Tuesday, 21 March 2017
The Beehive, White Waltham
A trip to the Berkshire countryside on the weekend demonstrated both the myriad of reasons in favour of leaving the London (comfort) Zones for lunch, and a good number of those against. As we happened to be in Maidenhead with plenty of time before our booking, we thought it might be a good idea (spoiler: it wasn't) to try and squeeze in a quick pint at charming 14th centry pub the Bell Inn, in Waltham St Lawrence. What we weren't to know was that for whatever reason this particular pub was chosen as the end stop of a mass outing from about 1,000 cyclists, all simultaneously in need of food and drink and seemingly quite happy to queue for half an hour for both, which turned our "quiet pint" into a stressful struggle for space and a desperate 5-minute beer gulp.
None of that is anyone's fault, of course, but it did mean that after being asked for £15 for the 2-minute taxi ride between the Bell Inn to the Beehive in White Waltham, we weren't in the mood for charity. Apparently it was because he'd "had to go to Maidenhead and come back again" - a set of circumstances that you wouldn't think would be too far beyond the remit of a taxi in Maidenhead, but we were getting increasingly close to lunch and increasingly keen to start the day afresh, and so reluctantly paid up.
That we ended up enjoying lunch as much as we did, then, is thanks entirely to the welcome and service at the Beehive from surely one of the friendliest and most capable front of houses in the home counties, and of course also to the food served there, an embrace of modern British gastropub cooking that's worth any amount of travel hassle. It began, as such things often do, with house bread, mini crusty loaves with an interesting salty, yeasty glaze (Marmite?) that meant it was almost impossible to not finish off in the space of a few seconds.
The Beehive Scotch Egg is a fine example indeed - runny-yolk quail's egg surrounded by boldly seasoned pork and crisply-fried breadcrumbs. Delicate and balanced, with no one part overwhelming another, it would do very well in the annual Young's Scotch Egg Challenge, I'm sure, if they decided to enter next year. And I very much hope they do.
Smoked eel salad with bacon and quail's eggs was spotted (not by me of course, by my friend) as being very similar to something Rowley Leigh used to do at Kensington Place, and features in ‘Week in Week Out’ by Simon Hopkinson, which makes sense as chef Dominic Chapman is an alumnus of that college. It was lovely, too - salt and crunch from the bacon and croutons, the soft pieces of eel packing a huge smoky flavour, and then underneath it all a beurre blanc, sharp and richly satisfying. If only all salads were this good.
The rabbit filling of this "lasagne" unfortunately suffered slightly from underseasoning, which is a shame because the pasta was a good firm-yet-silky texture and the little wild wood blewit mushrooms packed a strong flavour. There wasn't much sign of the advertised chervil - some miniscule pieces scattered on top seemed to be the grand total of their contribution - but even so, it was a decent, comforting starter.
Halibut is a fish that even in less capable hands can still impress with its dense, meaty flesh and rich flavour, but when it's prepared by an expert, like at the Beehive, it really sings. This really was a beautiful bit of seafood, with its bright-white flesh and delicate crisp skin, and the accompanying samphire, mussels and brown shrimp all added to the fine, tried-and-tested formula. The jury's perhaps out on what role cherry tomatoes really needed to play, but this was a minor niggle.
Venison came with one of those reduced sauces that I always lose my mind over. It's mainly because they taste incredible, but I think it's also because I know they're a labour of love to make, taking many hours of reducing and skimming and waiting, and requiring - for the best examples - lots of good veal bones, port and Madeira. The fact that underneath this Sauce Of Wonder the venison itself was only OK (a tad dry, and underpowered flavour-wise) was a mere distraction - this dish was all about soaking up the house mash (buttery and smooth, and seasoned perfectly) in the sauce and savouring every sticky, savoury mouthful.
It felt like the dessert offering at the Beehive had a little less attention paid to it than the savoury courses, but there was still plenty to enjoy in this rice pudding with jam doughnuts. You'd have to be a pretty difficult individual not to enjoy warm rice pudding and fresh jam doughnuts.
Baked Alaska was pleasant, but unremarkable to the point of plain. Also I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the vanilla ice cream in the centre just tasted very much like the texture and taste of shop-bought, but was in fact was made in-house...
So, desserts not worth getting ripped off by a taxi driver and battling through 1,000 cyclists for, then. But most of the rest of it really was, and we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch in this bright and friendly little spot in rural Berkshire. It's worth mentioning again the front of house, who matched our courses with some nice wines (one of which, a Chablis, was left over from a party the night before and offered free of charge), brought everything in good time and in good humour, and basically gave a masterclass in service. And as much as I like to think I'm not swayed by such things, it really is the whole package you come to places like the Beehive for - great food, yes, but also an atmosphere of warm, open generosity.
And I have one more reason to appreciate our server at the Beehive. After hearing our story about corrupt taxi drivers, she offered the magic words "oh, we have Uber here now!" and with that, all our problems were solved. After spending £30 to get there, the ride back to Maidenhead cost £6.90. There's never been a better time to head out west of a weekend.