I was excited to try a UK Michelin starred restaurant outside London. I was even more excited to visit the Woodspeen as it’s located in my old ends, Newbury, where teenage me once wreaked havoc. And I was even more excited to go with my Mum (she’s reading this) who had been given a gift voucher by a group of very kind parents when she retired from teaching last year. Thank you, parents. Thank you very much indeed 🙂 .
Firstly, the venue is stunning. Prior to becoming a fancy-pants restaurant, the Woodspeen was an old-school pub and it still looks like a nice pub from the outside. But John Campbell and his team have transformed the inside into a beautifully modern, well designed restaurant. Plenty of space for comfortable tables, an open kitchen and big windows – a lovely place to spend an afternoon or evening.
Now onto the Woodspeen’s food. We had the choice of an Early Supper Menu (two courses for £24, or three for £29 – served from 6pm until 8pm), or the à la carte. We decided to mix and match between the two.
Smoked haddock Scotch egg, celeriac and mustard slaw (from the set menu)
Roasted scallops, chorizo, broccoli and red pepper (from the à la carte)
The moment of truth quickly arrived for the Scotch egg. What would happen when we cut it open? I know what would happen if I had cooked it. Luckily, I hadn’t and this one was cooked to perfection with a beautiful, glowing orange yolk. The combination of the egg with smokey haddock and zingy slaw worked really well. A good start.
Scallops and chorizo is a classic flavour combination, but I’d never had it with broccoli cooked three ways and roquito peppers. I’m pleased to say it was an absolute triumph. I thought the different kinds of broccoli (puréed, roasted and raw) were very clever, particularly the purée. And the sweet, spicy, slightly, acidic roquito peppers brought an extra dimension to the dish. Great work Woodspeen.
Mains (all from the set menu)
Pan fried hake, pearl barley and plot artichokes
Local pheasant breast, parsley root, chard, caper sauce
Pumpkin risotto, oakey smoked cheddar, balsamic and hazelnut
The stand out of the three was the hake. The fish was beautifully moist and cooked to absolute perfection. On the plate was a celebration of artichoke. I approve of this – it’s a great vegetable and deserves recognition. Some were smokey and caramelised, which tasted divine. And there was also a fresh, earthy purée. Combined with the immaculate fish and a tasty pearl barley kind of risotto, this was stunning. My only criticism – it could have looked a lot better. The colours were all very dark. Quite a contrast to the colourful scallop and broccoli dish.
I also enjoyed the pumpkin risotto. The smoked cheddar packed a real punch and was without doubt the dominant flavour. It combined well with balsamic glaze and the hazelnuts. It was bordering on too salty and too overpowering, but I personally feel it held back just enough. The pumpkin was slightly lost, but I didn’t mind too much. It was also very rustic for a Michelin starred main. I’m not sure there’s any way to refine a risotto when it comes to how it looks. Perhaps the fact it was bright orange was where the effort went to on the presentation.
The pheasant was a mixed bag for me. The highlight was the parsley root, something I’d never heard of before. It looked like parsnip, which was an immediate concern for me (I despise them). Luckily though, it tasted nothing like parsnip and was delicious. I’ll be making an effort to eat more of it. It went well with the pheasant and a pesto, but I felt the dish was a little too dry and could have done with a wetter sauce to bring the whole thing together.
‘Apple and blackberry crumble’ (from the set menu)
Vanilla crème brulee, pickled blackberries and sorbet
Buttermilk parfait, rhubarb, ginger cake and blood orange
The crumble was listed in inverted commas, leaving us to wonder how it was going to be presented. Would it be some clever deconstructed version or a deconstruction that made you long for the traditional version? Luckily it was neither – on the plate was a traditional crumble, but they had elevated the presentation with a perfectly quinelled blackberry sorbet, which in turn was entirely covered with a shiny, silky custard. The sorbet was delicious, the perfect amount of tangy and wonderfully smooth.
The crème brulee was also the lucky recipient of a quenelle of blackberry sorbet. Despite the brulee being very good and perfectly made, I found this dessert to be slightly lacking. The sorbet was unfortunately not sharp enough to cut through the creaminess of the brulee. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious. If I’d have had this in a gastropub, I’d be raving about it.
Don’t worry though, I’ve saved the best until last. The buttermilk parfait with rhubarb, ginger cake and blood orange was absolutely sensationally amazingly awesome. What a combination of flavours and textures. The parfait alone was on another level – it was silky smooth, tasting of milk, butter and caramel. It reminded me of the first time I discovered condensed milk. And all its accompaniments were just as exquisite. Firstly, there was beautiful fresh, light, slightly tangy rhubarb sorbet. Then there were wondrous punchy morsels of ginger cake and biscuit to whisk me away to a Caribbean island for a few moments. There was also a pool of yummy blood orange sauce. And finally, a few miniscule mouthfuls of rhubarb, which had been soaked in something to make them taste out of this world. Basically, when all combined it tasted too good for words. What a bloody amazing pudding. Bravo Woodspeen.
I had a great meal at the Woodspeen. It’s a special place to take your loved ones once in a while. While there were a few flaws with the food, the majority of what we ate was fantastic. Combine this with a stunning venue and wonderful service, this is without doubt a great restaurant. I can’t wait to go back and I urge all of you to check it out.
James’ verdict: a perfect place to take your Mum for some posh Michelin nosh (without completely bankrupting yourself in the process)
|Overall:||(9.2 / 10)|
|Flavour:||(9.0 / 10)|
|Creativity:||(9.0 / 10)|
|Presentation:||(9.0 / 10)|
|Service and Ambiance:||(10.0 / 10)|
|Value for money:||(9.0 / 10)|