Restaurant review of the Crab & Boar at Chieveley
Gone are the fishing nets strung out under the ceiling with its collection of fishing floats and crab shells. Gone is the extensive menu which once had something like 18 starters, 22 fish courses and nine different vegetables. Gone are the black-and-white attired waitresses bustling around the three large dining rooms. Gone are the quirky bedrooms with around the world themes.
What you get instead at the renamed Crab and Boar (until last year the Crab at Chieveley), which has recently re-opened after a complete refurbishment, is an understated Farrow & Ball-painted informality that the new landlords Matt and Katy Beamish say is intended to take this restaurant with rooms back to its roots as The Blue Boar, the days when it was less destination restaurant and more community hub.
“Sunday lunches, families, walkers with dogs. It’s important for us to get locals back into and involved with the Crab and Boar,” says Katy.
A long history in the area it certainly has. Dating back to the 17th century, the pub got its name in the Civil War, when Cromwell is said to have stayed there leaving behind a sculpture of a boar that he had acquired from hosts in Ripley where he had stayed just before the battle of Marston Moor.
The menu has been honed down, too, with just five starters, plus three ‘classics’, five mains and four from the grill, plus a catch of the day (turbot on the evening we went) and extra sides of chips, greens, carrots, mash, new potatoes and salad, although most mains are served with vegetables and potatoes of some sort, and the wine menu is still pretty extensive, my husband was gratified to notice.
But the menu is still a work in progress, according to Matt, and he’s hoping to be able to include more dishes that reflect the nature of the area (pictures of fields and animals and a stuffed boar’s head now adorn the walls where the fish once swam), by introducing dishes of venison and wild boar.
The head chef, 29-year-old Tom Scade, says he has been working 18-hour days and hasn’t had a day off since they re-opened as they evolve the repertoire, but adds, “it’s a tough life, so you’ve got to love it”. Tom, who has a brigade of about seven working with him in the kitchen (it’s a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour operation), is experienced with game cookery having once worked at the Ritz, where they celebrated the ‘glorious 12th’ in August’ with grouse and game chips.
“But don’t get me wrong,” says Katy. “ We love our seafood, but it would be nice to see more meat on the menu.”
Having come hot-foot from Cornwall, where he was head chef at Nathan Outlaw’s Mariners Rock pub overlooking the Camel estuary, and also having worked at and been largely inspired by TV chef Martin Blunos’ eponymous seafood restaurant in Bath, Tom also likes his fish.
“I developed a good relationship with the fish suppliers while working in Cornwall,” he explains. “At the Crab and Boar all the produce comes from the day boats. Just being able to tell people where the fish has come from, that’s very important to me. “All the lobsters, for instance, come from one of the two boats that go out of Port Isacc. As for the Porthilly oysters, I lived for five years looking over those oysterbeds, so I can tell you all about them. Nothing is trawler caught. The fish here has been out of the water for just 24 hours.”
And there’s no compromise. “Some days, if we’ve run out of fish, we’ve run out of fish,” says Tom. “I’m not going to keep lots of fish just to see us through to Monday.”
One of the starters on the menu is a crab tortellini ‘Blunos’, which Tom says is Martin’s creation (“I learned that dish from him. I’m not going to take any credit for it,” says Tom. “It’s a perfect dish, so why change it?”) As it happens, this is what my husband chose for his starter. It comprises of a crab boudin and a white crab and bisque cream sauce,which he described as “divine”. Not only was he impressed by how cleverly crafted the tortellini were (Tom told me that after service, he puts some music on and makes these for relaxation – “I don’t see this as work”…he’s that sort of cook), but declared that they tasted “absolutely delicious”.
For his main course he chose Cornish Plaice, an inventive idea of Tom’s, that came with leeks, braised chicken wings and macaroni and found that the pieces of crispy chicken provided a tasty complement to the large fillets of white fish. I, meanwhile, couldn’t resist ordering the classic French lobster thermidor, which is one of my all-time favourite dishes. The meat in this one, which came with fries and a watercress salad, was chunkily substantial, the sauce creamily savoury and was everything I could have wished for.
To finish we shared a board of British cheeses, which came with celery, a pear poached in wine and spices – making a very welcome change from the often too-sweet chutneys – and a selection of savoury biscuits, all of which were homemade, our very charming waitress told us proudly.
Indeed, everyone at the Crab and Boar was very friendly, despite the fact that the night we were there they were catering for two very large parties of people, as well as the usual diners.
“Hospitality is a very transient trade, but the team has been evolving since we took over in October, and now we have a great group. Some of them have been wonderful, even those with no previous experience,” says Matt, who used to be a chef in Gloucestershire where he met his wife Katy, who now works with him front of house.