Jack gets on a train to the picturesque and quiet town of Goring and Streatley. He has come 46 miles to visit the Miller of Mansfield, an 18th century coaching inn, now transformed into a hotel well known for its food. And is the trip worth it? Absolutely…
In A Word
Those fleeing a big city (…probably London) in search of lush countryside and luscious food/drink to go with it (…a weekend break, perhaps?) Pretty much all the locals in the area around Goring and Streatley. ‘Food tourists’ interested in the cuisine of Nick Galer (a man who trained, amongst others, with The Fat Duck group, and with Matthew Tomkison). Pub historians (not actual historians, people who just like drinking in old pubs…) and those with an interest in the history of small, historic villages…
‘”If thou beest a true man,” then quoth the miller, “I sweare by my toll-dish, I’ll lodge thee all night.”’
Someone once described The Miller Of Mansfield as a ‘pub restaurant with rooms’ – someone else called it a ‘foodie hotel’ and both of these people were probably right.
It’s an 18th century coaching inn that sits at the centre of the small yet surprisingly lively village of Goring-On-Thames (one of those places where the roads have no pedestrian pavement). Its name is taken from an old Nottinghamshire ballad about a miller who gets caught red handed poaching the king’s livestock (and by red handed, I mean by the king himself, lulz).
Re-opened by Nick and Mary Galer in 2014, in two years this dynamic duo have transformed the place into a sophisticated (but not TOO sophisticated) pub restaurant combination (though they keep the two things separate). And they’ve managed to do this whilst raising two small children. I don’t know how they do it…
Nick and Mary met in Normandy more than a decade back, and have been a team (both personally and professionally) ever since. Prior to The Miller, both were working in Bray for the Fat Duck Group; with Nick as head chef at the Crown, and Mary being part of the Hinds Head management team.
Like all good chefs/artists in any medium, Nick is a relentless learning machine – entirely self taught. Nick’s made it his mission to work with some of the best; Heston Blumenthal and Matthew Tomkinson (Roux Scholar), amongst them. Interestingly enough, Nick’s original plan was to be a sports coach, but he got the bug for cooking whilst working in the alps with Mary.
The Miller seems to be developing a rep as a place to travel for food (as well it should!) but it has definitely not forgotten the locals. On the two days I am here, the bar was packed to the rafters with regulars (and the restaurant full of a few familiar faces too). Every month there’s a Sunday supper club for the locals that tends to get booked up for literally months in advance.
And how about that food? Well, for the quality of what you get, the food here is particularly good value.
No, it’s not cheap but they could charge a LOT more for this in Chiswick (…or substitute your favourite fancy place here). Actually, it’s hard to pin down any particular style, though you can see that Chef Nick is not clearly unafraid of experimentation (yuzu has made its way onto the menu and this is the first time in ages I’ve actually had to google a dish on the menu; always a good sign).
And the drinks? No scrimping on the selection. Pretty huge wine list with nothing over £75 a bottle. No unusual regions – but the odd crazy grape gets airtime, for example: ‘ge’ from Colchagua valley in Chile, and a sweet valpoliccella varietal I’ve never seen before at the bottom of the menu. Lots of beers too – cask and bottle. It is also a pub, after all.
A quiet side entrance gets you into the restaurant. Or you can enter the front via the cut and thrust of the pub.
In the restaurant, The Miller’s clientele feels very ‘white middle class’ (I’m OK with this). It’s mainly middle aged couples and small groups. There’s a couple next to me me possibly talking about the new Star Trek film and how they feel about tasting menus – “who can eat 6 courses anyway?!”.
There’s a gathering of what looks like a trio of sisters and their parents – probably having a hard won family get-together. I am once again the only man in the room wearing a t shirt ^_^. Both Nick and Mary are hands on (with Nick in the kitchen, and Mary it on the floor).
The decor? Slightly wonky wood and mustard coloured wallpaper. You don’t have to look too far to find strategically located bags of flour about the place (in keeping with the ‘Miller’ theme).
A sonic backdrop is set by laughter/glasses clinking from the pub and soft classical guitar music – this which will later become an acoustic pop playlist of Sam Smith, Lorde, etc.
The restaurant and pub are separate, and, from my vantage point in the restaurant at 2300 on a Friday night (because I quite literally have nowhere else to go…) I can see that the pub area is still lively.
As they’re closing up, I chat nonsense about gym, motorbikes and university with two of the staff (mainly in their late teens) who make me feel old even though, due to Permanent Boyface (TM) I probably don’t look too dissimilar from them.
What I Eat Over The Course Of Two Days
Is there any better way to get a feel for the cuisine of a place than seeing what the chef has decided to put on the Tasting Menu? Better yet – said Tasting Menu is freshly printed and changes every day.
Most of what you see here is over the course of two such tasting menus, so this is not necessarily the order (or volume) of food you should be expecting!
At a place with a name like ‘The Miller’ – the bread has to live up to something. Bread arrives freshly baked, warm and inside a little canvas bag. It comes with ‘Miller churned butter’ – and I wonder if they make the butter onsite as well.
They refer to ‘amuse bouches’ as ‘bouches’ and are keen on them. This one is buttery, fluttery and tiny – simultaneously thick and frothy. Quite satisfying.
Accidental beef croquettes
The first course they serve me on the first night is by accident. A happy accident. The croquettes are amazingly dense, rich and beefy. A probable winner of the ‘best croquettes in life award’. This is an award I invented purely for these croquettes. I would like to invite other entries for next year’s award…
Whipped Baron Bigod Cheese
This Bigod cheese is intensely cheesy, too much for me. Underneath the food there is a layer of what I think is hardened honey which has set on the plate and makes for a kind of…solidified sauce? Is ‘solid sauce’ a category of condiments? Is this something new?
Honey Glazed Wood Pigeon
This has a very ‘spice road’ feeling feel to it – the earthiness of the beetroot and the sharp game flavours of the pigeon compliment each other nicely. It’s served with something called ‘dukkah’ which I have never heard of. Turns out this is an old Egyptian recipe of herbs and spices.
Overall, the taste is exciting but the spice combination makes this one feel a little out of place in relation to the rest of the menu. But it is adventurous and you cannot fault this on a tasting menu.
Simple, umami and delicious. The halibut is a tad too salty for me, but happens to inhabit what I can only describe as ‘the best red wine sauce ever’. Again, the bacon comes on too strong on the saltiness but the sauce….oh the sauce makes everything better.
I’d love to get the recipe for that sauce… the sauce source for my internet discourse. Can I get a high five? No? OK.
Lamb Loin and hotpot
As you can see, the upper layer of the hot pot has hardened into a kind of crust. It’s classically English with no tampering. Whatever the savoy cabbage rests upon is described in my tasting notes as ‘legend and genius’. The lamb is delicious and done properly but nothing special. This reddish sauce that you can see (whatever it is) is oddly fruity and makes for compulsive eating.
I suppose this reminds me of the kinda food I would make for myself. Delicious, somewhat healthy but not a piece of virtuosic cooking.
Proper Sausage Rolls & Brown Sauce
These sausage rolls are exactly what sausage rolls should be. I feel myself growing more and more patriotic with each bite. Towards the end I start begin to experience ecstatic visions of the queen, the Union Jack and afternoon tea. It even comes with the HP Sauce (or the Miller’s take on it) Solid. Solid like granite.
Peppered Black Angus Sirloin Steak
This steak is cooked in such a way that it falls apart on your plate. Though only one of a few delicious ways to cook steak, this is certainly one of my favourites.
There’s a peppercorn flavour and something almost medicinal/herbal I have never experienced in beef before. The gravy is OK, but in the context of the steak super superfluous (supersuperfluous(?)). Merely for decoration – the steak needs nothing else.
As for the peas, these are intense – like the pea version of creamed corn. You could call them creamed peas, but that would be wrong. And it would sound wrong. They are buttery too. As in, creamy and with butter on them. Go calories or go home. Peas on pea sauce – the ultimate dish for the pea lover. Or pea pea-ple (sorry).
The grain, which I believe is millet – has the occasional crispy individual and the kind of satisfying back taste and creaminess you get from crisps (seriously). A combination of savoury, salty textures that you may not have experienced all at the same time.
The potatoes are unremarkable but serve as an excellent vehicle to eat the millet.
Grapefruit, caramel and passion fruit palate cleanser
Grapefruit, caramel and passion fruit – the caramel (and I’m not sure if this is even caramel) in this is works brilliantly. An excellent palette cleanser: insofar as it blasts whatever savoury you have just eaten away with intense sweet and fruity flavours…we can assume this is what they were going for.
Baked Pink Lady apple
This is where they really hit their stride; that circular thing that looks like some kind of golden thread turns out to be some kind of dark sugary creation.
The white chocolate mouse is a force of nature and the green apple sorbet contrasts nicely with the baked apple which, with the dried fruit, kinda reminds me of small scale unseasonal Christmas flavour ambush – what is it baked in? Deliciousness? Is deliciousness an ingredient? How do you do that to an apple?!
This dish is basically the best thing ever for anyone who ever enjoyed eating an apple… or something flavoured like an apple…
Nick and Mary are great people with a great staff doing great food.
All this with Rolling green Berkshire hillside and what I can only describe as a ‘quaint and country’ feeling about the place. If you’re a food tourist, or need an excuse for a staycation – then this…well, this is your opportunity.
The gauntlet has been thrown down *smashing noises*.
And, as I said, these guys are a small, independent and passionate food business – to survive and thrive, they need the business and patronage of food lovers just like you. Pass on a chain and give these guys a visit, and you won’t regret it. Tell them Tasting Britain sent you – see what happens :3
High St, Goring, Reading RG8 9AW