The Royal Oak

17th August 2018

42 Sparrows Herne • Bushey • WD23 1FU • 020 8950 9765

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

The newly painted dark petrol blue interior of Bushey’s Royal Oak is a world away from the tired appearance of recent years. Now the atmosphere is beautifully moody – mismatched tables and chairs create a relaxed but stylish vibe, and doors at the far end of the small dining area open onto the garden for light and air.

The menu is small (tonight it has five starters and seven main courses) but perfectly formed. Its brevity makes choosing no easier, however, because everything sounds ridiculously tempting. It also changes regularly. Head chef Wayne admits that he rapidly becomes bored with his choices, so he’s constantly tweaking, adapting, developing new ideas. It makes for a selection that is full of energy and interest and overall appeal. ‘What’s doing it for you?’ asks my guest. ‘All of it,’ I say.

We begin with a plate of Beer Sourdough – ‘just out of the oven,’ says Wayne – served with Tomato & Basil Butter, and a dish of flaked sea salt. One mouthful and I want to marry him.

My starter is Heritage tomatoes, charred avocado, English burrata, balsamic & basil, very prettily presented in a dull teal circular dish. This is absolutely my type of food: light and fresh, with the softness of the creamy burrata and the wonderful smoky charred avocado beautifully offset by the tomatoes and a few croutons for texture. I could eat this by the bucketload.

Opposite me, my companion is equally beguiled by Pea, courgette & mint risotto balls with goat’s curd. The combination of these ingredients is a perfect marriage, with softly textured rice holding its own against the crispy exterior, and enriched by the goat’s curd; I’m treated to a step-by-step account of how best to eat the risotto balls… but only to the smallest bite for myself. They are too good to share, though. I can see her point.

My main course of Corn-fed chicken, crispy wing, crushed borlotti beans, peas, fennel & tarragon is an unusual but largely successful mixture. It’s not perfect, but it has personality, and I have no difficulty in clearing my plate. The beans lack a little seasoning, but that’s easily remedied, and the anise flavour from the fennel and tarragon permeates beautifully without being overpowering. The chicken is deliciously moist, and the crispy wing adds oomph.

My guest has chosen Swordfish steak, basil mash, samphire, sweet peppers & salsa verde. It’s another excellent concoction. The fish has good flavour, augmented by the mash, and the sharpness of the sweet pepper comes through with good tang.

To finish, we opt for a Strawberry & elderflower parfait with shortbread to share. Something simple, we say; something light. And indeed it is. The parfait is intensely refreshing; the shortbread is crunched underneath, and the bite-sized cubes of strawberry burst juicily on the palate. We’ve chosen well…

…and then Wayne arrives again at our table, bearing a pair of Chocolate doughnuts with cinnamon sugar & chocolate custard. It’s their signature dessert, he explains. Everyone loves it. It would be very rude, I think, under the circumstances, not even to try it, though a] I’m generally repulsed by doughnuts, ever since a nasty experience in the Kardomah Café, Liverpool, c1969, and b] I’m already far too full. Still, manners maketh the woman, and all that…

And how glad I am to have said ‘yes, lovely, thank you’. This is exactly how a doughnut should be: light, fluffy, not a hint of grease, utterly chocolatey. I eat mine; I eat the second half of my guest’s. This is doughnut rehabilitation. There’s only one problem. These delights are made regularly, barely a hundred yards from my desk. How am I going to resist?

STARTERS: £6.50-£8 • MAINS: £13-£20
DESSERTS: £6.50-£8 • HOUSE WINE: £18.50

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