it was a true classic in its day. Scallop shells filled with cream sauce and sliced scallop, then creamy mash and melted cheese. It's like a fancy fish pie but not at all heavy.

The table theatre returned with our mains - fillet steak au poivre (a bargain at £15), cooked accurately and generously coated with rich, peppery, sauce and a veggie option of fresh, char-grilled vegetables (£8.95), well-seasoned and doused liberally with good olive oil. Sauté potatoes, cauliflower cheese and steamed vegetables, were dished out with spoon and fork by our waiters.

I think dessert trolleys are brilliant - there really should be a campaign to bring them back. The Bull Inn's has four tiers of classic puddings featuring cheese cake with chocolate dipped strawberries, a crisp, tart and chewy apple pie, bananas in caramel with grapes, a soft, orangey, almond tart, an excellent tiramisu and a selection of fresh strawberries, raspberries and cream. To our shame, we tried a little of everything and there were no weak links.

No fads or fashions here

Don't come to The Bull Inn expecting fads, fashions, or anything you might call modern. The food is fresh, honest, and well prepared but rooted firmly in 60s and 70s Anglo-French dining. It may be old school but it's very good, and you won't see most of it anywhere else in Berkshire.

The Lopez family are great hosts and their team of professional staff walk the fine line between formality and friendliness very well. The Bull is a welcome change from your typical restaurant experience, particularly for those of us who remember the tongue-in-cheek formality and elegance that made dining out in the '70s and '80s so memorable.

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