Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out
There’s a cricket pitch just opposite The Beehive in White Waltham, a small Berkshire village midway between Windsor and Reading. But this being a typically soggy May day, rain has very much stopped play. Hey ho, there are worse places to be than this eminently civilised pub, with a proper bar, comfortable chairs and the sort of menu that promises food a few notches up from standard gastropub tucker.
Which makes sense, as the chef-proprietor is Dominic Chapman, not just a scion of a great cooking family (his father Kit is the man behind the Castle Hotel in Taunton), but a man who trained under Heston Blumenthal (early on at The Fat Duck, returning later to run The Hind’s Head) and Rowley Leigh (at Kensington Place). His cooking sits somewhere between the two, precise and inventive, but classic and gutsy, too.
Wild garlic soup, on the last gasp of its season down here, is as smooth as a Roger Moore aside, with a low rumble of allium, and crisp, sharp shards of apple along with chunks of eel, rich, soft and smoky. A few croutons add deep-fried crunch. There’s a lot going on but it’s beautifully put together. My friend Katie (local to the area and last seen at The Greene Oak) has asparagus, some naked, other wrapped in a thin brik pastry, with an airy Parmesan purée. Again, techniques may be haute, but the flavours all merrily meld.
Dorset snails wallow in Gorgonzola-drenched garlic butter
Half a dozen Dorset snails (I love these) wallow in Gorgonzola-drenched garlic butter, a combination that seems, at least initially, brutally and bracingly pungent but quickly softens and mellows into something rather lovely. A Hereford steak pie turns out to be an exquisitely formed pithivier, all flaky golden pastry, richly intense meat and, for verdant balance, a buttery pea and baby gem fricassee.
Sea bream is immaculately cooked, festooned with brown shrimps and fried rice noodles, and surrounded by a deep-green pool of gently fragrant Thai curry sauce. It whispers, rather than roars, more caress than punch. Even the tomato salad, served at room temperature (hooray!), sees the fruits skinned before being sliced. The Beehive is that sort of place. Where technical skill and attention to detail combine with unashamedly big flavours and an innate culinary intelligence.
Posh but not pretentious, with service to match. A Beehive, then, with more honey than sting.
About £45 per head. The Beehive, Waltham Road, White Waltham, Berkshire; thebeehivewhitewaltham.com
Drinks: Olly’s summer bargains
My money is on white wine from Europe – we’re blessed by centuries of winemaking knowhow with a diverse range of grapes to choose from, just over the Channel.
With attention on prices, some terrific bargains are yours to be had – just give them half an hour in the fridge; if you over-chill you risk muting the flavours.
And break out to Portugal and Greece for future classics before prices catch up
Aspri Petra Greek Assyrtiko 2021 (13%), £6.99, Aldi. Magnificently fresh white wine that’s a total steal as well as world-class refreshment. Right: The Best Muscadet SÈvRe Et Maine 2021 (12.5%), £8, Morrisons. A lemony, light and lovely French bargain. Serve this cold with shellfish
Finest Viñas del Rey Albariño 2021 (12.5%), £9.50, Tesco. Dazzling as a luminous nectarine, this coastal white is packed with breezy brilliance. Right: Taste the Difference Douro White 2021 (13.5%), £10, Sainsbury’s. Fragrant and deftly blended, this zinger is a welcome summery thrill.
Duffour Père et Fils Côtes de Gascogne 2021 (11.5%), from £6.99, Majestic. A pink grapefruit powered by a fruit-fuelled dynamo, this is exotic and invigorating.