Eat & Bleat: The Royal Oak of Midhurst

Since opening the bakery, meals and food have been reduced to being mere fuel and will do for us. More often than not, both Slaveboy and I forgo breakfast and lunch, only to return to some cobbled together dinner – at times hit & miss, other times a pleasant surprise.
So when we were invited to sample the game menu at The Royal Oak, just outside of Midhurst, we were really looking forward at it but understandably a bit concerned that the reality might not live up to the exciting menu we had seen. Often enough, with going out for meals, I find myself having to choose the lesser of how many it might be, evils and often avoided set menus because they tend to be lacklustre and a bit of a cop out.
However, when presented with a selection like below you can’t help but be ever so excited.

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I actually had trouble choosing, and that was a first for me as more often than not, set menus tend to be pretty uninspiring. I was however wary of the fact that a set list of wines accompanied the meal and not being a fan of wines at all, it concerned me slightly that I was having to eat my meal with three different glasses of accompanying wine.

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For starters, I had the peppered wood pigeon, livers in tempura, braised chicory and oat crumble. Slaveboy had the Consommé of Wild Duck with Porcini mushroom and port soufflé. To be fair, Slaveboy was very gentlemanly and got me to make my selection first and I suspect his starter was actually choice no. 2.

Let’s just break my starter down. I have never knowingly eaten pigeon by itself. I’m pretty sure I’ve had it in game pies. My starter was of a generous portion and beautifully presented. It was a good balance of reasonable volume without overplaying the pretentiousness. I just can’t abide a plate which is more about negative space than it is about the food that should be on it. My pigeon was tender and pleasantly peppered. It wasn’t soggy, or falling apart as though it’s been kept warm for ages. The crisp crunch of the tempura batter contrasted very well with the timely cooked liver. The braised chicory was a delightful surprise. I’d built this idea in my head that chicory tasted like liquorice and the flavour would just be overwhelming. It was just the right amount of contrasting subtle bitterness which added an extra depth to the starter. The oat crumble was moreish – there wasn’t too much of it that it dominated the final texture of the dish but just enough that I made sure I’d scraped all of it onto my final forkful. Slaveboy said he enjoyed his consommé. The flavour was delicate and it was not overseasoned. I suspect he would have preferred my starter more and I would go as far as saying that the consommé would better suit someone with a modest appetite, unlike his!

For the main, I chose the Roasted Partridge with malted bread pudding, rosemary roast new potatoes and sweet corn cream. Slaveboy chose the Herb Crusted Venison with the beetroot dauphinoise, Cavolo Nero and peppery game jus. Well, what can I say? I thought the malted bread pudding idea as a accompaniment for a savoury dish was a curious one but after one bite, I can tell you it was sheer genius. I actually thought that the bread pudding was going to be savoury and was surprised to find it sweet, not overwhelmingly but definitely sweet. That with the roasted partridge was an inspired combination and coupled with perfectly roasted potatoes, it really did make for a handsome and hearty dish. And stick with me when I say that the sweet corn cream was not an oddity. There wasn’t a lot of it, just enough to suggest a curiously complimentary flavour. I did find myself rooting around the plate for any leftover drops of it. The Herb Crusted Venison was well cooked and delicious. However, I do think the star of that plate was the beetroot dauphinoise. I helped myself to a fair bit of it. It made the plate and really did being together all the other flavours so well.

Dessert for me was the Caramelised Fig and Chestnut Tart, with honey ice cream. Slaveboy chose the Baked Camembert with candied walnut and truffle biscotti. The tart was technically perfect. Beautifully crisp and thin tart shell, cooked to a nice golden hue, with figs which were actually caramelised rather than just drenched in sugar syrup. The chestnut had a bold but balanced presence and the locally made honey ice cream went beautifully with it BUT the star of this course was Slaveboy’s Baked Camembert. It was pure delectable sophistication on a plate. It oozed decadence. The truffle biscotti was just pure culinary genius that I actually said to Jamie, the owner that I’d like to break his pattiserie chef’s fingers. I assure you that is a compliment at its highest order.

Now, a note about the accompanying wines. Never will I ever say that all wines tasted like wet rag soaked in essence of aged wood shaving. Every single glass that was offered with each course had been precisely selected to heightened my indulgence of the food. The owner made the right choice in steering the experience of the meal with carefully selected wines. A lot of thought had been put into the selection of the wines.

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Now, I know some of you might be moaning about the minimal number of food porn photos on this post and I really do apologise. Jamie had kindly supplied me with some and I took some and quite a few just didn’t come up very well. If there is one gripe I could make, and this one is a general one and it applies to so many food establishments, is that I actually think meals should be consumed with a a bit more lighting than what is fashionable at the moment. Especially in the case of The Royal Oak where the food was exquisite and much thought had been put into the presentation, it would have enhanced my enjoyment if I could see my food better, which in turn would aid my attempts to Instagram it, Facebook it, tweet it. However, that is just a personal preference and I hasten to add that this marks the year that I have had to start wearing reading glasses. Anyway, have this slightly blurry photo of yours truly with Jamie. I must have found something dreadfully hilarious because I seemed to have been sporting my best clapping seal impression.

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The delightful dining experience I had at the Royal Oak really was the highlight of my week. Being a dweller of a city where most of the food establishments tend to be either French or mock Italian cuisines, it was so refreshing to come across a food establishment that has decided to create its own higher standards and excel them. Thee was great creativity in that menu list and from talking to Jamie, the owner, if is transparent that there is great passion for interesting but real food. I loved the fact that we sat there and chatted about our families. I love getting to know the people who are working hard in sharing their passions.

So here are things you can actively do. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. It’s the best way to be updated on the new and exciting things going on in your local area. Independent businesses rely heavily on reaching their audience through social media and more often than not, you get a better picture of the personalities that are driving the passion.

What you can also do is cancel that booking at Carluccio’s or Bill’s and take a nice country drive to The Royal Oak. After making your reservation, of course. Look, I’ve even included a photo of their upcoming set menu night on 23rd November. Their reservation number is (01243) 817478.

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Thank you so much to Jamie, Jacquie and their staff for making us feel so welcome.

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