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The Cat's whiskers

Carole Elgueta revisits the archetypal country inn and savours some Sunday pub grub

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The last time we visited The Rampant Cat it was lovely to be able to toast our toes in front of the roaring fire in the bar and congratulate ourselves on having dodged the cold raindrops that a strong early spring gale was buffeting about one blustery Saturday.
Then, two large glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, steak and chips and chilli con carne were the order of the day. Comfort food at its best and most needed.
So it was with pleasure that we contemplated a return journey to this 250-year-old establishment, at Broadlayings, Woolton Hill, conveniently located just off the A34, six miles south west of Newbury.
This time it was late morning on a pleasant early autumn day, so we breezed into the large and airy dining room, where groups of people were gathering for Sunday lunch with friends or en famille, and nearly everyone seemed to be ordering the Sunday roasts for which The Cat is renowned.
There was topside of beef, roast shoulder of pork and chicken, the latter two both coming with stuffing.
Normally, I’m quite partial to a roast dinner, but today, it being bright and sunny, I was feeling particularly virtuous food-wise, so ordered the roast chicken breast and a salad.
I was beginning to regret my decision, however, when I saw plates wafting past crowned by large puffs of light and crispy-looking Yorkshire puddings and golden roast potatoes.
Still, when my own dish arrived it was also a nice surprise to find a tasty piece of bone-in chicken and a delightful salad of mixed leaves, livened up by some grapes and Parmesan cheese and The Cat’s own secret dressing.
A large and fruity Pinot Grigio made a good accompaniment.

My husband, on the other hand, was in the mood for something big and meaty and he found it in the juicy homemade burger, on which he also ordered bacon and cheese, which was dripping oh-so deliciously down the side of the brioche bun. My food envy was piqued again.
The burger came with crunchy chips, onion rings and a creamy coleslaw.
He was a happy man, made even jollier by the large glass of robust Cabernet Sauvignon that he chose to accompany his meal from the varied wine list.
Afterwards, as he wiped his sated lips on his napkin, he declared that if he ate another morsel he would, like Mr Creosote in the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life, quite simply explode.

So, eschewing all the pudding delights on offer, such as the crowd-pleasing and seasonal apple, sultana and cinnamon crumble, or the treacle sponge pudding, I opted for a cheeseboard to share which, despite his protests, I knew he would manage. I was right.
The generous portions of creamy Brie, sharp Cheddar and tangy Stilton, accompanied by crisp and juicy grapes, were all too
seductive and he managed to help me do the cheese course justice without scattering himself around The Rampant Cat’s newly-refurbished dining room.

There was, though, a scattering of children and, what with nine grandchildren between them, the landlords Caroline Stratford and her husband Martyn operate a very child-friendly establishment, with child-size portions of the roasts, plus pizzas, fish fingers and chips and ice-cream.
Vegetarians aren’t forgotten either and for them there’s a nut roast to be ordered ahead or a tempting Somerset Brie and beetroot tart with side salad and red onion chutney.
I’ve noticed that the price of pub food has been creeping ever upwards these days, into the teens and, in some cases,
beyond, but not at The Rampant Cat, where roasts still come in at just over a tenner and puddings for less than £6.
Caroline, who is very much a people person, pulls the pints while Martyn does the cooking – he used to run his own print company before taking over at The Cat, and explains that his folks were publicans in Reading, where he developed his keen interest in cooking.
The couple have been running The Rampant Cat for some five years and, although they say that it’s hard work, they clearly enjoy having created somewhere that is not just a hub for the community, with many regulars bantering and imbibing at the bar, but also a venue where groups and societies can hold their regular functions and parties, or where walkers from nearby woodland The Chase can settle in for a satisfying supper.
With open fires in brick fireplaces, thick oak beams and shining horse brasses, The Rampant Cat is a quintessential traditional village pub, offering good food and a friendly welcome for everyone, wherever they’re from.

The Rampant Cat
Broadlayings, Woolton Hill, Newbury RG20 9TP 01635 253474

Don't forget to have a look at our pub and restaurant listings for more inspiration on where to eat, drink and be merry in West Berkshire and North Hampshire.

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