The Pheasant Inn, only a minute from Junction 14 of the M4, was found nestled between Newbury and Swindon, at Shefford Woodlands, near to Hungerford. While the pub may proudly trace its origins back to the sixteenth century, the building has been modernised with a twentieth century extension. Perhaps a relatively local mentality establishment pre-M4, the motorway has opened up a greater potential audience. It has a rustic interior, with a flagstone floor, low beamed ceiling, sash windows with Roman blinds. The tables are old school dark wood, of various shapes and sizes.
In keeping with the close proximity to Lambourn and Newbury, the walls are dominated by the Sport of Kings. Horse racing is indeed a staple of the area, a fact that has encouraged a regular racing fraternity. The Pheasant Inn proprietors are themselves passionate about the sport, to the point that they enjoy owner status, thereby feeding the local as well as traveling band of race going public. fine dining guide was eager to discover the extent to which the quality of offering extended the attraction beyond these circles.
There were two dining areas – a pub area and a separate, more formal dining room that appeared to be utilised when busy. The combined space took as many as seventy covers, which required a staff of around five in the kitchen.
fine dining guide attended on a Monday evening in September, typically a quiet service in the restaurant trade, however The Pheasant Inn was found to be relatively bustling. Chris Hodgson proved an engaging host and managed a well run team (some with longevity of service in the pub front of house – a good sign for the regulars!)
So, to the food: there was a good range of seven starters including a daily soup and a luxurious Seafood Board – Tiger prawns, Smoked Salmon, Atlantic prawn cocktail, crispy squid, smoked mackerel pate and crab – a relative bargain at just over £10 per person. Bread – the modern day equivalent of a cover charge – was £3.50, partially let down by quality but also by the ubiquitous balsamic and olive oil dip, which in this case was out of keeping given no Italian style breads were provided. As it transpired the bread was of limited relevance as the size of food portions were such that this was not an essential part of a meal.
One of the starters chosen was salt and pepper squid with garlic aioli. It was freshly cooked, crisp and served with a light batter. Delicious and moreish, it would have been even better with a squeeze of citrus and a stronger hit of garlic in the mayonnaise.
The other chosen starter, chicken liver parfait, came with onion marmalade and toasted brioche. Smooth, well-seasoned and marinated, with a coating of clarified butter, it was a model of its kind. The buttery brioche was also well crafted and the marmalade made a good foil for the richness of the parfait, adding the element of sweetness which the dish needed.
There are also seven main courses, including pub classics such as a gigantic beer battered haddock – and a 9oz beef burger.
Venison came three ways. This was an accomplished dish with strong flavours comprising accurately timed loin, slow cooked shoulder which melted in the mouth, and, star of the show, an intensely flavoured venison sausage, succulent with herbs and spices. Accompaniments of butternut squash fondant, wilted Cavolo Nero, shitake mushrooms and chestnuts added a deep earthiness, whilst a flourish of parsnip crisps added a contrasting texture. A rich red wine jus successfully brought these elements together.
The 10 oz rib eye steak was also precisely timed, as requested, to a medium rare, its superior flavour being enhanced by rich marbling and by being cooked on the bone. Classic garnishes of hand cut chips, with crisp coats and soft, fluffy interiors, watercress , herbed roasted tomatoes and a small jug of peppercorn sauce. The last might have been improved if a little thicker. For the large appetite, extra sides are £3.50, but as all dishes come fully garnished there is little need for extra vegetables.
For pudding there was a cheese option (£8) or five desserts including an intriguing “Plate of sweet treats” – tea cake, fudge, blackcurrant pastilles, cola marshmallow and Apple sherbet, which were a palatable version of petits fours. The sticky toffee pudding was predictably rich, but not over-sweet nor heavy and cloying, as seen in inferior versions. An equally generous portion of silky smooth salted caramel ice cream partnered the pudding well – giving contrasting texture and temperature.
Another dessert comprised three portions of Jude’s Ice cream – pistachio, stem ginger and salted caramel – all of which tasted wonderful. A distinguished brand, it was only correct that this was acknowledged on the menu.
It is also worthy of note that there were many seasonal ingredients, with the chef doing much of his own butchery. The menu changes monthly and dishes are freshly prepared and well seasoned. Portions are very generous indeed. It would be difficult to leave still hungry. The price point is very fair: starters £5-50 to £10.50, mains £13.50 to £20; desserts £3.50 to £6.50, to which the busy Monday night offered witness.
The wine list includes a wide range of Old and New Worlds, with plenty of choice by the glass without greedy mark ups.
Overall, The Pheasant is an unpretentious, good value eatery with a standard well above that of typical pub grub. The levels of satisfaction, both in the cooking and the service by the very helpful Sylvia, were high. We will hopefully return in due course to sample a wider range of dishes and perhaps enjoy a stay in one of the 11 en suite rooms.