Sunday 24 February 2013

The Royal Oak, Cues Lane, Bishopstone, Berkshire

In the village of Bishopstone just east of Swindon, the Royal Oak is a quirky pub aimed at foodies. The slightly eccentric literature and prints of cows disguise a commercial edge - the prices are quite high and the portions quite small. But don't let that put you off. The ingredients are good and the cooking polished. The Saturday lunch menu favours meat-eaters with a traditional palate - the delicious steak, kidney (and other offal) Guinness pie (about £13) with mustard mash and spinach is rich and earthy, but won't fill you up after a country walk. The pastry is excellent and the mash is smooth, but you need more carbohydrate. The other main courses, such as the pork belly, also come in modest portions, but they get rave reviews. If you are hungry, the generous serving of barbecued ribs, served on a wooden bread board with a pile of chips, is the best bet. The menu might also feature one or two more adventurous dishes, such as fried squid with pork belly and spelt risotto with broccoli. Kids can get a platter with decent sausages, chips and other finger food for £8 a head.

Risque prints and posters
The beers on tap include Arkells 3B, which has more flavour than most 4% ales, Arkells 2B and Wiltshire Gold.  Among the puddings (£6.50 each), the crème brûlée is too runny, but will give you a vigorous sugar kick. The moist chocolate brownie with ice cream is delicious, while the honeycombe ice cream has real bite and is probably too strong for kids. The Royal Oak still has low wood beamed ceilings and other traditional features, offset by the boldly-painted cream and green walls. It also has personality - in the men's loos, for example, there are risque prints and posters, while the service can veer between banter and impatience. Still, the Royal Oak deserves the gastropub moniker. 7/10