The Royal Oak

June 7, 2016

Another lovely country pub for you  – this time in the north of the county. The Royal Oak was featured in The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook and I was pleased to see they have a good display of it in the restaurant.  This is another review from my Leicester Mercury column:


The Royal Oak
The Green
Long Whatton
LE12 5DB

Long Whatton is a pleasant village on the Northern edge of Charnwood. It’s close to some massive, noisy and busy pieces of infrastructure in the shape of East Midlands Airport, Donnington Park and the M1 and A42 junction, but it is tucked away off the main routes and remains both surrounded by greenery and reasonably peaceful.

It is, then, a great location for a gastropub with accommodation,  hence why it attracted the attention of brothers Chris and Alex Astwood. With 20 years of hospitality experience, including fine dining restaurants, they recognised the opportunity in 2010 here for a smart pub with smart food and stylish rooms. Together with chef James Upton, that’s just what they have created

The pub combines rural character with contemporary styling and on our Saturday night visit both the bar and restaurant areas were packed with both locals and, judging by the branded jackets and t-shirts on show, teams from the Superbike World Championships at Donington racetrack.

The food and drink they were enjoying is based on making the most of local ingredients wherever possible – there’s a detailed list of local suppliers on the menu – and reflects the diversity of the customer base. There’s pub classics of fish and chips and steaks and these are done at a high level – triple-cooked chips, home-made pea purée and so on – but the real interest is in the highly seasonal main menu. The dishes here position themselves some way above the more routine kind of dining pubs, but avoiding anything too fancy-dan. It’s not intimidating, just attractive-sounding dishes that seem to be put together with thought and flair.

And that is what we got. Both our starters were completely satisfying affairs. A dense, meaty mackerel fillet had been cured and charred and served on top of a fine potato salad with a mustard and dill dressing, a smart little salsa of cucumber and a delicious, crunchy tuile made with fennel seeds. The little microherbs – apparently from the kitchen garden – were not just a mimsy addition but gave real little punches of flavour.

Royal Oak menu extract

Extract from the Royal Oak’s Spring 2016 menu 


The judicious combination of flavour and texture was also present in the another highly seasonal starter of charred asparagus with poached duck-egg, intensely-flavoured dried parma ham crisp, shavings of parmesan and a wonderful wild garlic mayonnaise. See what I mean? Nothing too flashy but good ingredients, good technique and well-composed dishes.

Rack of lamb was another really good dish. Beautifully cooked, it was a credit to the kitchen and to suppliers Coppice Farm near Swadlincote. It had a lovely crust made with pine nuts and more wild garlic and came with crushed Jersey royals, and petit pois a la Française – with braised baby gem lettuce, pancetta and a light creamy sauce.

The meat in a supreme of chicken was also first rate, seasoned to absolute perfection too. Best of its accompaniments was charred cauliflower, a really good way of getting the most out of this sometimes anodyne veg. A sauce of sweetcorn and cumin chowder didn’t really convince me as an ideal match, but it was executed well, as were the little discs of fondant sweet potatoes, even if they were a bit too sweet for my palate.

The drinks list at the pub is high standard. We started with a divine citric gin and tonic with Burleighs gin (distilled in Charnwood), and a delightful half of the hoppy Charmer from Charnwood brewery. There are some well-chosen wines available by the glass and a French Malbec was a brilliant companion to the lamb.

Deserts had less menu appeal for us, the likes of Millionaire shortbread cheesecake with jelly bean fudge and chocolate syrup might have their place but sounded a bit overly sweet at the end of a quite sophisticated meal. We did try a lemon posset with poached rhubarb though and it was excellent. A lovely contrast between sweet and sharp, and again texture was an important element – there was still a bit of bite in the rhubarb and there was some little discs of a crumble topping that been baked to give serious crunch.

This was lovely meal, with competent, confident service from a friendly and well-run front of house team. No surprise that the Royal Oak draws in people from the airport and race-tack, it should also be on the list for residents of Loughborough and beyond.

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