Muddy Stilettos' honest review of The Royal Oak, a vintage country pub in west Cambridgeshire.
If you read Muddy regularly you’ll know that I spend a lot of time reviewing pubs and cafes and have the waistband to prove it (just watch that baby strrrrrrretch). I’ve mentioned The Royal Oak in Hail Weston before – remember the one that was saved from the jaws of developers by stoic villagers?!
The village is found just off the A1 near St Neots and is conveniently located for those that favour two wheels as there’s a cycle path from the town. It’s less than a year since the pub re-opened and they’ve revamped the food, with the arrival of a new chef a few months ago and spruced up the styling in a serious way. This local favourite is back on the good pub grub scene.
Massimo is originally from Sardinia; he ran a successful restaurant in London but couldn’t resist the pull of country life. The menu offers a good selection of popular pub dishes but many have an Italian twist and as you’d expect there’s normally a pasta or gnocchi on offer. As much as possible is homemade including bread, pasta and the cakes that wink at you under glass domes on the bar. There are different lunch, dinner and Sunday lunch menus (a three roast choice) and they change frequently so there’s always something new to try.
The pub has a village feel, when I went there were a mixture of people enjoying a drink at the bar and those looking for something more substantial. It’s a meeting place for local groups and societies and they host weekly quiz nights and love any excuse to have a party – Halloween, New Year’s Eve and generally any other day that offers an opportunity to celebrate. The staff are very friendly and although I did take Mr Muddy with me for lunch I’d have no problem going here on my own and enjoying some ‘me’ time.
The pub has a definite vintage vibe, many of the materials used for the refurb have been recycled but it feels light and bright and is full of little rooms, nooks and crannies.
There’s the main bar area with a large inglenook fire, so I’d bags that early on in the winter! There are three other smaller rooms – one great idea is The Snug where all the furniture is available to buy from The Shop at Forty in Eynesbury.
There’s another room with tables in the front of the pub and then a light garden style room at the back. This has doors opening onto the garden and is great for large groups or for enjoying the sunshine in the warmer months.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
I liked the fact that there were different menus available dependent on the time of day and there’s a great choice (bravo new chef). The lunch menu had a couple of sharing board options (£15); grazing, light bites and sandwiches that range between £4 – £7 as well as more filling options for those that are Hank Marvin. Needless to say my lunch date and I tucked into the more substantial menu.
We started with honey dipped chorizo which was delicious – the chorizo had a beautiful taste, not too salty.
I choose the Cottage Pie that came with fresh vegetables and a cheesy topping- I liked the seasonal choice of red cabbage and note the nod to vintage in the serving dishes (and at £9.50 its excellent value)
Mr Muddy plumped for sausages, mash and gravy. Both had that British warm comfort tag but the sausages in particular had an Italian taste so prepare for a slight twist on a classic.
We were struggling for room but somehow found space for a shared pudding (it’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it!). The chocolate mouse and homemade caramel ice cream were excellent – I’m not sure there was much sharing going on!
The Christmas menu has just been launched and if you’re looking for somewhere for a small gathering it’s worth a consideration – 2 courses are £20.95, three couses £24.95 and anyone else tempted by the sound of mushroom and brie wellington – yes please! The front room is great if you’re looking for somewhere to host a small gathering, you could get around 14 in here and there’s the interconnecting snug next door as well. The Sunday lunch menu offers a choice of roasts with other dishes if you’re after an alternative. It’s very family friendly and there are board games available for kids to play. There’s a garden out at the back, it’s not massive so not large enough to kick a ball around but there’s a sandpit in the summer and a small grassed area. It’s not gated from the main road so someone might need to be on duty with the younger ones. For older children, who are able to wander a little further afield, there’s a great play park with a zip wire and BMX track five minutes walk away.
OUT AND ABOUT
Well, you’re a few miles from Grafham Water Reservoir, which is great for walking and water sports, and about 5 miles from Kimbolton a pretty village with cafes, a florist, an interior and clothes shops and a gift and art gallery. Buckden is not too far either which has a number of boutiques and the beautiful gardens at Buckden Towers, which are worth visiting in the summer (they open on specific days and their plant sale has a great reputation). Better still the pub has a number of circular walks starting and ending at the pub if you fancy a walk followed by cosying up to a roaring fire and the dog can come too – they even stock dog beer (I kid you not!). There are bike racks available so if you’re looking for a weekend cycle with a lunch stop in between then there’s a safe cycle path from St Neots.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Sunday lunchers on a day out, relaxed groups (kids are welcome), anyone searching out a local pub with atmosphere. Dog-friendly too.
Not for: Those that are after a gastro pub, the menu offers excellent pub grub. It’s kid friendly but there isn’t a large garden to let the kids run amock, there is a small grassed area but the access around the side of the pub is open to the road.
££: Mid range. Lunches of the ‘pub classics’ are between £10 – £12, sharing boards £15, sandwiches from the bar £6 and light bites from £3 – £7,50, dinner mains £9.50-13, with a 28 day dry matured rib eye steak coming in at £18. Sunday lunch starters are £5-£7.50 and main courses are £10 – £13. I’d say it’s fairly priced.
The Royal Oak, 79 High Steet, Hail Weston, PE19 5JW, Tel: 01480 716712.