Restaurant review: The Stag & HuntsmanBy Sally Bryant
February 07, 2013
When Caractacus Potts has finished working on his magical car, he drives his children through an impossibly pretty village while they all sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
At least, I have always thought it was impossibly pretty and the work of set-builders until I discovered it was Hambleden, near Henley.
Among the brick and flint cottages is The Stag & Huntsman, now part of the Hillbrooke Hotels’ small but select ‘collection’, which promises ‘quirky luxury’ (and also includes The Elephant in Pangbourne).
The Stag has been refurbished, keeping the nooks, crannies, open fires and public bar loved in a country pub, but adding a lot more comfort as well. In the dining room, cosy with dark wallpaper of the William Morris kind, there are squashy sofas with piles of even more squashy cushions around the fire.
And if you stay overnight, as we did, the nine rooms are fabulous. The style is shabby chic in the most expensive way, with one-off pieces of furniture, huge beds with fine Egyptian linen, deep, free-standing baths and great showers.
But even if you aren’t lucky enough stop over, it is well worth finding The Stag & Huntsman for a relaxing meal.
It is on the Culden Faw Estate and the countryside is stunning – bowls of water for dogs outside the door give away this is a ramblers’ pub and taking in the views is a great way to work up an appetite!
My husband Tony and I arrived in the pitch dark on a freezing night so that was by car, I am afraid. We thawed out rapidly in a toasty warm corner and gave our order to a very friendly lady, who took our drinks and led us through to the dining room when we were ready – service was efficient but relaxed, which was nice.
As The Stag uses local and estate produce (especially game) when it can, I had Venison Cottage Pie with Juniper Roasted Root Vegetables (£9.50) – billed on the menu as a Stag & Huntsman ‘classic’. It came in a good-sized, oval earthenware dish, just like mama used to make, and it was steaming hot.
The venison wasn’t too gamey but the taste was still rich and gutsy, and the gravy glossy and full-flavoured. The mash was rather white and piped on top à la Iced Gems – I would have preferred a more rustic ‘thatch’ on the cottage – but the dish was a winner. The roasted root vegetables were a little dry and tired, I couldn’t taste juniper (or any seasoning) at all and the inclusion of a rather tough okra was a mystery, but this was my only disappointment of the visit.
I started my supper with Potted Duck Liver Pate, Apricot and Candied Ginger Chutney and Brioche Cupcake (£6.25). It looked very pretty, the pate and brioche were delicate together (although I am still getting used to this trend for sweet brioche with pate) and the chutney was sweet but delivered a real ginger kick.
On the other side of the cottage pie, I rounded off my very good meal with Three Local Cheeses and Biscuits (£8.50). If you think that is a bit pricey, think again. I was served chunks of Barkham Blue, the Oxford Cheese Company’s chilli-hot Spitfire and my favourite gooey Stinking Bishop. That was a real local cheese selection and I was a happy woman.
Tony was just as happy by the time we toddled off to bed. His starter was Creamy Mushroom and Stilton Bruschetta (£5.65). The mushrooms were velvety and earthy, the Stilton spiky and the topping was as thick as a blanket and spilling down the sides of the bread.
His main was 28-day-aged, 8oz Rib-Eye Steak with Garlic Field Mushroom, Roast Tomatoes, Onion Rings and Hand-cut Chips (£18.95). Everything was as delicious as it sounds – the steak was medium rare just as he requested, the chips were crisp outside and fluffy within and the roast tomatoes and crisp onion rings perfectly cooked.
The steak platter was of formidable proportions, but Tony then cleansed his palate (!) with the most rib-sticking Sticky Toffee Pudding we had seen in a long time, with Butterscotch Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (£6).
It was lucky we were staying for the night, because it meant we didn’t have far to waddle after our feast.
The Stag & Huntsman’s rooms are named after drives on the Estate shoot and we had a wonderful night’s sleep in Long Innings, which has a French-style linen press I wanted to sneak out with, a bath the size of a small swimming pool in a huge bathroom and everything you could need, from tissues to a whole range of fine teas.
We left the next morning, fortified (again!) by a full English breakfast with copious amounts of tea and coffee and a mountain of toast and marmalade.
The Stag & Huntsman is well worth seeking out – and there isn’t a child catcher in sight.
Since Sally’s visit The Stag & Huntsman has appointed a new chef, Jason Giger.
- Telephone: 01491 571227
- Website: www.thestagandhuntsman.co.uk
- Address: The Stag & Huntsman