The perfect country pub?
The Old Boot in Stanford Dingley, West Berks, has comfort food and countryside views to die for. Pull up a chair.
If you haven’t swapped town for country already, Stanford Dingley is one of those pretty Berkshire villages where every other house could convince you to escape to the wilderness. There’s a picture perfect church, humpback bridge, rippling river, cute cottages, grand houses, plus not one but TWO pubs. The Old Boot is an 18th century village inn that is very much at the heart of the local community. Owners Rebecca and Andre (two of the loveliest people you’ll meet) welcome everyone with open arms – making this a prime pubby pitstop for a bite to eat or a pint and a ponder.
The River Pang runs through the middle of this stunning West Berkshire beauty spot, so the Old Boot is popular with cyclists, walkers and their four-legged friends. In fact, you’re just as likely to see a horse outside as you are a dog obediently sat underneath a table (or, ahem, perched on one of the comfy armchairs). You step in from the lane running past the door to a welcoming beamed bar and dining space with a fireplace at either end of the room. It’s cosy and comfortingly traditional.
The décor is modern rustic-chic, with a sage green and cream colour palette and a hint of red alongside scrubbed wooden tables and floorboards, comfy wing backed chairs and exposed wonky beams. Work your way to the back and you find a light, bright conservatory, looking out on to the Old Boot’s greatest asset – the large attractive garden with kids’ wooden play set (huge tick for battle weary parents wanting to enjoy some time out, too), garden games and a small menagerie of goats and ducks.
We arrived on a Friday night to a buzzy atmosphere – rosé drinking parents enjoying the last of the summer sun, after work drinkers propping up the bar, couples on date nights and friends catching up over supper. It has a laidback vibe and warmth that allows your shoulders to drop two inches and really enjoy a relaxing couple of hours. By day, there’s a steady stream of people tucking in to the lunch menu. The villagers have been very supportive of the pub since its reincarnation, flocking to live music events and Sunday afternoon BBQs. Everyone rubs along nicely together and the service is extremely warm and friendly – I’d happily sink a few glasses of wine of an evening. Which is exactly what I did.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
A crowd-pleasing menu of comfort food using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients (although everyone says that these days, right?). First up, the chicory salad with figs, walnuts and stilton. No need to polish my halo, the waitress had tipped me off that the portion sizes were big, so suggested I pace myself. Not all salads are created equal. They can be snoozefest, but not this one. Presentation was pretty but unpretentious and the stilton was the star ingredient, cutting through the sweetness of the figs and the slight bitterness of the chicory. A solid start.
Mr M is a sucker for seafood, so the garlic crevettes and mango salad screamed ‘get in my belly’. It was a tasty dish, but if you’re squeamish about peeling prawns or simply can’t be bothered with the faffiness, there are other options. Salt and pepper squid is always a contender in our household. Big thumbs up all round.
The mains arrived and, to be fair to the waitress, the portion sizes were huuuuge. Apparently chef won’t let anyone go home hungry on his watch. The salmon en croute was tasty – perfect pastry and the creamy leaks and lemon dill sauce were buttery and rich – just as an indulgent main should be. Reader… it defeated me. But the half I ate was a hug on a plate and tasted even better with the chilled Picpoul de Penet from the wine menu.
Like a creature of habit, my partner in crime chose the steak – New York strip with peppercorn sauce, chips and watercress. It is rare that he is 100% happy with how his steak is cooked, so to get an unprompted mumble of sheer joy that it was perfectly cooked, was high praise for the Old Boot. In fact, the Old Boot is right up his street, laidback, full of locals and a great place to kick back with or without the kids.
The lunch menu consists of posh sarnies and burgers; the Sunday roast is very popular and, when the sun shines there are lots of people making good use of the Old Boot’s green space, sinking a few chilled glasses while the kids are free range. I mean seriously, check out that view. The location is peachy.
OUT AND ABOUT
You can hack out on horseback and stop off at the Old Boot (Cullinghood stables are nearby if you don’t have you’re own mane and tail pony pal) and there are loads of walks that lurch between leisurely stroll to robust 5-mile ramble through woodland and country lanes that takes you from Rushall Farm to Bradfield and loops round past the Old Boot.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Family lunches or group dinners. If you’ve got a big rabble, it’s worth noting the conservatory area would work for parties and there’s a lovely, enclosed garden in which to contain exuberant kids.
Not for: Anyone on a diet. Portion sizes are big. Foodie and interior hipsters looking for Instagram likes – this is a good quality but unpretentious country pub.
The damage: Very reasonable. Prices for the a la carte and Sunday lunch are similar with starters costing between £7-£8.50, mains £14-£55 (chateaubriand for two) and puds from £5.
Old Boot Stanford Dingley, Stanford Dingley, Reading RG7 6LT; 0118 974 5191