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Review: The Royal Oak at Bishopstone
Looking for places to dine outside of Swindon? This month, TGtS food expert Mel Hutchfield reviews The Royal Oak at Bishopstone.
Fabulous food isn’t always enough to get people in their cars on a Saturday night – but a place that can give you delicious locally produced food, outstanding hospitality, good wines and great atmosphere is worth the effort.
The Royal Oak at Bishopstone may be out of town but it would be a crime to miss out on what it offers. It prides itself on delivering delicious, simple food, most of it organic and most of it locally produced. My husband and I had visited just before Christmas and really enjoyed it, so when a friend suggested we attend their Burns Night dinner we were in straight away. As were friends from Lambourne, Bath and Northampton – I told you it was worth a trip.
The pub is right in the heart of the small village of Bishopstone and everything about it says it’s also at the heart of the community. The majority of the people there seemed to know each other and our hosts. That should have made us feel like the odd ones out but on the contrary we felt totally relaxed and included. The pub is relatively small and it’s more like being welcomed into someone’s home than a business. This feeling was added to by slightly mismatched crockery, as they’d had to borrow some [and extra chairs] due to the numbers in that night – just like a large family dinner.
Having never been to a Burn’s Night dinner before I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, except that there would probably be bagpipes and haggis. I was right on both counts. It seems churlish to complain about bagpipes on Burns Night but in such a tiny space the novelty wore off quite quickly and it was soon like somebody repeatedly hitting you round the head with a yowling cat. Though I don’t suppose the thing has a volume button.
The first course was a cock-a-leekie soup, a lovely chicken broth with shreds of chicken and pearl barley – well seasoned and full of flavour. This was followed up with the haggis being piped in around the room and a rendition of Burns’ Address to the Haggis. It was served with mashed tatties and neeps [potato and turnips] and a thick whiskey sauce. I’ll be honest, I could take or leave the haggis, which to me just tastes like grainy mince. But I love veg, and for me too many places treat it as an after thought – not here though, I could have eaten a bucket of the neeps and gone home happy.
Following a few more Burn’s poems performed by a couple of the local girls, the main course was some meltingly beautiful roast beef. This is where the pub really comes into its own – it takes top quality produce and brings out the best in it. The difference in taste is obvious.
Next we had a fabulously lively performance of Burns’ poem Tam o’Shanter. The language could have been impenetrable but the performer gave us enough of a glossary up front for us to get a real feel for the drama and comedy of the poem.
Dessert was a traditional Scottish cranachan – a mix of cream, honey, whiskey and oatmeal topped with raspberries. I could have done with more sweetness and a much more generous glug of booze, as all I could really taste was cream and a lot of the dishes on our table went back nearly full.
Not part of the official menu, our party also went for a cheeseboard of local cheeses to round off the evening. Despite the large amount of food we’d already consumed, these were so delicious they disappeared in a flash.
Before we knew it we’d been there for nearly 4 hours enjoying the company and spending as much on the great selection of wines, ales and whiskeys as we had on food. And we’ll definitely be back – by the fire with the papers and board games on a cold afternoon, for the pig racing in May [yes really] or for burgers and hot dogs in the garden during the summer.