Review: The White Oak, Cookham
So, you know the feeling. You’ve had your hair done, you’ve been waxed within an inch of your life, you’ve got a new outfit, your skin is dewy, your eyes are sparkly, you’ve got your swagger going on and People. Are. Checking. You. OUT. We all get a feel good day now and again. But believe me, The White Oak in Cookham has got it going on 24/7 right now. Because this already popular little local in Cookham has had the facelift of its life, and is looking red-carpet-ready.
I’d been longing to check out the new look, having visited a few times previously, when to me it felt more of a special occasion restaurant. People would often stick their head in the door and ask nervously if it was ok to just come in for a drink? This is the nut owner Henry Cripps had to crack – to be both an approachable local and a destination pub for foodies. So Henry and his wife Katherine (who also own The Three Oaks in Gerrards Cross) got some designer heavyweights in to create a less formal and more welcoming feel.
This was done with a few punchy changes including a socking great statement zinc bar; clever lighting and the creation of zones throughout (the whole front of the pub is now dedicated to walk-ins); and some cool chalky tones and earthy upholsteries to soften the gastro look. Success! This former city gent has been well and truly countrified.
So what of the food? Well, we’re deep into Michelin territory here. The pub has retained its Bib Gourmand every year since 2012 and since the departure of former head chef Clive Dixon has been in the capable hands of Adam Hague. Now, we visited The White Oak on my birthday a couple of weeks ago and as a present-to-self I asked Adam if he wouldn’t mind choosing for us. ‘Just showcase what you’re up to right now’, I said. You should never say that to a chef. Adam had a glint in his eye and a full larder out back. We were in it for the long haul.
I like to think I make sacrifices for you dear reader. But OH EM GEE did I take one for the team on this occasion. I know, I know, poor me, my wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight! I’ll stop with the pity tactics. Anyway, three starters, three mains and an assiette of mini desserts later, and I am seriously discussing with Mr P whether ‘The Pudding Sweats’ is a bona fide condition. After each course, Adam would pop out to our table and have a brief chat about the dishes, all the while probably thinking ‘Holy crap! When will they ever stop?!’
Suffice to say, I think I’m now qualified to advise you on *every* available choice on the menu. You are most welcome. What can I say, I love my job. Just dial 0800-TUBSTER and I’ll run you through it. As well as the à la carte, there’s an excellent children’s menu, Sunday lunch and set menus, plus bar snacks if you’re not feeling as piggy as me.
It will take me far too long to go into detail about each dish – all of which were genuinely stunning. But highlights for me were the caramelised cauliflower soup – amazing flavour, a velvety creamy knock out dish (no photo, sorry. Got a tad over excited and forgot to snap it). The Cornish monkfish – delicious, and how can a dish using simple vegetables like carrots and peas look so glam? Roast ‘Jimmy Butler’ (yes him, Jamie’s mate) free range pork belly – flavour and flair to boot, and a delicious crispy pig cheek.
Desserts too were fantastic – we tried the carrot cake, blackberry & apple compote, set bitter chocolate and the brioche donuts with cherry dipping sauce *sigh*. When asked which was my favourite, I said ‘Wow that donut!’ Adam slapped his forehead, ‘Noooo!’ Wrong answer? Apparently it’s been on the menu for five years and if he ever tries to take it off the regulars, and Henry, won’t let him. Behold… I think you can see why.
Adam’s confidence in his cooking is evident in both his manner and in all of his dishes – smart without being too fussy, and lots of clever little touches. Plus, every plate that comes out is simply beautiful. He has a produce-led style. He puts his ability to keep prices reasonable down to good suppliers and a lot of creativity. The pub’s set lunch price hasn’t gone up since 2011 – an amazing £12 for two courses; £15 for three.
He refuses to be drawn into a conversation about ‘will they won’t they get a Michelin star?’ claiming full tables is all that matters. They’re right on track in my opinion, but who cares about stars anyway, unless they’re edible. Ooh don’t mind if I do.
We had a very enjoyable few hours at The White Oak. The team is headed up by General Manager Jolly Galliano Hale (previously front of house at The Quince Tree). He walks the line between friendly and formal perfectly, and all the staff are warm and engaging – nothing feels forced or contrived.
You can easily while away a few hours in Cookham as it has some beautiful walks, a very pretty high street and is home to the Stanley Spencer Gallery (I did pop in so will tell you about that next time). Report back if you give the pub a try, I’d love to know what you thought. Just don’t mention the donuts.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Girly lunches and dinners, family get-togethers, bar-snackers, cocktail drinkers, private diners – the new layout ticks a lot of boxes. Anyone you’re trying to impress – it definitely has the WOW factor. Doggy drop ins – clean, well behaved dogs are welcome in the bar.
Not for: Traditionalists. If you prefer your village local with oak beams, horse brasses and hops you’re unlikely to appreciate the new look. Anyone looking for gargantuan plates of pub grub – the dishes are refined, and sized so you can comfortably enjoy three courses. Those who like lots of outside space – the outdoor seating area isn’t vast, and has yet to be overhauled. Not really an issue at this time of year though.
£££: Mid range for high quality. Starters £5-9; mains £14-26; 3 course set lunch £15; 3 course set dinner £19.
The White Oak, The Pound, Cookham, Berks SL6 9QE. Tel: 01628 523043. www.thewhiteoak.co.uk