Dom Robinson has settled into cooking food influenced by quality ingredients and his French classical background within a very British environment. Giovanna Grossi reports
"Running a pub makes financial sense in the current climate," says Robinson, who acquired the Blackbird with his wife Marliz in August 2017. Originally dating back to the 17th century, it was rebuilt after a fire in the 19th century. The Robinsons opened for business last October, following a refurbishment with a vintage feel. Family heirlooms and interesting pieces that the couple have picked up from flea markets help to create a relaxed atmosphere.
Robinson heads the kitchen, while Marliz works front of house (a graphic designer by trade, she designed the Blackbird logo). Both are ably assisted by teams of two, while opening hours are restricted to nine shifts a week - ensuring consistency is maintained and regulars see the same friendly faces whichever day they choose to visit.
le Robinson's vision is for "a classic British pub that is very much part of the community", the menu he offers is very much influenced by a French cooking background. He started his career working for Max Fischer at Fischer's Baslow Hall in Baslow, Derbyshire, before going on to undertake stints with a plethora of renowned chefs, including Anthony Demetre, Adam Byatt and Tom Aikens (he was head chef at Aikens' flagship Chelsea restaurant for three years).
Robinson also spent a couple of seasons as a private chef in France, as well as working in Australia and Dubai, where he picked up some of the Asian influences that feature in some of his dishes.
Robinson is a purist, who is focused on cooking with quality ingredients. "I'm not into fermenting, chemicals or modern techniques. I believe in carrying on classical recipes and am very much an advocate of proper cooking."
It's a style of cooking loved by customers and critics alike; the Blackbird is fully booked on the five days it is open (Wednesday to Sunday). The Sunday Times's Marina O'Loughlin described eating the food "with a kind of dazed pleasure", which has particularly helped put the Blackbird on the culinary map by attracting diners from neighbouring counties as well as London. "Social media and reviews are extremely helpful to get the word out," he says.
A 6/6/6 Á la carte accompanies a menu du jour at £19 for two courses or £24 for three. Pork comes from the free-range pigs at Forest Coalpit Farm, Wales, and beef from local supplier Vicars Game. During an extended Sunday lunchtime service till 3:30pm, two roasts are available.
A current favourite dish for Robinson is the foie gras starter, featuring a poaching liquid produced from chicken consommé, Sauternes and cream alongside confit onions, Alsace bacon, balsamic vinegar, parsley and haricot beans. It is a dish he first cooked when working for Aikens. He says: "It epitomises everything that makes a perfect dish - sweet, sour, salty and fat. I'd never be so bold as to talk about one of my own dishes in those terms, but I'd go as far as to say the flavours are majestic in this dish, and I get a real kick out of cooking it every time."
The wine list is keenly priced and boasts approximately 50 bins with the Verre de Vin preservation system, allowing for more than 20 options to be served by the glass.
t the Blackbird has kept to its roots as a pub; there is room to just have a drink - something the locals are particularly keen to do. "On a Friday most of the village congregates between 5pm and 7:30pm, which is fantastic," says Robinson. "The pub is both child- and dog-friendly and - particularly on a Saturday and a Sunday afternoon - people walking their dogs locally will often pop in for a drink."
So, what's next? "We hope to develop the land we have to the rear," says Robinson, who is keen to accommodate the extra customers expected during the summer months.
From the menu
Starters •Marinated scallops, pink grapefruit, sesame, coriander £11 •Roast and poached foie gras, haricot beans, ventrèche Alsace £12 •Truffled buffalo ricotta, honey-roast celeriac, pine nuts £9
â¢ Roast lamb, glazed sweetbread, polenta, courgettes, black olives £24 •British Lop pork belly, mashed potato, choucroute, Cox's orange £22
â¢ Poached halibut, creamed leeks, sauce Véronique £25
â¢ Rhum Baba, salt caramel mousse, rum 'n' raisin ice-cream £8
â¢ Rooibos crème brÁ»lée, rosemary sable, mandarin sorbet £8
The Blackbird Restaurant and Public House, Bagnor, Berkshire RG20 8AQwww.theblackbird.co.uk
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