Peter Morrell and his wife enjoy superb food, a well appointed room and outstanding hospitality at The Miller of Mansfield restaurant and hotel which is surrounded with a wealth of other attractions
Travel for about an hour to the west of London and you are transported to a different world. Verdant fields, the Chiltern Hills, picturesque villages and a silver thread that binds it all together, the River Thames.
My wife and I recently went to the Miller of Mansfield in Goring on Thames to have dinner stay overnight and see a cookery demo followed by lunch the next day.
We also wanted to see some of the other attractions in the area so rather than drive straight to the hotel we stopped at Cookham on the way. The village is synonymous with the artist Stanley Spencer. His former house is in the High Street and nearby the 12th century Holy Trinity church which featured in his paintings. A gallery of his work which stages rotating exhibitions has been established in an old chapel. Seeing the settings for his paintings was a highly rewarding experience.
The 30-40 minute drive across to Goring gave us the opportunity to catch glimpses of the Thames and drive through a number of charming villages. Hump back bridges gave for tantalising views of water cascading over weirs and magnificent weeping willows, this was very Three Men in a Boat country.
Goring is an attractive village and the Miller of Mansfield one of its most prominent buildings. It was built in the 18th century and inside you are greeted with cosy and rustic décor, wooden floors and sturdy ceiling beams.
Although the building is more than two centuries old the thirteen guest bedrooms, all individually designed are bang up to date. We had the two room Mansfield suite on the top floor, a lovely atmospheric room, thoughtfully decorated and with a large, well appointed bathroom. There was an additional sofa bed in the suite so it would be ideal for a family of four.
The Miller of Mansfield is run by the charming and hospitable husband and wife team, Nick and Mary Galer. In the past they have both worked for The Fat Duck Group where Nick was head chef at The Crown in Bray while Mary was at The Hind’s Head. So with Nick in the kitchen and Mary doubling up as sommelier and running front of house they make a formidable team.
After a refresh from the journey we started our evening with a pre-dinner drink in the cosy bar. There’s a good selection of beers including one from the local West Berkshire brewery. and a wide range of other drinks. Perusing the menu it was evident that Nick is an innovative and creative chef. We chose the sea trout gravadlax and native lobster to start followed by two more dish dishes, brill and Cornish ling for the mains. We also couldn’t resist sides of triple cooked chips and garlic kale with almonds.
Before the starters arrived we had an uplifting amuse bouche of pea sorbet in a crispy cell which set the standard for the meal. Bacon brioche à tête with whipped smoked butter as part of the bread basket was another taste sensation. The starters were excellent, the trout served with cockle ketchup and treacle yoghurt and the native lobster accompanied by pickled lemon, gingerbread and mango chutney.
The mains were just as pleasing and as well presented as the starters. The sweet, sea fresh ling had an inventive array of garnishes like basil puree, rainbow chard and girolle mushrooms. The brill, again sweet with firm flesh was complemented with lovage that had hints of anise and celery, a creamy English burrata and heritage tomatoes. A final word for the sides, the chips were crispy and the kale was a combo of good strong flavours.
From the wine list, well curated by Mary, we selected the Whale Watcher, a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand. It was a perfect match for the fish. There were aromatic tropical and herbal notes in the bouquet, on the palate the acidity was well balanced, there were shots of lime and it had good minerality. The finish was bright and fruity.
At dessert time we were tempted by the Manjari chocolate custard and the Amalfi lemon tart but we were quite full. I did find a little space for cheese, the board included stichleton, an unpasteurised stilton, a delicious local goat’s cheese, sinodun hill and epoisses.
After the meal we enjoyed a great night’s sleep in our room’s very comfortable mega sized bed.
The plan for the following day was to have an early breakfast, which was up to the standard of the meal the night before, then drive to Reading about 10 miles away to look at the town’s newly renovated Abbey Quarter.
This proved to be an extremely interesting cultural experience. The ruins of Reading Abbey have be made safe and opened to the public. The original site was huge, the first building we saw was the Abbey’s Hospitium of St John the Baptist, which gave shelter to pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. We passed a Pugin designed church before arriving at the ruins. The area is steeped in history and thought to be the burial site of Henry I whose body was returned from France, it was brought up the rivers Thames and Kennet to the gates of the abbey.
Overlooking the ruins is the now defunct Reading jail where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned. There are plans to open the building as a cultural centre.
We were back in the Miller at 11:30am for a demonstration of game preparation and cooking. This was presented by Nick who has got a friendly and engaging style, He started by cooking two game accompaniments, sauerkraut and red onion confit, which were very good when we tasted them. He then showed how to prepare game birds like partridge and pigeon before jointing an already cleaned small muntjac deer. It was a fascinating demonstration.
We then lunched on loin of muntjac, sauerkraut and potatoes dauphinoise and a glass of wine, it was another outstanding main course. There was an indulgent dessert to follow. About twenty people attended the demonstration, mostly local, who made us feel very welcome. Amongst things other things they talked about George Michael with great warmth, he lived and tragically died in the village.
Before leaving for home there was just enough time to visit Basildon Park, a National Trust property about a 10 minutes drive from Goring. This Palladian style mansion was built in 1776 by Sir Francis Sykes with money he amassed in India. It had a chequered history but was eventually rescued in the 1950’s by Lord and Lady Iliffe who completely restored the house and furnished it with antiques and decorated it in immediate post war style.
Bequeathed to the National Trust it has a homely feel with lavish décor particularly the Octagonal drawing room. The house interior was used in Downton Abbey to double as the Earl of Grantham’s London town house.
Our short break was over and what an adventure it had been. There had been a wealth of culinary and cultural experiences to enjoy all within the setting of beautiful countryside and within easy reach of London and other major cities.
The Miller of Mansfield
Reading RG8 9AW
01491 872 829
The Stanley Spencer Gallery
The Reading Abbey Quarter