All the fuss about clean eating and vegan this-and-that driving you insane? Get your chops around the unashamedly meat eats at The Corn Stores.
Been to Reading recently? It’s all ch-ch-change, because among the high street mega chains there are more more cool-vibe bars, cafes, restaurants and funky work spaces. And the town centre is all the better for it. The Corn Stores – part of the Rare Breed Dining Group of boutique pubs –is the latest opening. This grade II listed Reading boozer has been given the mother of makeovers and it’s blinking gorgeous. A short walk from Reading Station, minutes from The Oracle, you’ve three storeys to gets stuck into: cocktail bar, restaurant and the Members’ Lounge… if you want to pay for a little exclusivity.
Relaxed, friendly but oh so very elegant. There are so many interior goals it’s hard to know where to begin. The outside may say town pub, the inside tells a different story. It oozes understated glamour. Grown up and very chic. If Mad Men‘s Betty Draper and Joan Holloway were looking for a hangout, this would be it. Super-chic.
Aside from the fact that I want the geometric tiles and velvet bar stool in my kitchen, the vibe here is buzzy and unpretentious. You’re just as likely to grab a bar snack with your kids as you are sling on your heels and sequins for a big night out. The cocktail bar is situated on the ground floor, so you can make your way through the brilliant bar menu packed with lots of British wines, craft lagers and cocktails.
On the first floor is an stunning restaurant with a large open plan dining space, industrial touches mixed with plush velvet and leather seating. The customer service is first class. Well informed and passionate without being annoying. The speciality here is beef. It is a steak restaurant after all and if you need a reminder, the different cuts of beef are on display as you walk in. If you’re a carnivore, you’ll love it. Veggies are catered for, but the menu is limited.
The top floor, is home to the Members’ Lounge, an exclusive hangout to relax, work, meet and socialise. Membership is limited, costs £250 a year. If you work in nearby, you’ll enjoy the bragging rights when taking clients and colleagues to your club. Not often you can say that in Reading.
Under the direction of Executive Head Chef John Sparks, whose CV includes Bovey Castle, The Ledbury and Paradise by Way of Kensal Green, you’re in good hands. This is a steak restaurant, so carnivores rejoice, with an emphasis on quality cuts, cooked to maximise flavour. Spoiler alert, it’s good… really good.
Napkin tucked in, we’re going in… To start I devoured heritage tomato and mozzarella salad on toasted sour bread. It was light, delicious and the micro basil packed a punch. Mr M opted for the mackerel rillette with pickled cucumber, dill oil and onion crackers. Clean plates all round and, despite the simple ingredients, wow, did they deliver on flavour.
Next up… We ordered the dry hay smoked sirloin steak with salad and fries and the signature Highland Wagyu Burger with fries (you get to choose which fries, which is a nice touch). It’s hard to cook a stand out burger these days and so easy to get it wrong. Cut from the shoulder, and served pink with Ogleshield cheese, bacon, gherkin and onion marmalade, it was top drawer. No complaints from my side of the table.
Sadly Mr M’s steak was cold by the time it reached the table. Everyone can have a bad day at the office and that includes chefs. Many apologies later, a beer to soften the blow and a fresh steak was produced quickly and without fuss. You simply cannot fault the service. Was the steak delicious? Phenomenal, by all accounts, and the smoked flavouring really made the dish special. I’m not sure about serving steak on a paper and a wooden board, but it’s a small thing.
As ever I could not fit in another bite, so we couldn’t squeeze in a pud. Had I left enough room I would have ordered the Winter Fruit Crumble and custard or stuck to my liquid diet and got myself a salted caramel martini. It gives me a good reason to go back.
Out & About
The shopping’s pretty good. If you fancy hitting the credit card, there’s a large Zara, John Lewis, Apple Store and Nespresso boutique. Culture vultures are spoilt for choice with many brilliant shows and top notch comedian appearing at The Hexagon and South Street Arts Centre. Personally I’d bodyswerve the Reading Festival for the quirkier Fringe Festival and Reading On Thames Festival.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Carnivores! Meat is the star of the show for schmoozy business diners, hungry shoppers and craft beer enthusiasts. Kids are welcome but, call me an old bag, I wouldn’t waste steak this good on their uneducated palates.
Not for: Veggies might find the meat feast hard to swallow. Anyone wanting a garden and a pretty outlook. This is a town centre venue and all the beauty is inside.
The Damage: You’ll not leave hungry. Bar snacks and lites bites are priced £4.50 to £24 for a sharing board; starters from £6; mains are £18-ish but a 350g filet steak setting you back £42 and puds £7.
The Corn Stores, 10 Forbury Road, Reading RG1 1SB. Tel: 0118 324 6768.