The Crooked Billet – Henley on Thames

The Crooked Billet is an unassuming little country pub, off the beaten track that specialises in fantastic, heaven sent food.

I was lucky enough to eat at the Crooked Billet, just outside Henley on Thames, twice in one day as I was there for a wedding as well as lunch beforehand. We pitched our tent in the pub grounds and had time to line our stomachs before the service. We ordered the bread board between four to quell some rumbling tummies as we waited for our main and it was truly wonderful. Warm, rye bread, soft white and wholemeal with toasted caraway seeds were served along two lovely dips of creamy hummus and a light and refreshing pesto. The fantastic bread board was our first signal that the Crooked Billet is no ordinary pub.

The menu is surprisingly extensive with a focus on modern British cuisine with hints of other cultures (such as my meal choice) thrown in for good measure. There were two vegetarian options for a main course. A vegetarian friend told me that the options at the Crooked Billet are always tasty and interesting without a bland risotto in sight. I opted for one of my favourite meals, Iman Baylidi which is a stuffed aubergine. The aubergine was rich and smoky, stuffed with subtly spiced toasted pine nuts and served with aubergine fritters and tzatzki.

As we all gorged ourselves on a truly excellent lunch, the anticipation of wedding breakfast quickly built. Mass catering at weddings often causes problems with soggy vegetables and sunken soufflés. Often, the vegetarian option is an afterthought, a scraped together salad or a bland and miserable looking wrinkled stuffed pepper. But I after eating lunch at the pub that day, I knew the Crooked Billet would come up trumps for the evening meal, and this was confirmed by the fantastic caramelised onion tart with a matured cheddar top served with a fresh tomato sauce I ate that night. This was followed by a builders breakfast tea crème brûlée. Who would have thought to put tea in crème brûlée? This is something I am definitely going to try making when I get the chance. Even the canapés beforehand were fantastic. They included a aubergine and mozzarella roll, but what really stole the show was a truffled goats cheese crispy bonbon dipped in honey. There are fewer things more delightful than the combination of a light goats cheese with truffle and a sweet honey. This was accompanied by the largest barrel of juicy olives I have ever seen.

My friends who got married that day are real foodies and I knew making sure people eat well on the day of their wedding was important to them – and they got it entirely right choosing the Crooket Billet. I instantly understood why it was their favourite pub. Not only is it picturesquely beautiful, but the food takes centre stage. Every dish is as masterfully thought out creation of Paul Clerehugh, who has run the pub since 1989. Local food is a priority for Clerehugh – even the honey is made by his own bees.

The pub’s reputation is well established in culinary elite circles as there have been recent sightings of Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Matthew Norman, Jamie Oliver and Antony Worrall Thompson enjoying Clerehugh’s handiwork. But, despite all this, the pub still has a relaxed atmosphere and it has retained its rustic charm over the years. This is amplified by the incredibly attentive staff, both at our lunch and at the wedding and made the entire day go so smoothly, making sure everyone’s glasses were constantly topped up, and providing us hangover souls with a good few litres of tea the following morning.

While the Crooked Billet may a bit out of the way for most, it is well worth the trip.

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