The Carnarvon Arms in Newbury - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 12:39 10 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:36 07 November 2017
It's time for a return visit to this fascinating old country inn, not just for us, but for you too, says Jan Raycroft
Confession time: my last visit to The Carnarvon Arms Hotel was at the start of the Marco Pierre White era, with ego-soothing PR people swarming around the volatile but magnetic celebrity chef. As it turned out he was a happy if edgy, chain-smoking charmer that day (he’s since packed in the fags), trying to convince me that he was a council house lad from Leeds who loved Chelsea FC. Right.
The food was fine, but The Carnarvon Arms had become home to a bizarre collection of stuffed animals, including a hideous rat in a trap and the pièce de résistance, a collection of ravens perched on a five bar gate. As you can imagine, some luvvies loved all this, Trip Advisor-style diners were often unimpressed, and not always enamoured of the grub.
Then, at the start of the year, came news that part of Marco’s empire was breaking up, and an unnamed staff member was telling The Daily Mail that The Carnarvon Arms at Whitway near Newbury would be sold again as well.
By March a £2 million plus deal saw it transferred to Redcomb Pubs, a smallish mostly London-based group founded by Dan Shotton and Mark Draper. They also own the Crown & Horns at East Ilsley, another inn with rooms, so have a good idea what works in this market.
Redcomb have refurbished The Carnarvon Arms, and spent a packet on it. They’ve done a good job and, before we get to the food and drink offering, it’s worth recording that for those who found the previous décor (shall we say) ‘overpowering’, there is a fresh, lightness of touch which somehow gives off a hint of an upmarket continental eatery within a Best of British setting. Don’t ask me how, it just works.
All those blasted stuffed animals have vanished (although there is a much more welcoming full-size model sheep). We visited on one of the amazingly late ‘Indian Summer’ lunchtimes we’ve had recently – bring a jacket and sit outside to enjoy a drink and bite to eat if you can.
Head chef Russell Hunt, pictured below, likes to cook ‘modern British style with a bit of European influence’, so his menu fits wonderfully with the new décor. He’s a big fan of local ingredients and this is demonstrated by the splendid braised shin of beef with local ale pie enjoyed by photographer Maureen, which arrived under a buttery short crust pastry with perfectly cooked vegetables with real flavour (£12.50).
Before we reached that, pick of the starters’ menu was a tangy delight of Coln Valley smoked salmon with Brixham Bay crab, caper berries, watercress, shallot and roast lemon (£8.25), a splendid sight which in the eating proved that when Russell does veer away from local fare he only goes to the best places.
It’s an extensive menu with everything from ‘posh’ sandwiches with dressed leaves and crunchy coleslaw (add fries for £1.50 to create a feast) to sharing boards plus tempting desserts from around the £5.50 mark. We’d recommend The Carnarvon Arms for a lazy lunch, family Sunday gathering or special occasion evening dining. The children’s menu is fairly priced at £8.50 for a choice of two courses and on Sundays the littler ones can have any roast with all the trimmings for £6.95. Vegetarian choices appear throughout the menu and they can make gluten-free versions of nearly all the dishes.
Winchester Road, Whitway, Newbury, RG20 9LE; 01635 278222; thecarnarvonarmshotel.com