Visitors might also note that there are over 600 Royal Oak pubs in the UK making it the second most popular pub name (after the Red Lion whose numbers exceed 700) so if you are planning a visit, do make sure you get the right one. At least we got that bit right.
What differentiates this Royal Oak from all the others however is that Dominic Chapman (@DomChapman) is in the kitchen. Due to his endeavours, The Royal Oak Paley Street boasts a Michelin star and 3 AA Rosettes. Their website tells us that only two pub-restaurants in the country hold that prestigious combination of awards.
But while the outside of The Royal Oak is clearly a pub, and the innards are clearly pub like, even on a Saturday night, you wont (from what we saw) see drinkers at the bar or a dartboard, for the spirit of The Royal Oak is 100% restaurant and the food reflects that fact, so no pie and chips here either then.
The menu as such is impressive in originality and content, and narrowing the selection down to a manageable number of dishes is difficult. While we choose, the bread tray arrives at the table with no less than five varieties of bread on including olive flat bread, tomato and rosemary bread, and granary bread with pumpkin and sunflower seeds. The breads are top quality and discipline is required not to fill up too early for we want to try much that is on the menu.
As well as the usual starter/main courses there are also nibbles listed and these are a must try for the Scotch Eggs at The Royal Oak are quite famous having won from Olive Magazine the title of 'The World's Best Ever Scotch Egg' in 2009. Accordingly, we have to order one and when it arrives, it is simply perfect and will share something in common with most of tonight's food, perfectly balanced, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked.
Also on nibbles, the rabbit on toast is again so good that most restaurants would surely be proud to make it a starter in its own right and charge twice the price (here it is £3.25), and Rollmops, pickled herring fillets, sparkle on the plate and in the mouth.
The lobster linguine, the premium priced starter on the list (at £22) was delicious too with the lobster expertly done though to our taste, we would have preferred the linguine a touch more al dente. That said, with a little bit of everything on the plate, and the chilli used to just the right effect so the lobster is never overpowered, this too was a delight. The claw was especially delicious.
The lamb sweetbreads were also expertly done, the reduced sauce having great depth, a squeeze of lemon over the sweetbreads lifting the dish, the lettuce retaining its identity rather than drowned soggy in the reduction and the mint giving that little extra hint of freshness. Another wonderful dish.
For that price though you want the plate to be special and here it really was, perhaps the best grouse either of us can remember tasting. Not overly gamey, for of course, the bird has not been hung, and could only have been shot the day before, but it was tender and absolutely packed with flavour. Complimented by a sauce made with the grouse bones, Madeira, chicken stock and veal stock, as well as both a bread sauce and crab apple jelly for when you need to cut through the taste of game, the whole plate was simply stunning and was worth the price. It also came with a home made chipolata wrapped in Cumbrian ham and of course game chips.
Seldom does well cooked turbot have to take a back seat. Despite on this occasion it being overshadowed by the exquisite grouse, the Turbot itself was also a majestic dish, with a wonderfully cooked piece of fish, more crisped Cumbrian ham, tangy cockles and pristine veg. The chips at The Royal Oak too are quite famous and so an ordered portion made a natural side: they delivered crunch packed delights, surprising many guests when it's revealed that they are cooked in vegetable oil, not animal fat.
Prices are what we'd expect for a Michelin starred restaurant in Berkshire, starters mostly £8-£13 with only the Linguine of lobster outside that range, and a la carte mains broadly at the £20-£30 level. No wine on this occasion as the restaurant location dictated we drive there but a quick glance at the wine list suggested reasonable pricing.
Dominic Chapman's cooking and so The Royal Oak had been recommended to us by so many people including many respected chefs, accordingly we had built up a certain expectation of quality ahead of our meal there: that expectation was resoundingly beaten. Accordingly, it is no exaggeration on our part to say that our meal at The Royal Oak was for us one of the best of the year so far and that the restaurant itself is one of the very best in the country. Most definitely worth the journey: recommended.
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Related links: The Royal Oak Paley Street website
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