Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacation: The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak
Wootton Rivers
Wiltshire, UK
Telephone: 01672 810322

Situated in the charming thatched village of Wootton Rivers, The Royal Oak dates from the mid-1500's and was originally a coaching inn comprised of three premises - the village bakery, the farriers and the old ale house. Stepping into the building is like stepping back in time; the oak-beamed ceilings are low, the glass windows are leaded and thick, and a barmaid stokes the flames in a rustic, open fireplace.

Welcome to The Royal Oak at Wootton Rivers

The building is a 16th century thatched-roof free house

The Royal Oak holds a very special place in our hearts; Steve and I were married here eleven years ago, and we make sure to revisit publicans John and Rosa at least once per year. It was sheer luck that we stumbled upon it, as Wootton Rivers is off the beaten path. While on our way to visit the pre-historic stone circle that surrounds the village of Avebury, we saw a hand-painted wooden sign along the A4 that said "Good pub food, next left." We decided to give it a try and found ourselves on a winding narrow road remniscent of Appalachia.

The entrance oozes olde world charm

You couldn't ask for a more picturesque setting for a wedding, so when we learned that they were not only licensed for weddings but also had charming bed & breakfast accomodation on premises, we were sold. We rented the entire B&B for our wedding party and it exceeded expectations on all counts: the rooms were cheerfully decorated and cozy, the country kitchen and modern bathroom facilities were of a high standard, and the breakfast was top-notch.

A sunny dining room

The well-stocked bar

An inviting log fire greets visitors during winter months

Wedding celebrations aside, the pub is a central figure in the daily life of those living in and around the village; farm hands in Wellies come in for a pint and a game of darts, posh-accented couples sip wine in the dining room, and ramblers stop by for lunch while their sad-eyed spaniels rest at their feet. There is a reason The Royal Oak has broad appeal across the classes: the homemade food is utterly fantastic.

Nearly everything on the menu is sourced locally, and each meal is executed with great care and attention. The descriptions do not do these dishes justice, but hopefully the photos will.

There are four vegetarian selections on The Royal Oak's impressive menu:
1. Stilton and vegetable bake w/ mixed salad
2. Homemade ratatouille topped w/ toasted brie and a mixed salad
3. Baked halloumie and mozzarella with chargrilled vegetables and mixes salad
4. Homemade country vegetable pie with salad and a choice of potatoes

At one time or another I have tried them all, and the consistancy of the kitchen is flawless. This time around I opted for the country vegetable pie, which is prepared with thick chunks of carrot, potato, swede, cauliflower and spices incased in a flaky filo-pastry. This simple, rustic meal was perfectly executed and tasted divine.

A mixed salad of field greens, sliced fruit & veg and homemade potato salad

The country vegetable pie with a side of chips

Inside it's a piping hot vegetable bonanza

The pub is what is known as a free house, which means that it is independently owned and operated, rather than owned by a brewery chain. In theory a free house can stock whatever brands it chooses from whichever breweries it chooses. You'll find an excellent selection of local cask beers at The Royal Oak, as well as a thoughtfully chosen selection of wines, after dinner drinks and spirits. If you are driving, however, it's probably best to stick to a selection from the sweets board.

The Sweets Board lists the day's desserts

Homemade brownie in chocolate sauce with vanilla bean ice cream

Orange sorbet is a refreshing finish

Stonehenge may be the most famous location in the county, but no trip to Wiltshire is complete without a visit to the bucolic village of Wootton Rivers, and while you're there, stop into the Royal Oak. You'll be glad you did.

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