The White Oak, The Pound, Cookham, Berkshire

It's planted in a fertile area, but can The White Oak grow into a mighty enterprise?

Cookham is one of those charmed towns: a place in the English countryside where the houses are beautiful, the shops are chi-chi and dogs gambol on the green. Oh, and a river runs through it. When I was growing up, it was somewhere we drove to for a spot of rubber-necking from a hired rowing boat.

On one of the first days that hints at spring, I drive back out to Cookham to see if it's still as idyllic. It is. And now it's getting the attentions of hoteliers and restaurateurs who – quite rightly – sense money in them there lawns.

If I'd waited a week, I could have had lunch at the nearby hotel Sanctum on the Green, which is in the news because 18-year-old Luke Thomas launches his restaurant there this Wednesday. But I think that's somewhere to visit once the novelty of a teenager running a smart dining-room has worn off (hopefully to settle into a fine destination).

I'm at The White Oak, one of three "country pubs and eating houses" – the others are the Greene Oak in Windsor and the Three Oaks in Gerrards Cross – owned by Henry and Katherine Cripps, who obviously know where and how the affluent like to dine out.

The White Oak is far more restaurant than pub; a few armchairs occupy the first yard of the venue, then an expansive space full of tables stretches back to glass doors on to the garden. We arrive at 12.20pm and are the only diners, so we get the undivided attention of two waitresses and the manageress. She's on hand to give a fuller explanation of beef liver and pork collar – two interesting elements of a short, well-focused menu. Mr M is mulling his choices over a pint of Old Speckled Hen and as designated driver I stick with lime soda.

He has whiting tartare with horseradish and a shallot dressing (£7.50) to start; I would have had the minestrone with beans, pork and duck, but I fancy the pork collar for main, so divert to chicken-liver parfait (£8.50).

Alarmingly quickly, they're on our table. I've barely had time to register the soothing beige, greige and brown tones of the wooden furniture, walls, elaborately framed art and ornate chandeliers. (Can you tell it was a bit much?) I'd rather a country pub went with the buttoned leather chairs and hokey pictures if it's done under low lights and with dark tones. That or light and bright with a hint of the domestic "downstairs" (wood panels, utility lights, the odd scrubbed-up utensil). This is trying for both at the same time and not quite pulling it off.

So, back to those starters. I feel sad as soon as I start eating. Mr M's whiting is icy-cold. It's been plucked straight from the fridge with no time for the flavours to develop and mingle. All I get is cold, with too much oniony texture. My parfait, served in the obligatory kilner jar – though this one is pot-bellied for added fiddliness – is also cold, but has very good flavours and a thin layer of chilled consommé on top, a deft touch. Alas, the person on the toaster had no such touch and burned the brioche, then didn't think it worth the 90-second delay to redo it. We have chilled and charred mouths.

Mains are better: the beef liver is not a dish I've seen; the younger, daintier calves' liver is more popular. But, as Mo the boss says, if you really like liver, you'll like this. And it's rich and earthy. The bonus is that while the centre is quivery and creamy, the older cut can take a good searing. The outside is almost steak-like. It comes with potato purée, onions and black pudding (part of the menu auberge, £15 for two courses).

My pork is billed as being hay-cooked, but there's nary a hint of the hay. It's a tender cut, but the crackling crust is crumbed almost into oblivion and, with the accompanying cauliflower and macaroni cheese, smacks of three elements introduced to each other at the last moment. Claggy and bland – a shame.

The room is now half-full and it's clear that The White Oak is attracting the locals. Our puds, meanwhile, are par for the course. A rum baba is pleasant without blowing the mind; rhubarb Eton mess is just a mess. Everything is uniformly pink and soft – and unadvertised clumps of hazelnut cracknell on top are not terrific (plus a bit bonkers in our nut-allergy-aware days).

The White Oak needs to smooth its edges to garner loyalty, especially with a new kid in town. I wish it good luck.

6/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook,. 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

The White Oak, The Pound, Cookham, Berkshire, tel: 01628 523 043 Lunch daily; dinner, Mon-Sat. About £65 for two, including drinks

Berkshire beauties

The Waterside Inn

Ferry Road, Bray, tel: 01628 620 691

The Roux family's blissful Thames-sider is 40 this year, but remains perfect in every way – not least its traditional Gallic cuisine; prices are ludicrous, naturally, but hard to begrudge.

Maliks

High Street, Cookham, tel: 01628 520 085

The cuisine is sensational – and quite unlike your normal Indian – at this busy former-boozer-turned-tandoori restaurant.

The Crab at Chieveley

Wantage Road, Newbury, tel: 01635 247 550

This popular thatched country restaurant offers consistently good fish-heavy cuisine, and has a lovely location (though the interior can seem a bit business-like)

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn