What’s it like to eat at the Royal Oak near Maidenhead
PUBLISHED: 06:04 10 December 2019
It’s a quintessentially British restaurant and pub named after a tree that hid a king… Nick Parkinson’s Royal Oak is quite simply one of the most regal places to eat and drink
Nestled nicely between the annual delights of Henley and Royal Ascot, and within striking distance of Maidenhead, Reading and Windsor, this delightfully designed and dedicated follower of food is so welcoming it's like stepping inside your own home lounge. The whitewashed building shouts pub from the outside, but the beamed ceilings, leather sofas, stone and wooden floors, spaced-out tables, elegant service and front-of-house charm ooze sophisticated restaurant. And with more than a decade and a half of leading this venue and a BBC Masterchef-winning cook under his belt, having kept a Michelin star for eight years and served royalty, Nick and his team are a princely troupe. Add to that the most beautiful herb garden and a well-laden, classic and modern wine cellar stacked with excellent vintages and you are presented with a must-visit venue.
We chose to eat lunch there, and it has a great British menu. This may look like a pub and the beer is great, but it is not pub grub, this is fine dining, well presented and delicately cooked using the best ingredients. The Oak has recently gained a new head chef, Matt Samson. He comes with a handsome pedigree having worked at impressive establishments alongside esteemed chefs. Most recently he was sous chef to André Garrett at Cliveden House Hotel. He has developed some exciting dishes and created a new vegan/vegetarian menu, children's menu and table d'hôte, offering great choice and excellent value for money.
The pre-starter snacks tempt you with a taste of things to come. Nocellara olives or the Scotch egg are a good way to begin, as are the devilled whitebait with roast garlic mayonnaise. Or try the rabbit rillette on toast. Starters include the fresh cured mackerel with caviar, dill vinegar and daikon, offering a crisp yet subtle lingering taste, which leaves you ready for one of the mains. Mains include Cornish cod with pea ketchup, clams and lemongrass. My companion treated her healthy appetite to the 8oz Berkshire sirloin steak, served with spinach, mushrooms, thick-cut chips and béarnaise sauce. The Crown Estate venison with shoulder suet pudding, chicory and turnips was a delight, cut like butter and came alive with a side of hispi cabbage with bacon and almonds. For veggies, there is the tahini-roasted cauliflower, spring onion and chive yoghurt option.
There are 500 bins in Nick's wine cellar. We chose an Italian red that complemented the meat - Salice Salentino. The tropical passionfruit soufflé with mango sorbet was sumptuous, and a fitting finale. The service is warm and friendly in-keeping with Nick's ethos of casual professionalism, his keen eye gently roving over his smartly-dressed colleagues to maintain an air of appropriate attention to detail without undue interruption.
Nick and his dad, national treasure TV talk show king Michael, opened the Royal Oak at the beginning of the 'noughties'. Nick told me: "My ambition was to run a good local pub and we are, but the food makes us much more than that. "We go for the best produce first, we try for local first, but of course, that isn't always the best or available. Our fish is fresh, day-caught from Cornwall.
"The Royal Oak is about great food, being a great pub and having a great ambience. For me it's still like having a great pub and that's what it's all about."