Local guides

Royal Berkshire
Published 17 May 2018

The Round Tower at Windsor Castle

A Royal wedding is looming, but from its Thames frontage to the wow factor of its top restaurants and pubs, the county has much to celebrate year round

The county of Berkshire is rich with royal connections, and Windsor Castle is the jewel in the county crown. Reputedly The Queen’s favourite residence, it’s one of the oldest and largest occupied castles in the world – and that makes Windsor a tourist hotspot, with the publicity surrounding the wedding at St George’s Chapel this weekend raising the town’s profile to dizzying heights.

Berkshire is surrounded by such beautiful countryside you can easily forget you’re on London’s doorstep. The Thames runs along the northeast border and meanders through Old Windsor, Henley, Reading and Pangbourne where it inspired classic books like The Wind In TheWillows and Three Men In A Boat.

To the west, the chalk downs form a ridge over which runs the ancient Ridgeway. Traditional river meadows, pasture, arable land and woodland also contribute to Berkshire’s thriving food scene.

Vicars Game at Ashampstead is one of the UK’s largest and most respected game dealers. Come December, the Copas family’s traditionally reared, free-range turkeys are snapped up by top chefs from across the country. English wines are making their mark here, too.

Vineyards such as Alder Ridge nestle into the slopes of the North Wessex Downs where the chalky substrata and flinty topsoil resembles the Champagne region, providing near-perfect conditions for the classic grape varieties, mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Enjoy the former with a Barkham Blue from nearby Two Hoots Cheese.

When it comes to restaurants, Berkshire has some of the best. In 1972 Michel and Albert Roux opened The Waterside Inn on the banks of the Thames in Bray. Cliveden in Taplow, meanwhile, is one of England’s most beautiful stately homes, where chef André Garrett has his modern French restaurant – a place of civility and grace.

Everyone has heard of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck on Bray’s High Street, but did you know he also has two pubs, The Hind’s Head and The Crown, in the same village? And if you’re joining the throngs in Windsor, look for the charming, owner-run French bistro A La Russe.

From its Thames frontage to the wow factor of its top restaurants and pubs, Berkshire has Royal connections and more to offer.

Six of the best Berkshire restaurants

The Crown At Bray

The Crown may be part of Heston Blumenthal’s portfolio, but it is still very much a village pub – all open fires, wonky beams, chatty ambience and a beer garden. It is much devoted to dining, though, with menus that stay in the pub classics territory. The kitchen turns out well-executed dishes, from prawn cocktail and deeply flavoured crispy cauliflower cheese, via confit duck leg with mash, braised red cabbage and blackberry sauce to good old fish and chips.

The Waterside Inn

There is no finer sight than the Waterside jetty at dusk, when strategically placed lamps illuminate the Thames. Inside, battalions of staff see to it that everybody is treated with solicitous respect and Alain Roux continues papa Michel’s decades-long mission to expound the glory of classic French cooking. Evolution brings new ideas, but certain long-serving dishes still appear, such as quenelles of pike mousse with langoustine.

The Astor Grill

The brasserie-grill offspring of André Garrett at Cliveden is sited in the old stables with plenty of original features. The atmosphere at The Astor Grill is relaxed enough to cater for those just wanting a drink and half a lobster and chips – recommended if the weather is fine and there’s the chance to sit in the pretty courtyard. The menu is peppered with ideas to please all palates, from a buttermilk chicken sandwich to chateaubriand.

The Crown at Burchett's Green

The Crown at Burchett's Green may have real ales and a wood burner, but the cooking at this 19th-century village pub is more sophisticated than the interior suggests. This is down to Simon Bonwick, a talented chef who respects the traditions of French gastronomy, cooks without compromise and runs his kitchen single-handed. The food straddles traditional and contemporary: rillettes of wild boar with beer pickles or salt marsh lamb with garlic and thyme cooking juices.

The Beehive

Chef/proprietor Dominic Chapman’s handsome pub overlooking the village cricket ground is a showpiece Berkshire hostelry. What’s on offer at The Beehive is a menu of exemplary dishes with a strong seasonal accent. The Sunday roast is way above the norm and you can feast on fish and chips, but lasagne of wild rabbit, and cod with potato gnocchi, wild mushrooms and red wine sauce are more typical of Chapman’s flexible approach to British and classical themes.

The Woodspeen

The Woodspeen is all about classy renditions of food everyone wants to eat, be it roasted scallops with chorizo, broccoli and red pepper or ribeye steak with béarnaise sauce and chips. John Campbell’s menu strikes many alluring modern British chords.

Published April 2018