Pics by Jake Eastham
We do love a brand new pub here at Country Calling especially one that veers away from the archetypal gastro standard and offers sometbing very different. The Royal Oak in Swallowcliffe
stood empty, the subject of endless debate and several failed attempts at revival, for seven years. Finally last year three villagers clubbed together with another silent partner and plotted its reinvention, literally on the back of a fag packet. They had no experience of the pub industry but strong ideas on what they wanted the Royal Oak to become.
The pub would retain its 19th
century architectural identity but with a light modern interior, the opposite of the traditional dark-wood olde worlde pub. Crucially it would become a hub for village life once more, alongside a restaurant catering for everything from celebratory dinners to casual, drop in lunches, there’s a bar, open fires, a good selection of games for kids (Perudo, Shut the Box) and on Friday nights many of the villagers come in for a pre-dinner pint, the sense of community restored.
The first thing you notice at The Royal Oak is the furniture, beautiful, tactile, curved stools, tables and chairs made Wiltshire ash and beech by local cabinet maker Matthew Burt (he has a showroom in nearby Hindon). It sets the pub apart from its neighbouring gastros – there’s almost a feeling of Scandinavia here, though the tartan rugs thrown across chairs, roaring fires and pints of Butcombe bring you right back to the West Country.
Food comes from chef and patron Mark Treasure (formerly of The Museum) and focuses on classics done well.
My risotto of basil, goat’s cheese and roasted hazelnut is delicious and the menu, which changes daily, is the kind where it’s hard to choose. Venison sausages, borlotti beans, chorizo and smoked paprika casserole or the seabream with winter slaw, dates, cashews and lime or slow roasted belly pork, crackling, Cox’s apples, root veg and thyme? The burgers are statuesque and come with side of horseradish slaw and skin-on skinny chips.
I like the fact the restaurant majors on vegetarian and vegan cooking with a separate menu for non meat eaters –warm tofu salad, balsamic vinegar, mushrooms, hazlenuts and raisins or one pot chick pea, vegetable and herb casserole.
Another plus, in my view, is the interesting bar menu served between 2 and 6 each day, which means you can rock up for a mug of soup, potted smoked haddock and toast, skinny chips or chicken liver parfait. Too many pubs discourage non-diners for obvious reasons (eaters not drinkers are the cash cow) so it’s great to find a place where you can turn up after a long walk or just on a whim and recover with a pint and a quick fix of fries.
There's an interesting wine list here too, not just your standard burgundy, rioja, sauvignon fare. i like the sound of Basa, house wine at the famous El Bulli (an affordable £24) or the organic Chateau Musar from Lebanon (more of a treat at £54.)
There are 6 bedrooms here and the Royal Oak is in the process of having two tailor-made walks plotted by the Tisbury Footpath Club. Start at the pub, hike for a hour or so, back for a long lunch followed by a leisurely snooze. Sounds good, doesn't it?