Thu, 14 Nov 2019
The Bull Inn, Stanford Dingley, Berkshire RG7 6LS
0118) 974 4582 / www.thebullinnpub.com
WE pull up at The Bull Inn’s car park with a feeling it might be a good night.
After all, owner Richie Sanderson was responsible for re-opening gastro pub The Bladebone Inn in Bucklebury and taking it to a new level.
Would the Bull be as good? As stylish and comfortable?
The answer is a big fat yes to all.
As we arrive, Richie and chef Cal Peace are in the bar discussing a forthcoming wedding – Richie’s company RS Catering do weddings and other events (tepees in the garden anyone?).
But they leap into action, as do their close-knit team, to ensure we can sit outside – it’s a scorcher of an evening – to get the best light to take photographs.
We get a big round table with a large bull etched on to it – the pub is filled with eclectic bovine accessories – and nice touches like the snug Archie’s Corner (a nod to Richie’s son) and Izzy’s paddock (named after his daughter).
The sultry evening made us go for light dishes – but the menu, like the décor, is diverse.
Had it been cooler we’d have tried the Braised Short Rib Lasagne, which takes three days to make (£15), or a pie.
Instead we started with the Savoury Cheese Scone with Cornish Crab (£8) – three dinky pungent scones with a mason jar of crab mixed with shallot, lemon and creme fraiche. It was so good and so lemony there was a bit of knife jiggery-pokery at the end to scrape the jar out.
Photographer Dijana had an Asian Beef Salad (£8) with glass noodles and wasabi mayonnaise – the GF version, good to note many of the dishes can be made GF. So instead of drenching the tender beef strips in plain flour, they were coated in garam flour, making them crunchy on the outside and butter soft in the middle. The wasabi mayo was just right in terms of heat, not mouth-wincing but enough so you knew you were eating wasabi.
Next up came our fish mains – a whole Megrim sole (£17) and a paella (£17.50). If sole is on the menu I will go for it, loving the easy way the bone comes out whole and the tenderness and sweetness of the flesh.
This was so fresh it would have winked at me had it still sported its head and was served with a tangle of new potatoes and spinach, a smear of celeriac puree and topped with big salty capers and with a jar of lush Hollandaise on the side. So good I could have winked at it, to be honest.
The paella was as though someone has tasted many and decided to write a list of the best bits – so not only crunchy and thin disks of chorizo but fat, chunky bits that bounce around your mouth, calamari with a crunch they could hear in Newbury town centre, plump prawns and mussels and a flavoursome rice. It usually comes with griddled focaccia, but this was replaced by wholesome GF bread.
The wine list is short but perfectly formed and we enjoyed a William Robertson South African Sauvignon (£20).
Too full because of the hearty portions we ordered one dessert between two. It did look like a ladies undergarment and I mean that in the best possible taste – see the picture! – but the Rice Pudding (£8 ) with strawberry jam and vanilla ice cream which is Cal’s signature dessert ( “That recipe has been at my side for years,” he grinned) was a joy.
Sweet creamy rice, sharp strawberry lushness and a vanilla ice that enhanced the vanilla in the rice pudding, we loved it.
Call describe his cooking as “pub food done really well” and we can attest to that. Richie simply wants the place to be “a great country inn”.
It is – there are lovely rooms for £75 a night, a charming garden, and paddock, a breakfast menu locals love and a comfortable feel that looks effortless but has obviously had a lot of thought.
It’s always great to add to your list of must-eat places – The Bull Inn was added to ours, hmm, somewhere between the starters arriving from waitress Katie and halfway through eating them. And we make no apologies for our bull-headed views.
Pictures by Dijana Capan