First look: The Yew Tree Inn, nr Newbury, Berkshire
People often talk about the six degrees of separation, but in hospitality it always seems a lot less, and mine to the Yew Tree is even less still. Firstly, as a commis I trained under one of the youngest chefs to be awarded two Michelin stars (at the Box tree, Ilkley) & who worked with Marco Pierre White; a former owner of the Yew Tree. Secondly, I in my day job I briefly did some work with the new landlord /chef, Simon Davis, of the recently refurbished Yew Tree, at another Cirrus Inn property.
Mr Davis is also an alumni of Simon Gueller’s Box Tree, before relocating to Bristol and then taking up the reins of the rejuvenated foodie pub.
Marco Pierre White originally put the west Berkshire pub on the culinary map, but has since long departed, and yet the history casts a long shadow. Cirrus Inns recently took some bold steps to move away from past and carve a new future. The bar and restaurant areas have been redesigned and configured in such a way that lets more light into the public areas. The tiny bar has been moved, extended and given a classic new look with a copper top. It’s a great design feature as it’ll mature well with age & use, bringing some architectural character to the drinking area.
Floor space has been pinched from the over-sized kitchen to accommodate the new bar, and some interior walls have been removed to open up the dining space and generally lighten the entire room. Customers arriving for their dinner reservations chatted about how previous incarnations had felt more like a restaurant rather than a pub, and this could be the key to future success.
The menu is an usual approach to casual dining; no starters or mains, but plate sizes instead. Starting with ‘Graze’; moving through ‘Small’ & ‘Medium’ onto ‘Large’, all priced accordingly. It’s a bold move, but one on the surface of it seems to be paying off. There is plenty to tempt, with nods to current casual dining trends with the versions of the ubiquitous Scotch egg, burger and steak. But also a solid display imaginative dishes: Coconut poached Banham chicken, mango, cucumber and peanut salad; or Hedgerow nettle soup.
Dining at the bar, I decided to opt for a couple of ‘Small’ dishes:
- Black pudding and Beechwood Scotch egg
- Devilled whitebait, homemade mayonnaise & baby leaves
Both dishes arrived at the same time along with a crisp white linen napkin; making this format ideal for social dining & sharing with friends. The Scotch egg was cooked to perfection: the gloriously rich yolk; a crunchy exterior; white that was just set and a black pudding casing which was so moist and just tinged with a hint of spice. Normally Scotch eggs in pubs are commonly served with such condiments as brown sauce or a chilli sauce, in short, something with a bit of punch. But Mr Davis goes for a different route, some may argue a more historically traditional route; he serves a beautiful apple and golden sultana chutney, which really is a great foil for the yolk richness, whilst being a great pairing for black pudding.
The jumbo sized devilled whitebait arrived with a squirted dollop of house made mayonnaise & a petit salad with various elements of tomato, to provide some needed acidity. The whitebait was beautifully crispy yet moist & gently spiked with a little heat.
By this time the bar was starting to fill with people arriving for their dinner reservations, just time to squeeze in a dessert & coffee before the main service kicked off. The pudding menu follows a similar format to the main menu with small, medium, large & a liquid dessert. The choice varies from: traditional in summer pudding; classical – Millionaires shortbread and modern – White chocolate cheesecake with cranberry granola & sauce. For me there was only one choice, the hot chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream, as it’s always a good barometer of a kitchen. It’s a modern classic for a reason and the Yew tree kitchen has got the balance spot on: rich not sickly; indulgent not heavy.
A fine double espresso concluded my meal, time to leave sadly. For what would be under £30, I’d had a great pub meal. If your idea of eating at a pub is two steaks for a tenner, then maybe it’s time to reconsider where those steaks come from. Mr Davis & the Yew tree team source and treat great produce with sympathy. After the a rather hit and miss past, finally the future looks rosy for this food pub institution. Highly recommended.
How to get to The Yew Tree: