Muddy eats: Pán, Wokingham
Fun, foodie and on fire! Or so we've heard. Pán in Wokingham serves Asian tapas – but would this stylish, under the radar restaurant spice up our life?
Never judge a book by its cover. On the outside, Pán in Wokingham is an unassuming eaterie on the corner of Peach Street and Easthampstead. On the inside, it’s an intimate restaurant with bags of style and a bold personality. Dare I say it, it’s a bit quirky. Love the wood panelling, the oversized rattan pendant lights and the cool locally-sourced art – available to buy if you want to pop it on the bill. As for the food, Pán serves modern Pán Asian tapas dishes and it’s got a phenomenal local reputation, consistently racking up five star reviews.
Are we surprised? Nah. Chef Owner Charlie Blacker has worked in three Michelin star restaurants in Kyoto and on private super yachts cooking for the rich and famous. His food is all big on flavour, using seasonal, nationally-grown produce.
Buzzy but not bonkers. The vibe is very laidback. We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday night and there was a steady stream of diners, largely couples and groups of friends. Staff flit around happily and are attentive enough to answer questions about the menu and ensure you have drink. There’s an easiness to proceedings. It’s casual and relaxed, which is exactly what you want on a summer evening.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Let’s get down to nitty gritty. At first glance, the menu may appear limited – just 10 savoury dishes consisting of three meat, three fish and four plant based. But I totally appreciate this curated approach – avoiding the often debilitating menu overwhelm I get when given too much choice. It also is a mark of confidence, because this chef knows what he’s doing in the kitchen.
We chose six dishes. Uniquely, your food order is taken at the same time as other guests who share the same booking time. Rather than all the dishes coming out at once, one dish is served at a time. It’s a bit like a taster menu where each course can be enjoyed without all the flavours gatecrashing the party.
First out of the kitchen was the cod croquette with Keralan jungle curry. Entry level spicing, the sauce had just enough kick to wake up the tastebuds but not overwhelm the cod flavour. A cracking start. We then received the caramalised cauliflower, smothered in in a cashew dressing, which had that familiar satay flavour that we all know and love. But the acidic addition of the lime and lemon were a revelation. Cauliflower is the victim if being a flavourless vegetable. But actually with a bit of love, it can become something quite special. Case in point. *Note to self, stop boiling cauli.
What’s next? How does a Shitake wanton grab you? This was the stand out dish for me. The flavours coming out of this delicate looking plate of food felt like fireworks night in my mouth. It’s got that chilli punch with a bold meaty mushroom flavour. Bring me more! And they did. This time it was sticky chicken drumstick, stuffed with herby farce. Each dish seemed familiar but always slapped you in the chops with a surprise. It was fun to eat.
The Lamp rump shashlik was delicious. The herb salsa cutting through the robust richness you get from lamb. Amazing. Possibly my second favourite was the Beef randang with satay rice.
Beef rendang with satay rice was something a bit spesh. Slow-cooked steak with a spices, coconut and tamarind. It’s a belly warmer and the perfect end to our meal. Well apart from the pud. Lemon cake and yuzu cremeux and Chocolate financier with Kanpai Kumu sake centre. Loved the lemon but wasn’t a huge fan of the chocolate with sake. I know I’m weird but chocolate desserts just don’t do it for me.
It’s worth noting the drinks menu has many locally produced wines and craft beers for you to choose from. The Siren IPA my husband chose was superb and it’s brewed just down the road in Finchampstead. I drank the King’s Fumé from Stanlake Park Wine Estate, in the opposite direction towards Twyford. It’s foxy dry white that was fruity and creamy, that worked well with the spicy food.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good For: Just about everyone who loves a culinary adventure in a relaxed, restaurant setting. It’s a cool place, and will give your tastebuds a welcome break from Modern British.
Bad For: Fussy eaters will struggle if they’re dedicated followers of pub food. Also some kids. If your offspring are anything like mine, their foodie sophistication doesn’t stretch beyond a fish finger. Get a babysitter and enjoy this one on your tod.
It’s tapas style with plates priced between £4 and £10. We ordered six dishes – you can add more if you’re still in the zone, plus a dessert. As guide you’re probably looking at £40 per head.
Pán Restaurant, 47-49 Peach St, Wokingham RG40 1XJ. Tel: 0118 9788 893