The revitalisation of The Yew Tree Inn at Highclere has put this country pub firmly back on the culinary radar
Highclere used to be known primarily for two things: The first, Highclere Castle, has been there for centuries and is the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The second is its famous Highclere Thoroughbred Racing stud, where owners have variously included Heston Blumenthal, Hugh Bonneville, Sir Alex Ferguson and Elizabeth Hurley.
In recent years, though, Highclere became the centre of two very public spats, the first being between the Earl of Carnarvon and Lord Lloyd-Webber over development on the Highclere estate in 2010 and the second between Marco Pierre White and his former partners over the ownership of the village’s iconic pub, The Yew Tree Inn in 2013. Alongside this, in 2010, came what truly has made the area internationally famous: the television drama series Downton Abbey.
Sat glued to their screens on Sunday evenings, millions see Highclere Castle as the fictional seat of the Earl and Countess of Grantham but what they’d be better to do instead, I’d suggest, is to get in their cars and visit the revamped hub of this Hampshire-Berkshire borders community: The aforementioned Yew Tree Inn is firmly back on the map.
As fine a pub as “Marco Pierre White’s Yew Tree Inn” (and I say this as someone who visited most weekends) was, its last days under that regime were sadly tarnished by the bitterness of the battle between him and his former partners. Its sale to a company headed by Alexander Langlands-Pearse – which also owns, amongst other things, The Admiral Codrington in Chelsea and The Punchbowl in Mayfair – in 2012, has brought many changes and with it a new head chef and co-owner, a very likeable chap in the form of Simon Davis.
Davis’ pedigree itself is impressive. He started his career in the kitchen of The Box Tree in Ilkley, the renowned restaurant that Pierre White himself “brought to the map”, and also worked at Harvey Nichols. Now, though, he has truly found his forte given his role at The Yew Tree has enabled him to combine his love of food and fieldsports in the menu he has crafted.
Local produce and community are the focus at The Yew Tree now and gone are the white tablecloths and formality of the Pierre White era. Instead, the pub has become just that again and features a copper topped bar where local ales sit comfortably alongside two very large vessels containing Jared Brown’s Sipsmith gin and vodka. The décor is traditional yet not at all fussy and with wood burning stoves and leather sofas, this is a place where it is easy to relax.
When I visited, on a Sunday afternoon, The Yew Tree was packed as much by locals as visitors from Ascot and Chelsea. An Indian couple sat, somewhat curiously, discussing the merits of a Toyota Prius over a Range Rover with their friends (I know which I’d take) whilst a family celebrated a birthday in another corner. Here you’ll find a cross mix of society and as Davis himself pointed out in a recent interview, The Yew Tree now is a “place where people can come in and have just a pint and a scotch egg but also enjoy scallops, turbot or prime steaks as well”.
To get a full flavour of the offering, we tried a wide selection of dishes from a menu that is extensive but not overwhelming. To begin, we commenced with a honey roast fig and goats cheese tart (£5.95), devilled whitebait (£6.95) and a Scotch egg lined with black pudding (£6.95). The highlight was most definitely the latter given its runny yolk was, unsurprisingly, not overwhelmed by the strength of the black pudding.
We continued with roast West Country beef (£14.95) and butter poached Linkenholt partridge (£13.95). Both were hearty and accompanied by seasonal vegetables. They made for ideal autumnal comfort food and for those looking for a Sunday roast this is most certainly a perfect idea.
To conclude, we finished with equally satisfying dishes of a dark chocolate and caramel cheesecake with honeycomb ice cream and a sticky toffee pudding with sticky toffee ice cream (both at £6.95). Downton’s Mrs Patmore would no doubt have approved.
The Yew Tree’s wine list follows the ethos of its new management and is extensive yet not overwhelming. House wines begin at £18 per bottle and with prices rising to £665 for a Château de Beaucastel 2007, there is something for everybody. A particular highlight was a smooth and easy drinking Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles (£11.75 a glass, £35 per bottle).
Simon Davis has undoubtedly brought new life to The Yew Tree and his passion for both the kitchen and the country is apparent. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit: If you do, you’ll get a much better flavour of rural life than you ever could by sitting watching Downton Abbey.
The Yew Tree Inn, Hollington Cross, Andover Road, Highclere, Newbury, RG20 9SE. Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 253360.
Follow The Yew Tree Inn on Twitter at @yewtreenews.
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