Orwells | Binfield Heath (UK)

Wonderfully modern, ego-less food, without distracting, trendy ingredients or techniques.
Orwells has clearly reached that star level!

Housed within an old 18th Century pub building, located in rural Shiplake, Binfield Heath (UK), just 5 minutes away from Henley-on-Thames, we find Orwells. The restaurant was named after the author George Orwell, who lived in the Oxfordshire village as a child. It still has that country pub atmosphere with characteristic wooden beams and oak floor, but boasts a contemporary feel.

Orwells opened in May 2010 when chef/proprietors Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman, partners both in and out of the kitchen, and then in their late 20s. They left their previous employ the Goose in nearby Britwell Salome, over a row about the ambition level of the food, just three weeks after earning their first Michelin star. The former Goose is now a perfectly decent pub-with-food called The Red Lion. 
Liam had trained at Winteringham Fields, Ryan at Troisgros, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire before returning to the UK and working at Winteringham Fields and The Elephant.

Orwells is open for lunch on Wednesday to Sunday and for dinner on Wednesday to Saturday. Beside the à la carte, they offer a Set Lunch Menu (2-courses at £30 and 3-courses at £35) and a Sunday Lunch Menu (2-courses at £35 and 3-courses at £40). They also offer a Taste the Season Menu with 10 courses (at £90) and a 5-course version (at £65).
It was very refreshing to see “Service not included” on the menu, as I am not a fan of the way voluntary service charge is just added to the bill without asking and basically abused by most restaurants in the UK. To me it’s very customer unfriendly and not done.

We had lunch two weeks ago and had the Taste the Season Menu. After enjoying a gin & tonic in the garden and soaking up the nice countryside view, we went inside to have our lunch.

The Orwells Cheddar Ploughman”s

First to arrive was this ever so light ploughman’s. Capturing the taste of a ploughman’s to a T. Great start this delightful amuse bouche. By the way when you serve this as an amuse bouche, don’t count it as a course in the menu. Feels a bit cheeky.

French Breakfast Radishes

Some fresh radishes came with the ploughman’s. Liked the onion compote with charcoal. Interesting twist and taste.

Chicken – Exmoor Caviar – Kaffir Lime

Juicy chicken with a great crunchy crust, beautiful saltiness from the caviar and a clever flavour uplift by a touch of kaffir lime. A bowl of these in front of the telly would do me any day! Just one bite each is on the small side to call it a dish. Would call it an amuse bouche. But utterly delicious!

Cornish Hand Dived Scallop – Bajan Spice – Green Strawberries

Perfect scallop. The green strawberries delivered fresh sweetness and the spice jus was absolutely fabulous! Maybe if the jus was a crème instead, it would just add a bit of comfort and pleasing mouthfeel. But very delicious.

Bread & Butter

The homemade bread came with a sample of the 34 year old mother-yeast used to make the lovely sourdough bread. One for the white bread and the other for the dark bread. Nice to see this extra bit of attention to the quality ingredients used at Orwells.

The butter had a bit of honey on it. Bit of a twist on the normal salted butter, but it works.

Lodge Fram Asparagus
heritage yolk – wild garlic – pickled onion – charcoal

Asparagus with the wild garlic, the egg yolk and the crème underneath, all blended together perfectly. The charcoal makes it stand out even more and almost makes this vegetarian dish taste meaty. A very clever dish which tickles the senses.

Cod – Dashi – Sea Kale – Finger Lime

Another perfect blend of flavours and tastes. Love the finger lime on the cod. The sea kale is a bit out of place when tasted separately, but goes well with the cod. Love the subtle Asian spice in the dish, which leaves a very nice aftertaste as well.

Norfolk Quail
curry sweetcorn – hen of the woods

The quail was beautifully cooked, just pinkish. Has been a while since I tasted hen of the woods. I love the robust flavour of these mushrooms (bit like morels). The jus was high on seasoning. Some people will find it too salty. The curry was so nice with the quail, with a little sweetness from the corn and a bit of crunch as well. What a delightful dish!

Lobster – Tomato – Elderflower

Lobster was very nice, but somewhat overpowered by the tomatoes. Would do less tomatoes and maybe roast them to add a bit of sweetness. Still an enjoyable dish, but the least favourite so far.

Spiced Cotswold Lamb
borlotti beans – pea – asparagus

The generous piece of lamb tasted lovely but was a bit chewy. The small pieces of braised lamb were excellent. Loved the pea puree with still a bit of bite to it, but the beans were a bit too hard. Overall nice and comforting taste and flavour. Good dish but no wow factor.

Mill Lane Honey – Sorrel – Yoghurt – Oats

The sorrel sorbet was so fresh and full of flavour. A little bit of honey on top gave it just the right level of sweetness. The oats added crunch and the yoghurt some bitterness. Perfectly balanced dish. Nice palette cleanser too.

Rhubarb & Custard
pistachio – ginger – white chocolate

A delicate merengue sphere with custard and rhubarb underneath, smooth rhubarb sorbet on top, crunchy pistachio bits and little blobs of ginger jelly. Perfect harmony again!

After the dessert we got the lightest strawberry & cream macarons and lovely passion fruit pastilles, but forgot to takes a picture of those…..

The service is just as good as the food. The staff were very friendly and helpful with great attention to detail when serving. Only three staff handling front of house, but great service in a very comfortable, well paced, way.

After such a harmonious, clever and balance menu, it’s obvious that Orwells has two gifted chefs with an excellent knowledge and understanding of ingredients and flavours, resulting in simple and pure dishes with uncomplicated but sophisticated flavours. Wonderfully modern, ego-less food, without distracting, trendy ingredients or techniques.
I’m surprised Michelin hasn’t awarded the restaurant with a star yet, as Orwells has clearly reached that star level. This restaurant is definitely worth a visit, even a special trip and I do need the recipe of those chicken bites!