Featured Restaurant: Nags Head

19th July 2019

London Road • Great Missenden • HP16 0DG • 01494 862200

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

It’s one of those gorgeous summer evenings that beg to be spent outside, somewhere pretty, sipping wine – the kind of evening I pine for during the rest of the ten or eleven months of English winter. It means my endorphins are already flowing as my husband (H) and I drive through beautiful Chilterns countryside…

So I don’t know if it’s the sunshine that’s making me overly sentimental, but I’m smitten as soon as I arrive at our destination. The pub is a 15th century former coach house, and earns a huge tick in the box marked ‘character’, but the garden is exactly where I need to be right now. Where’s the rosé?

We settle under a pergola adorned with wisteria greenery, and admire the tree-framed view with the dappled peach-coloured light from the setting sun pouring through the leaves. This is a proper English country pub garden: it’s like something out of an episode of Darling Buds of May – it’s ‘perfick’, as Pop Larkin would say.

The menu is just as satisfying. This is a foodie-pub, with an award-winning executive chef who oversees everything kitchen-related both here and at the sister pub in Flaunden, The Bricklayers Arms, (which I reviewed a few issues ago). I can see a few similarities (there is a lot of home-smoked meat and fish) but each pub definitely has its own personality too.

We start with Smoked Chicken Salad with sun blushed tomato, almonds, grilled artichoke and honey dressing (for H) and Smoked Duck Bruschetta with tomato salsa and rocket salad (for me). The presentation is immaculate, with thoughtful touches, like the filo pastry basket H’s salad is served in, without the overall effect being too fussy. The salad itself tastes lovely; the dressing is light and zingy and the smoked chicken rich and tangy. The only gripe is having to hunt around to find the grilled artichoke – hint: more of this please, chef.

My duck is superb: a really unusual twist on classic bruschetta. I imagined it made with slow-cooked meat, but the poultry arrives atop the garlicky bread in thick, sweet slices, like a really good ham. I’m not sure whether to eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork (it’s difficult to slice through the crusty bread, but the meat topples off as I bring it to my mouth). Since it’s so delicious, I just tuck in haphazardly anyway, using both hands and cutlery in a slightly undignified, but undeniably enthusiastic manner. Not a dish for a first date, we joke.

Next we move on to Honey Glazed Pork Shoulder with pork crackling and a smoked paprika jus (H), and, for me, a Lemon Sole Fillet stuffed with creamy spinach and saffron and a lemon thyme sauce. The pork yields beautifully at the fork; it’s incredibly tasty, with the paprika jus adding a peppery depth. The crackling is more intriguing – it’s served up as a bright, white cloudy puff that looks not dissimilar to a prawn cracker. H gives it a thumbs up, but I’m not so sure.

My fish is immersed in golden gloriousness from the saffron sauce, and, when cut open, reveals a lovely medley of vegetables: spinach, onion and julienne carrots. It’s a very creamy dish, with a subtle and delicate flavour, so the chorizo crisps sprinkled on top give it a nice bit of salty crunch.

The sun has gone down now, and the fairylights strung around the trees have been switched on, lending a festival air. We ask for blankets to tuck around our shoulders, as we finish our meal with locally-sourced Chiltern ice cream. It’s the classic summery sweet to round off a perfick summer evening.

The words of a song by English rock band Elbow come to mind: ‘One day like this a year’d see me right…’

STARTERS: £6.95 - £12.95 • MAINS: £16.95 - £27.95
DESSERTS: £4.95 - £9.95 • HOUSE WINE: £19

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