Peasemore is a tiny place of about 250 adults but, given the crowd at the village local on the Friday night we visited recently for dinner, a fair proportion of them must have been in there.
Indeed, The Fox at Peasemore was absolutely full, with landlords Philip and Lauren Davison happily turning tables to fit everyone in. The couple have been running the pub for the past three years and say that the village, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is where the Prime Minister David Cameron was raised and where his mother still lives, has been very supportive, including the PM’s brother, who is chairman of the parish council.
They reopened the pub after a complete refurbishment, it having become very run down, and today it has a rustic elegance, with views over the surrounding fields from almost every window, and lots of cosy candelight for evenings and a log burner when it’s chilly.
Their experience in the industry reaches back much further, though, more than 30 years in fact, for Philip trained as a chef in the navy and since then they have run four pubs and restaurants, including the Sun in the Wood at Ashmore Green for more than 16 years, becoming BII Licensee of the Year in 2009 and scooping numerous other awards for their selection of wines, customer service and marketing, along the way.
Having brought a tranche of loyal customers over with them from the Sun in the Wood, Lauren says that the location of The Fox, which nestles in the bucolic Berkshire Downs just six miles from Newbury and 10 minutes off the M4, also makes it something of a destination pub, with people meeting up there from as far as Bristol in the west and London in the east. It was also convenient for us, who live just off the A34, but it would have been worth driving out there even if it hadn’t been, and we definitely plan a return visit in the summer to try out some of the footpaths in the village that lead across the surrounding fields and to take advantage of their pretty beer garden. The bar, where locals still come just to drink, serves West Berkshire Brewery’s popular Good Old Boy, plus a changing roster of guest beers from other local brewers such as Ramsbury and theTwo Cocks.
But it was the wines we were looking at that evening to accompany our meal – a nice robust red Cabernet Sauvignon for my husband, who was most gratified to see a Chilean Santa Rita (one of his favourite wines) being served, and a white for me, because I had chosen to start with the prawn timbale, smoked salmon terrine and tempura battered king prawns. This made a delightful start to the meal.
The tempura was light and crisp and came with a gently-sweet dipping sauce, the smoked salmon terrine provided a silkily-smooth texture contrast, while the timbale was a tumble of plump prawns in a creamy sauce. My husband had opted for the homemade chicken liver pâté and charcuterie meats with an apricot chutney. Not one usually known to mix sweet and savoury on the same plate, on this occasion he so liked how the chutney offset the deep savouriness of the pâté, I think we have a convert.
A generous basket of artisan breads had also arrived – multigrain, cornbread, and white cracked sea salt and rosemary – and so inviting were they that it was a struggle not to polish them all off before the main courses had even arrived. For this, a slow shank of lamb on mash with a red wine and garlic sauce was my husband’s choice. The lamb was falling apart on the creamy potatoes, while the sauce added that extra flavour hit. For me, it had to be the beef Wellington – one of my signature dishes since learning how to make it at cookery school. You rarely see it on menus these days, though, so this was my chance to find out how the professionals go on. In this case, the thick chunk of beef was almost as tender as the puff pastry encasing it, the flavour enhanced by a generous portion of pâté inside the parcel and a brandy and pepper sauce. This dish also came with savoury potatoes, diced and roasted, and a very generous portion of shared vegetables.
This was pub cooking at its very best. The menu also boasts some of the more evergreen pub favourites, like beefburger, fishcakes and homemade pies, all with chips. The chicken, bacon and Stilton pie with crispy shortcrust pastry had been a serious contender and, at just £11.50, was very good value given that, no doubt, it would have been given the same attention to detail that our choices enjoyed. The dessert menu, too, boasted old favourites, such as apple and hedgerow fruit crumble with custard or ice cream, brownies, cheesecakes, sticky toffee pudding, pavlova and mousse but, given the generosity of the previous dishes, we were unable to squeeze in any of these, so were most gratified to find a wonderfully innovative mini-pudding choice (just £2.25 each) of chocolate mousse, meringue or crème brûlée, the latter of which my husband just couldn’t resist, even more so given its very pretty presentation.
And still we hadn’t quite finished, for homemade truffles accompanied the coffees, rounding off what had been a delicious and satisfying meal. Chatting to Philip later, he explained that he had worked on ships such as the HMS Intrepid and HMS Antelope, the latter of which was sunk in the Falklands War. Philip, who had been working as the personal chef of an admiral, had left the services just before. All I can say is that both of them were very lucky men.