Restaurant review: The Fisherman's CottageBy Mike Pyle
June 21, 2012
If you fancy having your dinner by the river in Reading you're spoilt for choice.
At the Oracle there is a dizzying array of bars and restaurants in view of the Kennet - it’s a fantastic thing to have on our doorsteps.
The only problem is, with all the big brands, there aren’t a lot of surprises down there.
But if you want something really unexpected you don’t have far to walk. If you take a stroll down the Kennet for about half a mile into Newtown you’ll come across what may just be another of Reading’s hidden gems – the Fisherman’s Cottage.
From the outside it’s a pretty riverside pub with a beer garden at the front where people can watch the day flow by. When I visited it still had the Union flags flying from the jubilee.
On the inside it has the feel of a friendly local. There’s a conservatory, a pool table, a dart board and a couple of TVs showing sport with the volume turned down.
It's all very nice, but ‘what’s so unexpected?’, I hear you ask.
Well, the twist comes as you sit at your table. If the silk place settings don’t give you a clue, the menu will. Pub classics like burgers, rib eye steaks and fish and chips sit next to things like Pad Ped Telay, Pad Thai and Lamb Massaman.
The unusual range is because landlord Ricky Natne has taken the bold move of employing two Thai chefs to give the menu a twist. He tells me they spent days importing all their equipment and crockery but still know how to cook the best Yorkshire puddings he’s come across.
The menu, whether you’re choosing from the bar snacks, the lunches or the evening meals, leaves you with a strange decision to make – do you stick to British or Thai or do you mix it up?
I decided to stick with the eastern offerings and started with four season satay (£5.50). Now, pizza fans, don’t worry – this is not some sort of peanut, caper, and pepperoni monstrosity. It’s actually four seasoned skewers, one pork, one chicken, one lamb and one beef, served with pots of peanut sauce and tangy, acidic pickled cucumber, chilli and shallot.
It’s a fine dish. The meat was well cooked and moist and had enough flavour to be acceptable even without the crunchy, rich sauce although why you’d want to go without the sauce is beyond me – I scraped every last bit out of the pot.
Next I had Thai classic Lamb Massaman (£9.95). I had been tempted by Pad Ped Telay (£12.95), which is stir fried black tiger prawn, squid and scallops with mixed peppers, black beans, garlic and chilli with jasmine rice, but decided to go for something I’d had before so I had a frame of reference.
The main dish came in a raised bowl on a plate with a dome of egg-fried rice and a some unleavened bread. The curry itself was as good as any I’ve had outside Thailand. Or in Thailand, for that matter.
The meat was soft and not too fatty, the potatoes were perfectly cooked and the sauce was mellow and creamy with faint bitterness and an occasional kick.
The bread on the side was interesting. It was a bit like naan bread but denser and a bit flaky, almost like pastry – it was very enjoyable but possibly a bit too heavy. A few Thai-style prawn crackers might have been nicer. I ate with Ricky who, by way of contrast, had bubble and squeak (£4.95) for his dinner and it looked excellent.
One of the things that always annoys me when I go to Thai or Indian restaurants is the misconception that some sort of bland, cold lager is what we should be drinking with spicy foods. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Fortunately, the Fisherman’s Cottage is a Fuller’s pub and Ricky makes sure his beers are kept well. They have several Fuller’s ales on continuously and a guest, when I visited it was Butcombe Bitter. To go with my meal I had a couple of pints of Fuller’s ESB which, with it’s bitter-sweet toffee tones, is the perfect pint with spicy food.
I looked long and hard at the dessert menu. For £4.50 each you could have things like a lemon cheese cake, a chocolate tart or even a cheeseboard. Sadly, and I really mean that, I decided against forcing one down. The portion sizes are generous and if you want to have a full three course meal you might want to make sure you have a light lunch.
I don’t really have any major criticisms of the Fisherman’s Cottage and it’s clear the regulars don’t either. It was a rainy Thursday evening when I went but the bar was busy and Ricky knew almost everyone by name. The atmosphere was lively and friendly.
One guy proudly told me he’d had every single thing on the menu and that there wasn’t a single duff dish.
It’s not the first time The Fisherman’s Cottage has tried to branch out into Thai food but last time it didn’t really take off.
Ricky is confident it will this time and is even preparing to offer takeaway food and, eventually, even to do deliveries. So, next time you’re at the Oracle choosing where to eat, why not take a walk down the river to the Fisherman’s Cottage – after all, with a bit of a stroll you might be able to fit in a dessert as well.
- Telephone: 0118 9571553
- Website: www.fishermanscottagereading.co.uk
- Address: The Fisherman’s Cottage
224 Kennet Side