At the Beehive in Berkshire, chef-proprietor Dominic Chapman is cooking hearty yet light British food. Lee Williams went to visit
Set next to a cricket green in a leafy village in Berkshire, you don't get more quintessentially British than the Beehive pub and restaurant, which makes it a fitting location for the classic British cooking of new chef-proprietor Dominic Chapman. Dishes like smoked salmon and prawn cocktail; calf's liver with mashed potato; and apple, quince and plum crumble are dotted about the menu.
Chapman previously ran the nearby Royal Oak, Paley Street, for Michael Parkinson and his family, where he was head chef for seven-and-a-half years and won a Michelin star.
Before that he ran the Hinds Head in Bray for Heston Blumenthal, following periods at the Fat Duck and Rowley Leigh's Kensington Place.
The chef took over the Beehive in August and the philosophy he has brought with him is a solid continuation of the British cooking he has inherited and developed over his career.
"The food philosophy is the philosophy I've always followed," says Chapman, "great ingredients cooked with loads and loads of love and passionately following the seasons."
Old favourites sprinkle the menu, such as the trifle he cooked for last year's Great British Menu as well as his classic Scotch eggs, a dish that has been with him for 10 years. But there are new dishes as well, such as slow-cooked ox cheeks with truffle macaroni and curly kale
(£21.95). These meltingly tender pieces of meat are glazed in a rich soy, honey and red wine sauce along with their own braising juices and sit on a creamy, cheesy but surprisingly light macaroni base.
Another new addition is roast Cornish cod with Morteau sausage cassoulet (£17.95). Here butter beans cooked with Morteau sausage in the classic cassoulet style are lifted by the addition of a beautiful, light fillet of cod served with fried garlic crumbs.
Taking hearty, warming comfort foods and giving them a surprisingly light twist is perhaps Chapman's speciality, a skill that is showcased perfectly in another new dish, a cauliflower cheese soup starter (£6.50). "It's basically cauliflower cheese," he says, "but frothed up with a little knob of butter so it's got a light, kind of cappuccino finish."
Taking over a pub that is already established and well-loved is providing another challenge. It means that some of Chapman's more stellar
ambitions for the menu have to be tempered and balanced by the more down-to-earth tastes of the clientele. This is best illustrated by the fact that fish and chips - fried Cornish haddock with mushy peas and tartare sauce (£14.50) - is still the best-selling item.
Rather than fighting this, Chapman is down-to-earth enough to know that pub classics are an essential part of the menu and - perhaps even more importantly - something to be passionate about. "I'm very proud to be serving fish and chips," he says, "it's a classic, but every element of that dish has had a lot of care."
It's an attitude that also extends to Sunday roasts. "Sunday lunch is vital," says Chapman. "It's a huge part of what we do. And if I go to a pub for Sunday lunch, I want traditional Sunday lunch. I'm not into Sunday roasts with courgettes and peppers - that's not for me."
The other side of this delicate balancing act is trying to push the pub forward and achieve Chapman's culinary ambitions. "My dream was to have a fish-focused restaurant," he says.
That might take a while because you can't just turn up somewhere and expect everyone to agree with what you want to do straight away.
Meat sells better than fish at the moment," he adds with a shrug.
After just six months, Chapman's ultimate vision for the Beehive might still be a long way away but for the moment he is enjoying the
journey. "It's living the dream," he says. "Running a business is a huge learning curve, but that's the whole point of it. You don't want to
get tired and stale; you want to keep pushing yourself - it keeps the passion in your belly."
From the menu
- Rosary goat's cheese and beetroot tart with apple, dandelion and walnuts £6.95
- Linguine of Cornish crab with chilli, lemon and mint £9.95/£16.95
- Chicken liver and foie gras parfait with fig chutney and toasted sourdough £9.95
- Roast partridge, chipolatas, game chips, bread sauce and gravy £23
- Rabbit and bacon pie, mashed potato and curly kale £16.50
- Slow-cooked ox cheeks, truffle macaroni, curly kale and braising juices £21.95
- Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice-cream £6.50
- Holyport Scouts chocolate pudding £6.95 (50p donated to the Holyport Scout Hut Fund)
Waltham Road, White Waltham,
Berkshire SL6 3SH