The Inn on the Green, Berkshire

It's a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll, and it's aimed at mini-breaking urban trendies. Tracey MacLeod dines in style at the Inn on the Green in Berkshire
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It took about five years for the influence of the first gastropub to spread. Now it seems every corner boozer is tearing out its sticky carpeting and turning out sticky toffee pudding. Babington House, the first hip country-house hotel, opened five years ago, and has had a similarly revivifying effect on the hotel scene. All over Britain, owners are stripping nondescript hotels of their chintzy soft furnishings, replacing the trouser presses with CD players, and installing decent chefs.

It took about five years for the influence of the first gastropub to spread. Now it seems every corner boozer is tearing out its sticky carpeting and turning out sticky toffee pudding. Babington House, the first hip country-house hotel, opened five years ago, and has had a similarly revivifying effect on the hotel scene. All over Britain, owners are stripping nondescript hotels of their chintzy soft furnishings, replacing the trouser presses with CD players, and installing decent chefs.

The Inn on the Green, in the picture-perfect Berkshire village of Cookham Dean, has a much more than decent executive chef, in the form of the immensely gifted Garry Hollihead. Once Marco Pierre White's chief lieutenant, Hollihead took an unexpected detour to go into business with Mark Fuller, owner of the glitzy Sugar Reef and Embassy in London.

Their latest project, The Inn on the Green, a "restaurant with rooms" designed as a pastoral refuge for urbanites, is lower key, but not entirely glitz-free - with its external hot tub, leather beds and chill-out soundtrack, an unremarkable small hotel has become a baby Babington. As Donny and Marie Osmond sang, it's a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll.

You'd never guess it from the look of the place. "It's Terry and June's house!" was Harry's reaction to the ugly 1930s building tucked away behind a perfect Batsford Books village green. Inside, though, the effect is Hollywood Gothic, combining lots of louche velvet, oxblood paintwork and stained glass with original beams which seem to predate the exterior of the building by a couple of hundred years.

"Restaurant with rooms" it may be, but the well-drilled staff try to offer all the comforts you'd expect from a full-service hotel, such as carrying your bags up to your room (yeah, like we do our own roadying). In a marketing masterstroke, rooms come in two grades, superior and deluxe. Ours contained a two-person bath. The Inn on the Green, let's face it, has got "dirty weekend" written all over it.

Which explained why our dinner guests were mostly distracted couples, eating rather quickly. There are three dining rooms, all pretty, though the dark, half-timbered main room is probably the most romantic. And the tables are nicely spaced - helpful, if you're trying to sweet-talk your companion into the hot tub.

The menu bears Garry Hollihead's name, but the head chef is Embassy graduate Doug Kerr, here reproducing many dishes which first appeared at the parent restaurant.

I loved my starter, a buttery boudin blanc, almost foamily light inside, and would happily have eaten another for breakfast, though maybe without the button onions and bacon lardons. Harry's tuna tartare had been prepared with unusual care, with coriander and soy lending an oriental subtlety, though the promised oyster proved elusive in the mix. It's a mark of how good it was that Harry, a lifelong enemy of "the herb of Satan", continued to eat enthusiastically in between fishing individual coriander leaves out of his mouth with a gagging expression.

Luckily, no Satanic stowaways lurked in his main course, another memorable dish (which, I've only just noticed, cost £25.95 - maybe they gave him a menu without prices). A cairn of spun tagliatelle, topped with a single scallop, rose from a tomato-bisque sauce. When toppled, the pasta tower disgorged chunks of sweet lobster meat. "I think the sauce might be quite rich," Harry bleated, loosening first his belt, then his shoelaces, as pasta and cream expanded to fill the space available. So that's why they call it Sauce Americaine; because it makes you feel fat and disagreeable.

My roast breast of duck was no less rich, sporting a hefty tranche of foie gras; a combination of proteins which only Dr Atkins could truly recommend. And it was careless of the waiter who took my order not to point out that the dish came with the same garnishes as my starter (unless every meat dish comes similarly attired).

That duff selection aside (and a farcical episode with our wine, a Pinot Noir which was brought to the table twice at fridge temperature, and finally so warm it was fit only for making sangria), it was a meal worth travelling for. Desserts were of a similarly high standard, in particular a miraculously intense blueberry soufflé which seemed to be all fruit and no flour.

With starters priced at £11-£15, main courses from £18 to £26, and a fearsomely expensive wine list, the bill for dinner could easily outstrip the cost of a double room (£140-£180). The Inn on the Green is a fun destination for couples who want to give themselves a treat, and the food is excellent, but one night is probably enough; think micro-break, rather than mini-break. Still, it's only an hour from central London, and right now there aren't too many places like it. And how many country-house hotels list cocktails on the breakfast menu? Now that's rock'n'roll. E

The Inn on the Green, Cookham Dean, Berkshire (01628 482638)

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