The Perch is nestled on the western edge of the city in the hamlet of Binsey. This thatched pub, with its origins in the 17th Century, is accessible from the city either by a drive up Binsey Lane, a long single track road, or by foot on a delightful Thameside walk. Thus, although you are unlikely to ever stumble upon The Perch by accident, the time spent getting there is worthwhile. On a dark winter’s evening, we took the least picturesque of those options. Clearly, another visit on foot in the summer, when the pub and its extensive gardens can be seen in all their glory, is essential.
Another advantage of its semi-rural location is the ample parking outside. Once inside the welcome is warm and the ambience relaxed. The open fire and log stacks, low ceilings, oak beams and exposed brickwork are classic features pleasing to the eye. In 2015, owner Jon Ellse lovingly renovated the old fashioned pub resulting in a modern gastro feel.
The main restaurant, conservatory, terrace and gardens can seat up to 200 in summer. A permanent marquee is also used for private functions. The conservatory where we had dinner on a weekday evening in December, was kept pleasantly warm by patio heaters.
Food at The Perch delights in its variety, simplicity and honesty. Dishes are freshly prepared and generously portioned. Combinations are classical rather than original but no less successful for that. Sourcing is important being local if possible, such as Kelmscott salami and chorizo, or regional, with squid from Brixham and fish and mussels from Cornwall.
A seasonally changing menu of eight starters, 11 mains and six desserts (including cheese) supplemented by daily specials, caters for all tastes. There is an unusually good choice for pescetarians and vegetarians. The former includes potted kiln smoked salmon, fish plate (beetroot cured salmon, kipper pate, house cured mackerel and crayfish cocktail), squid, sea bass, mussels, and fish and chips. Vegetarians will also be pleased with options including a veggie board, roasted cauliflower soup, globe artichoke with roasted heritage carrot, potato, parsnip and wild rice cakes, pumpkin and blue cheese tart, butternut squash with roast pepper and roast cauliflower. These dishes show the versatility of the kitchen, not that burgers, pies, pates and roasts are neglected; the venison suet crust pie which we almost chose, looked especially delicious.
Starters prices are very fair indeed, given the quality and quantity of the ingredients: starts range from £5.95 to £9.95, mains from £12.95 to £16.95, and desserts £5.50 to £5.95. English cheese and accompaniments are priced individually at £3.75 or four at £12. An embarrassment of choice meant we had difficulty choosing.
The Butcher’s Board (£9.95) was an accomplished starter: the goose breast was gently smoked, enhancing its firm flesh and gamey flavour; home corned beef had a soft texture and a melting quality; game terrine was rich and well-seasoned; Kelmscott salami was deliciously spicy. Served with sweet pickles and gerkins which gave the acidic lift this charcuterie platter needed, this dish would easily satisfy any discerning trencherman’s appetite.
A surf and turf starter paired Brixham Squid with Kelmcott chorizo (£9.95). The seafood was accurately timed to be soft and firm without being rubbery. The chorizo offered a spicy hit, whilst sauteed Swiss chard and mustard crutons gave crunch and a mildly sweet and sour note. This was more contemporary starter in which all the ingredients worked well together.
This could also be said of the seafood special of the day (£20) featuring king scallops. They were large, sweet, succulent and spankingly fresh, with a caramelised crust to add colour and flavour. Celeriac puree gave an earthy smoothness, rocket leafs a peppery freshness, and roast apple wedges provided a gentle acidity to cut the richness of the scallop. The addition of black pudding and Parma ham crisps added welcome savoury notes and contrasting texture, although for balance of the dish needed more of these elements.
A simpler main was Ale battered Cornish fish with triple cooked chips. (£13.95). The freshness of the fish was irreproachable and the beer batter well made. However, it would have been even better if it had been cooked more crisp, as parts had an avoidable sogginess rendering it heavier than necessary. The chips were as they should be: crunchy outside and soft inside. A generous helping of well-made tartare sauce and minted peas completed this favourite classic.
The dessert menu featured classic winter warmers, perfect for a cold December evening, such as spiced poached pear with chocolate sauce, treacle sponge and fruit crumble. The latter featured a comforting spiced plum, blackberry and almond crumble. Served in a metal pie dish which emphasised its traditional Britishness, the buttery richness of the topping was a perfect partner for the autumnal fruit compote beneath. The accompanying scoop of ginger ice cream was smooth and well flavoured, also acting as a rich sauce as it melted.
Cold desserts included baked white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and a selection of sorbets and ice creams. Spiced apple sorbet and coffee ice cream were velvety smooth and deeply flavoured.
Overall, this was a very successful visit, the minor blemishes not detracting from the undoubted skill in the cooking. This was enhanced by the wine list, which avoided greedy mark ups and the efficient, courteous and knowledgeable service.
A short walk around the grounds afterwards reflected what a summertime gem this would be. With river frontage and plenty of outdoor seating, The Perch would be an ideal stop for anyone on a scenic walk from the nearby city. There is a shed bar, too, which serves beer on tap and burgers and other bites. Wonderfully simple but probably very effective.