A Day in the Country – The Bunk Inn, Curridge, Thatcham:
While it’s fabulous to travel overseas, visiting places like India and Sri Lanka, sometimes I yearn for a bit of British countryside. The recently refurbished Bunk Inn, part of the Upham Brewery Group, sounded perfect after a month away. A bit of real England.
A pretty country house, The Bunk Inn treads a careful line between being a local village pub and a destination pub. Inside, there’s a nice range of Upham’s own beers on offer
And the decor is shabby chic – without being that cringeworthy level of shabby that puts form over function and ends up being totally inpracticable.
While the main pub was busy, the dining area was really quiet. No bad thing for us, since we end up spending 10 minutes trying to take the perfect shot of every dish – and usually get some very strange looks as a result when we are dining out. My dining companion enjoyed a half of ale while I settled for Amanda’s tipple of the day – which turned out to be Elderflower royale (champagne with elderflower cordial). A lovely way to start a lunch.
Of course we were there for the food not the beer…or at least I was!
Bread set the tone for the meal to follow. Our bread basket had parmesan crusted home made bread with cinnamon butter. I was a little hesitant until I tasted it, but actually found it quite delicious and ended up eating rather more of it than I’d intended.
My starter of goats cheese, leek fondant, butternut squash, sage and walnuts was exquisite to look at.
I was genuinely surprised that a country pub was producing food that looked like a fine dining dish. It tasted excellent too, with crumbly goats cheese inside a crisp breadcrumb shell accompanied by a delicate garnish of sage, micro herbs, walnut and leek fondant. Very delicious
My companion, who comes from Reading, was delighted to see ‘vicars’s game black pudding’ on the menu. Apparently, vicars are an excellent local butchers. He told me that his choice of seared foie gras, black pudding, poached pear, devonshire honeycomb and parsley was spot on.
Once again presentation was unexpectedly perfect.
We went on to pick main courses that were perhaps closer to a normal country pub menu.
For me, the beef and black pepper burger with streaky bacon, sticky onions, garlic and rosemary fries and pickles.
It was, as the menu suggested, a classic. The fries were excellent and the burger nicely pink in the middle. Dense rather than crumbly, I’d suggest serving this dish with steak knives simply to help working through the wonderfully meaty pattie.
Simon’s venison and red wine sausage was more hearty pub grub, served with a generous helping of kale concannon. He particularly enjoyed the ‘orchard pig cider cream’
It did feel a little as if we were eating in a different restaurant. Both excellent, but the starters were delicate and refined, the main courses really quite traditional pub food cooked extremely well and served beautifully. I suspect this has something to do with the fine line between being a destination dining venue and a local pub – I can imagine locals coming in to the Bunk Inn for a main course and a pint…while those of us treking out to the country for the day would be more likely to order a starter as well.
I was too full at this point to eat any more, but Simon ordered and loved the Cambridge burnt cream (creme brulee) with home made shortbread. And he even donated me a piece of shortbread to eat with my coffee.
So, for me the question is not, whether this is a great local pub – that’s almost too easy a challenge. While I suspect it may be just a little too new to be a part of local village life, that is simply a matter of time.
Being a ‘destination’ pub is a much greater challenge – and managing to combine both even harder. I lived for some time in a small Wiltshire village where the local pub had been taken over by a French/English couple. The food was superb. The prices were just a little higher than most of the surrounding hostelries. I loved it but I went there for a night out and a special meal. When the owners sold up, the pub reverted to being a far more conventional local, it was busier, packed with locals every night of the week and I suspect was considerably more profitable as such.
I think the Bunk Inn may just about have got the balance right. I hope so, because the food was excellent, the beer and wine really good and the atmosphere charming. It’s the kind of place you want to succeed because it has what seems like a heartfelt integrity.
Try it out for yourself. You’ll eat and drink well – and there are even some rather plush en-suite rooms if you want a real stay in the country
The Bunk Inn
Berkshire RG18 9DS