A quick canter from Newbury, this corner of Berkshire is famous for turf rather than surf – but the Crab at Chieveley has carved out a reputation for some of the region’s finest seafood.
From the road, it could be any thatched country pub; inside, things are rather more eclectic, with a bar that brings to mind colonial cocktails in the Far East, opening onto an airy conservatory. In the dining room, fishing nets on the ceiling bulging with shells, floats and other marine detritus might (or, we suspect, might not) be an
ironic nod to seaside bistros of yore.
The food, though, is the thing. Manager Richard Huxtable is serious about sourcing the freshest fish, making regular trips to the south coast so that in many cases he can bypass the middle man and buy direct from the boat. Lobster and cod come from Brixham, the eponymous cock crab from Salcombe, and gurnard, sea bream, turbot and red mullet are regulars depending on availability.
A starter of lobster benedict – a crustacean-topped take on the classic breakfast dish – was beautifully executed, the muffin light enough to stave off any hint of stodginess. On the other hand, a giant
plate of scallops – 12 of them – slathered with melted gruyere was a lot to handle for a first course, however well cooked.
On to the mains, and the signature dish is the “rainbow of fish”, chef Jamie Hodson’s piscine tribute to those Russian-doll roasts, from skylark up to swan, that once graced Tudor banqueting tables. Thankfully, you don’t need the appetite of Henry VIII to tackle it: a delicate slice lets you pick out the taste and texture of bass, bream, mackerel, red mullet, smoked salmon, tiger prawn and crab, all painstakingly interleaved with spinach. Our only quibble was with the accompaniment, a blandly creamy dill tagliatelle that added little. A half lobster with melted butter, meanwhile, was simple, sweet and delicious, letting the freshness do the talking.
We avoided the usual dessert-menu dilemma – rather cleverly, we thought – by ordering the lot, albeit in miniature form on an assiette for two. Highlights included strawberry cheesecake with mint sorbet and Pimm’s granité, and a meltingly rich hot chocolate and walnut fondant.
And so to bed – the Crab also has 14 rooms, individually styled in homage to famous hotels around the world. Ours, Bird Island, was suitably kitted out with rattan furniture and Indian Ocean prints. It’s also one of five with an outdoor hot tub. OK, we weren’t quite transported to the Seychelles, but it certainly made us forget we were
less than a mile from the M4.
The Crab at Chieveley, Wantage Road, Chieveley, Berkshire, RG20 8UE. 01635 247550 www.crabatchieveley.com