There’s something very pleasing about the calm, welcoming atmosphere at The King Stag.
Scrubbed wooden tables, the floor with sanded boards and old black and white diamond tiles… the walls in tones of muted greens: there’s something very pleasing about the atmosphere at The King Stag – welcoming, calm and not styled to within an inch of its life. It feels genuine. Service is prompt, courteous and friendly.
The menu offers classic pub food – burger, steak, pork belly, chicken breast, lamb etc – but generally with a bit of a twist. A cut above the average, certainly. Having had our expectations raised, we refuse bread, and settle for taking the merest edge of our appetite with a dish of olives: nicely marinated and a good selection, varied in both size and shade.
Starters arrive swiftly: Smoked Salmon with Celeriac Remoulade and a Wholemeal Crouton for my companion; Trio of Warm Beets with Olive Tapenade, Beetroot Sorbet and Aged Balsamic Vinegar for me. Both dishes are prettily presented without being overfussy; both are well-constructed. The intent to do something different with simple ingredients is evident, and successful. The combination of the remoulade and the smoked salmon creates a great flavour and texture explosion on the tongue, while the sliced warmed beetroots – both golden and traditional purple – are deliciously enhanced by the salty tapenade, the rich Balsamic Vinegar and the sweet chill of the beetroot sorbet. I might have liked a slice of bread (shame I said no, earlier) to mop it all up with, but it’s a perfectly good, complete dish in its own right. I’m just sad not to get maximum enjoyment out of the juices left on the plate.
Main courses prove substantial: robust rather than pretty,but none the worse for that. In true pub tradition portions are generous and, in what we’re rapidly learning is King Stag tradition, very tasty. In front of me is Roasted Lamb Rump served with Wilted Spinach, Parmentier Potatoes, Bacon, Peas and Baby Gem Lettuce. The lamb is nicely pink, and fills the mouth with flavour; the bacon, pea and lettuce combo adds a clever touch of texture, and the Parmentier potatoes – not so rich as I had expected – bring a welcome balancing plainness.
Opposite, my guest is tucking into 32 day aged Scotch Sirloin with Handcut Chips, Creamed Spinach and a Rosemary and Peppercorn Butter. It’s wonderfully tender, which speaks of the quality of the meat, and the rosemary and peppercorn butter enriches without overwhelming it. It’s a dish that many a more sophisticated establishment would be pleased to serve.
My companion’s Creamed Spinach and my own Wilted Spinach are well-judged and moreish. In an age in which we’re constantly being reminded to eat our five – no, seven… no,nine – portions per day, it’s astonishing how many restaurants fail to take this on board, and so it’s extremely satisfying to find a kitchen capable of taking one vegetable and doing more than one thing with it. I am bizarrely pleased by this.
A trio of Jude’s icecreams – Very Vanilla, Stem Ginger and Salted Caramel – satisfies my guest, while I’m unable to resist the blandishment of Chilled Chocolate served with a Hazelnut Praline and Vanilla Icecream. The fondant is rich, but not cloying, and has a suitably bitter kick; a carefully assembled mouthful of all three components is a very good thing indeed.
Taking good quality ingredients, doing the least amount possible to them and serving them in imaginative combinations is the hallmark of a good restaurant. Ten out of ten to The King Stag for understanding this, and for putting the gastro into gastropub.