I know what you’re thinking right now and that’s because I thought EXACTLY the same…”Christmas in October? You’ve got to be kidding me”! I laughed when I received the email from The Baskerville, a quaint country pub based in Shiplake because I just couldn’t believe the Christmas chat had begun so early! I was being invited to trial a Christmas dinner along with around 12 other local writers, journalists and bloggers, and after seeing the menu and being told there would be an endless supply of roast potatoes, I couldn’t wait!
Winding through the roads of the local villages between Wokingham and Shiplake makes for quite a nice drive. I found myself imagining owning one of the dreamy country cottages by the river with a gloriously big and pretty garden and a summer house to match. Singletrack sandstone bridges, cobbled streets, country pubs and cafes galore…one day maybe!
The Baskerville, a red-brick 1930’s building, nestled in Shiplake a few miles away from historical Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire is one of those pubs that as you soon as you arrive you just know it’s going to be unpretentious, relaxed and classically British. Warm red painted walls, exposed beams, rustic furniture, twinkly lights and leather armchairs mean it feels cosy on the inside, and out.
Before we sat down at one big dining table which was festively decorated with crackers, candles, holly wreaths and all the trimmings, we were handed a glass of sparkling wine from local producer Fairmile Vineyard. It meant all the guests could mingle, chat and occasionally match a face to a twitter handle, which is quite fun! Jacqui from Bitten Oxford, who I’ve followed on Twitter for a while, is as lovely in real life as she is online and I was very impressed with her decision to embrace the Christmas spirit with a bright red Christmas jumper.
The Baskerville has been in the Hannah family for over 15 years and is run by Mum and son team, Kevin and Kate. Kate originally ran the pub with her late-husband Allan, and Kevin started managing the pub in 2012. Having relocated first from Scotland, then Boston Spa in North Yorkshire (wahey!) it means Kevin’s Scottish accent has, rather unusually, the odd Yorkshire twang! It was certainly a good talking point.
I sat opposite Kate at dinner and after the initial small-talk, I found myself chatting to her about all sorts and ended up having such a nice afternoon. I realised pretty soon in that whilst this was a press event, it felt very… Christmassy! Heart-warming, cosy and happy. Hands down, one of the nicest press invites I’ve had the luck of being invited to.
Kevin and his Mum are very much the hands-on type and you can tell from the way they speak about the pub, the local community and the events they host that this is their absolute passion and dream. They care so much about people having a good time and it really shows.
Working behind The Baskerville bar is Kevin’s “window to the world”, giving him the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe. When asked what his favourite thing is about life at The Baskerville his answer was “the people”.
When we stepped out of the car and before we’d even reached The Baskerville’s front door I could smell food cooking. Gravy, roast potatoes, stuffing…it was heavenly and I remember looking at Steve with an impatient “hurry up, let’s go” kind of stare. I was starving and fully ready for a good roast dinner because essentially that’s what a Christmas dinner is right? A fancy Sunday roast? Either way, Sunday roasts are a big deal, Christmas dinners even more so.
For Steve, I chose the smoked parsnip and apple soup which was served with local Lawlor’s crusty bread and for myself, I ordered the honey-roasted figs which was served with goats cheese and walnuts. We swapped and tasted a little of each others and gave a nod and a smile meaning we both approved. The figs were deliciously baked and the goat’s cheese was creamy and smooth. It was a generous portion and I loved the combination of sweet and savoury flavours and think that figs and cheese complement each other so well.
The soup was equally as nice and I remember thinking that the pairing of parsnips with apples seemed to intensify the sweetness of the apples, making it very satisfying and incredibly moreish.
Oh, our food was all pre-ordered by the way. I’m not the type to usually choose Steve’s food for him. But after 10 years together I’m pretty sure I know what he likes, and what he doesn’t. 😉
Christmas dinner absolutely does not need to be about the turkey and when you’re looking for a meat-free alternative the classic nut-roast can be the perfect solution.
The Baskerville’s nut roast isn’t anything like the dire 80’s creations you may be thinking of though, it’s completely the opposite and was totally different to what I imagined it to be like. Served on a cinnamon-infused white sauce the Baskie nut-roast had a satisfying, creamy texture, which was complemented wonderfully by a juicy cranberry sauce delicately balanced on top. With a rich, nutty taste you would hope for, the Baskerville head-chef confirmed it was crammed full with cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios, along with herbs, quinoa, and onions.
On the side, I had a bowl of Christmas veggies (with sprouts, of course) and a stack of roast potatoes, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside along with our own little pot of vegetarian gravy.
Veggie gravy, done well, can be just as good as the meaty version!
A vegetarian Christmas dinner of dreams!
Choosing a dessert is never an easy task. I ordered two different desserts with a plan to share them both – win-win! We went for the Apple and Cranberry crumble and the Cranberry Creme Brulee.
As I’m writing this I’ve realised that every course we ate included cranberries! Not that I’m complaining mind, they’re the perfect Christmas fruit.
Both desserts we delicious but ultimately we couldn’t fault the crumble and the portion size was huge!
And we didn’t finish there either. No Christmas dinner would be complete with a mince pie, or two! Served warm and fresh, it was hard to resist.
The Baskerville is a beautiful country pub and should be visited at any time of year, not just at Christmas. Menu’s change seasonally, and the pub champions local produce, all of which are sourced from local suppliers. We stayed way longer than we’d planned to and bid a fond farewell to our new friends knowing that whilst this may have been our first visit to The Baskerville, it wouldn’t be our last.
This experience was gifted in exchange for a review but as usual, all opinions and words are honest and all photos belong to Hello Cuppies.