He may have established himself as a consultant last year, but Clive Dixon was quickly drawn back to the hotplate in January when an opportunity to become the chef-patron of the White Oak in the picturesque village of Cookham, Berkshire, arose. He talks to Amanda Afiya about his menu offering
With a career behind him including a Michelin star at the Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, and more recently head chef posts at Heston Blumenthal's the Hinds Head and Pierre Koffmann's eponymous eaterie, it was going to take something special to persuade Clive Dixon to put down roots at a particular restaurant.
After leaving Koffmann's, Dixon set up his own consultancy working with five-star hotels in the USA and India, but when a chance to become a chef-patron on his doorstep came up, he just couldn't say no.
The White Oak in Cookham was the second pub-restaurant in a group of three owned by pub entrepreneurs Henry and Katherine Cripps. "I have known Henry socially for some years," Dixon told Caterer and Hotelkeeper at the time of his appointment, "and since I live in the area and know his restaurants very well, I decided to do it."
From the outset it was clear that both he and Henry "were on the same wavelength", says Dixon, who heads up a brigade of "five or six" for the 90-seat restaurant. "Between us we have a lot of experience and share similar views on our trade, so it's proving a good partnership."
While he has equity in the White Oak, Dixon is not involved in the running of the pub-restaurant's sister operations - the Greene Oak in Windsor and the Three Oaks in Gerrards Cross. However, as some of the staff previously worked for him, there is regular contact between the three kitchens.
The food at the White Oak sits well with the bright and breezy decor of the bar and dining room, which benefits from a wealth of natural light. While the property meets the definition of a pub with a bar, offering locals and passers-by just drink or a bar snack if that's all that's required, the food served in the dining area is very much at the top of its game.
With a menu offering seven starters, seven mains (including various burgers and cuts of steak) and six desserts, Dixon delivers thoughtful food with vibrant colours and bold flavours. "The cooking of my dishes varies so much in technique and process depending on the product," says Dixon, who puts quality first and a desire to source locally second.
He points to two dishes on the à la carte - twice-cooked blade of beef (a dish that he has been serving since 1994, having been encouraged to try the particular cut by Midlands-based butcher Peter Allen) and hay-smoked collar of pork (brined, smoked over hay and then cooked long and low, making it incredibly succulent) - as particular favourites.
Alongside the à la carte is a "menu auberge" inspired by the many meals Dixon has enjoyed in France. At two courses for £10 and £15 for three, it's a real bargain. A recent menu (offering a choice of three each of starters, mains and desserts) included fish soup, rouille, Gruyère, sippets or chicken livers, chorizo and fried egg on toast as starters, chargrilled pork cutlet, café de Paris butter, new potatoes or salad or ham, guinea fowl and chicken pasty, spring greens, mushroom sauce for mains, and strawberry Eton mess or poached peaches, honey and wine, vanilla ice-cream for dessert.
"I've loved my meals in auberges in France over the years," Dixon says. "I particularly liked the fact that the menu had little or no choice and was always great value for money. The products and cuts used may be cheaper, but the work and care for the dishes is no less, and our customers have been amazed by the price."
The White Oak
The Pound, Cookham, Berkshire SL6 9QE
Sample dishes from the menu
Hay-cooked ham, poached egg salad, Montgomery Cheddar £8
Bang bang chicken salad, sesame dressing, chilli, cucumber and coriander £7
Bowl of clams and cockles, cooked in white wine and garlic £9
Pan-fried skate, beurre noisette, cauliflower purée, capers, triple-cooked chips £17
Fillet of Cornish lamb, ratatouille vegetables, sweetbreads, confit potatoes, olive jus £18
Wagyu beef cheeseburger, house brioche muffin, pickles, Cheddar and salad £16
Macerated summer fruits, vanilla ice-cream, sugar pastry £7
Strawberry trifle, lavender custard, crushed meringue £6
Hot brioche doughnuts, raspberry purée, vanilla sauce £6