Berkshire restaurants: The White Oak in Cookham

PUBLISHED: 11:00 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2013

The White Oak in Cookham

The White Oak in Cookham

Cookham's newest restaurant, The White Oak, has got off to a flying start and deserves its great success, says Tessa Harris

Cookham's newest restaurant, The White Oak, has got off to a flying start and deserves its great success, says Tessa Harris

Oak opened with a champagne launch and a great deal of hype. Sir Terry and Lady Wogan headed the celebrity guest list, which also included TV sports pundit Jim Rosenthal and former presenter Michael Barrett. Corks were popped and cameras flashed, but now that the dust has settled on the former Spencers in The Pound, how is the restaurant fairing? Well I can report that it is positively booming, and rightly so.

In fact the charming co-owner Henry Cripps, who runs the eatery with his wife Katherine, who just happens to be Sir Terry Wogan's daughter, tells me on my visit there that they are booked up for the next five weekends, on Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtimes. And that in a village that boasts more than a dozen places to eat can't be bad!

Flocking to The White Oak

It's not hard to see why people are flocking to The White Oak. My husband Simon and I dined on a Friday evening and the place was, indeed, packed, but tables were well spaced, the staff were calm and collected and there was no sense of any panic in the kitchen.

The décor is easy on the eye and rustic. Restful taupe and creams prevail. Oak tables are clothless, while plaid-covered chairs and pots of twisted willow give the restaurant a relaxed, informal feel.

Same suppliers as the Fat Duck and Waterside Inn

The menu is deliberately simple with the accent on the freshness and quality of the food. Apparently the meat comes from the same butcher who supplies the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn just down the road at Bray.

Tartar and hand-cut Carpaccio of Highland beef and shaved Parmesan, potted foie gras, Sauternes jelly and toasted brioche, and home-cured Gravadlax were on offer at all under £7.50 for a starter.

The mains were all classics: think lamb and rosemary jus, oven roasted cod fillet, and parsley sauce, and braised and roasted Wiltshire pork belly, with crackling, mash and Calvados jus. There's also a good vegetarian choice.

My own choice came from the daily specials - Newlyn Bay dressed crab. It came on a chunky slice of sesame brioche, dressed with lemon and rocket and was fresh and delicious.

This was followed by pan-fried Scottish salmon fillet with saffron potatoes.The perfectly-cooked fish married well with the unusual fusion flavours of cardamom and cumin with orange and fennel that gave it a lovely, zingy freshness. It was, we were told, the creation of one of the young Australian chefs. Top marks to him for creativity.

Simon's wild mushroom ravioli came with a tasty sage butter and shaved pecorino. The portion size was apparently perfect and the dish itself "really tasty."

He saved his highest praise, however, for his piping hot beef Charalaise Angus medallions. The beef is dry aged and hung for 28 days, making the meat particularly tender and flavoursome. It was served with Forestiére sauce and mash and wilted spinach. (The most you will pay for 16oz steak is £25.) He's dined several times at Gordon Ramsay's at Claridges, but, he said, "I enjoyed this beef more than any dish I've ever eaten there."

Simon finished off with a light apple tart with Chantilly crème and I enjoyed a faultless vanilla crème bruleé with a home made biscuit.

Henry has worked at several gastro pubs in his career, as well as the fabled Gaucho Club in London. He and Katherine also own the Greene Oak at nearby Oakley Green and know their formula for simple food at value-for-money prices is a winner. Menus are changed every three weeks to attract repeat business. Says Henry: "We want to see people coming back again and again." If the standards we experienced on our visit are anything to go by, he will most deservedly get his wish. The White Oak has certainly taken root.

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