The Stag and Huntsman
The Stag and Huntsman is a 300-year-old pub which has been converted into a fine restaurant and a country inn in what is apparently Britain’s most photographed and filmed village, Hambleden. It is a beautiful, beautiful village, located between Marlow and Henley, and is littered with quaint country cottages and surrounded by rolling fields and lush green hills. The Stag and Huntsman offers rooms, but as Hambleden is just under an hour’s drive away from London, it can also easily make for a day’s getaway, away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Smoke.
The Stag and Huntsman is an impeccably run venue and offers an almost picture perfect balance between quaint and modern, refined and relaxed, helped in no small part by a most welcoming and friendly host, Marius, the manager. The Stag and Huntsman is decidedly a smart place, yet the kind that doesn’t make you uncomfortable should you pop over in casual clothes. The furniture and the colour scheme of the interiors is the right amount of cleverly calculated with a relieving touch of haphazard. The building is a historic pub, extended and refurbished such that there is almost a warren-like layout. This was rather entertaining – a sort of life size puzzle set up to test your intellectual capacity to find exits and entrances. As we wandered around the establishment, we would occasionally catch glimpses of the cooks busily poring over what would be our meal for the night.
The food that we tried was delicious, the kind of country pub dining that sets out to satisfy – hearty and comforting, precisely executed and cooked with confidence. The Duck Liver Parfait (£8) was rich and strong, and a far cry from the effete fluffy concoctions that are sometimes peddled to diners in London with too much cream and not enough flavour. The seared scallops (£12) were daringly matched with black pudding and apple and further enhanced with some squash puree.
The pigeon breast (£7) was seared to perfection with a welcoming blush of pink on the inside and perched daintily on top of an artichoke. A dab of creamed beetroot and some creamed Jerusalem artichoke introduced a timely wintry touch.
The combinations of ingredients were well thought through. Moving onto the mains, the crispy seared bream fillet (£18) with creamy grilled peppers, lush romesco sauce, and fragrant roasted almond flakes proved to be a veritable fandango of flavours. However the fish itself seemed to lack that luscious vibrant quality usually offered by very fresh fish. It was a little lacklustre but the accompaniments were fabulous.
The 10oz ribeye steak (£22) was cooked medium-rare and oozed with the flavour of well reared meat, and was generously studded with grilled organic plum tomatoes. The red wine jus (£3) was well reduced yet still allowing the original wine’s nose to be discernible, no mean feat by any means. The seasonal vegetables (£4) had been just ever so gently steamed, with a delightful crunch and their bright colours still on show. The side of hand cut chips (£4) were chunky and rustic.
The bread was the common wholemeal variety, so little disappointing considering the strength of the rest of the food. We thought a strong, good sourdough would have worked really well here.
A dessert of raspberry panna cotta (£8) was a joy to eat, with wonderfully prepared laywer of raspberry tea jelly, pistachio crumb and granite. Yum!
We stayed the night and our room was upstairs – a bridal suite with a spacious bathroom containing his and hers and an old-fashioned bathtub and quaint antique furniture. The room was impeccably clean and smelt wonderfully fresh. The heating was so powerful, you would not need to wear pyjamas to walk around in the middle of winter. It didn’t contain the softest of bedding, but the room still offered a charming overnight experience.
In the morning, we spent over an hour savouring our full English breakfast. We requested a change from the usual boring baked beans with avocado, and the standard fried or scrambled eggs with eggs benedict. And the staff duly obliged! The homemade hollandaise was a delight and truly delicious. Overall the breakfast was wonderful. What a treat!
We had arrived on a Saturday late afternoon so there hadn’t been enough light for us to peruse the outdoor garden.
In the morning our eyes were treated to the sight of a very pleasant garden at the back of the pub with English white cast-iron garden furniture. There was also a crab apple tree with bright scarlet fruit ringed by yellow leaves serving as a backdrop in the high blue sky. This garden would no doubt make for a wonderful spot for afternoon beers in the middle of the summer.
The service The Stag and Huntsman was excellent: genuinely friendly, tactfully watchful, yet not obtrusive at all. The staff genuinely looked as if they loved what they were doing and as a result they offered up the perfect balance between efficiency, watchfulness, friendliness and reserve.
We really had a nice stay at The Stag and Huntsman. The overall experience of dinner, bed and breakfast was truly enjoyable and charming.
Note: Co-written with Artour (Instagram: @Niftynoshing)
1) The entire venue was a delight.
2) The food was delicious and well executed
3) Hambleden itself is worth a visit.
1) The fish dish was the weakest link.
Food rating: 3.75/5
Service rating: 4/5
Price: About £30 to £40 a head for food, excludes drinks and service. For room rates, check with the venue directly.
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