High-quality, ingredient-led pub food is the aim of Nick and Mary Galer in Berkshire. Chris Gamm paid a visit
The King and the Miller of Mansfield, a medieval ballad, tells the story of a miller who gives a bed for the night to a stranger travelling to Nottingham. Over dinner, the miller tells the stranger they're eating one of King Henry II's deer, poached from Sherwood Forest. The following day, the miller discovers the stranger is the king himself. Rather than being punished for theft, though, the miller is knighted for his hospitality. The tale concludes with the miller journeying from Mansfield to Westminster to receive his knighthood.
Nick and Mary Galer's journey to the Miller of Mansfield – an 18th-century coaching inn in Goring-on-Thames that takes its name from the ballad – involved four years in French hotels and nine years in pubs across Berkshire and Oxfordshire, with Mary front of house and Nick in the kitchen.
Nick credits two particular roles for shaping his vision for the high-quality, ingredient-led pub food he has delivered at the Miller of Mansfield since taking on the lease in April 2014. The first was working as a sous chef at the Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, under Michelin-starred Matthew Tomkinson. "Matthew was a Roux Scholar, and I learned about refinement, care for food and the process of putting a dish together," says Nick.
The second was as opening head chef of Heston Blumenthal's the Crown in Bray. "I was exposed to some of the best food in the country and learned so much working alongside people like Jonny Lake and Ashley Palmer-Watts."
In a move away from Blumenthal's interpretation of British pub classics, the Galers set out to deliver a more refined offer at the Miller of Mansfield. Much like the miller of the ballad, it begins with the sourcing of impeccable produce, though far more reputably.
"It starts with a high-quality piece of protein or vegetable from a really good supplier, understanding that particular product and developing the dish around it; thinking about texture and hitting all the flavour senses, so your brain tells you a dish is really nice," Nick explains.
A hogget dish currently on the menu is a great example of the kitchen's ethos: it's just a few elements on the plate, but there's a great deal of thought behind them. "It's a play on a Moroccan lamb tagine," says Nick, "with a lovely piece of hogget served pink, a braised lamb shoulder and turmeric samosa, spring cabbage, sheep's milk yogurt and a tomato vinaigrette that ties the various elements together."
He believes quality is more important than proximity when sourcing. "Where something's good enough, we'll use a local supplier, but if we're charging £32 for a steak, we need to go for quality rather than something within 20 miles for the sake of it," he says.
The restaurant's beef comes from the Himalayan salt chambers of Thatcham Butchers in Newbury, lamb from Devizes in Wiltshire, and bacon from Irish butcher O'Shea's. Local suppliers include Beechwood Eggs in Hampstead Norreys and Nettlebed Creamery in Henley-on-Thames. And right on the doorstep, nettles, which feature in the wild nettle gnocchi, are picked by the pub's kitchen porter from the banks of the nearby Thames.
Seasonal dishes make up two-thirds of the menu. The rest are crowd favourites, such as poached pheasant egg, salmon tartare, brown butter and homemade sourdough crumpet.
Creating ingredients like the crumpet from scratch are as much about developing the skills of the team as dish quality. "From breads to macaroons, we make as much as we can in-house," Nick says. "I want to point the team in the right direction so when they leave me, they do so with these skills."
Ensuring the business reflects its roots in the 18th century is also important to the Galers. They removed the fancy wallpaper and black gloss floor favoured by the previous owner and renamed the 13 bedrooms above the restaurant after prominent towns from the miller's journey to Westminster, including Plumtree, Arnold and Millington.
"The business needs to be a marriage of the local area, the building and our skillset," Nick says. "I'm not a hippie, but we're on a journey. People were in this building long before us and will be long after. For the time we're here, we've just got to make it as great as we can."
From the menu
- Glazed miso mackerel, sorrel granita £9
- Wild garlic and ricotta tortellini, garden peas, asparagus, wild garlic pesto £9
- Creedy Carver chicken terrine, gold potato, foie gras, wildflower honey, garden fennel cracker £10.50
- Grilled sea bream, sea greens, crispy potato, salty fingers, tartare sauce £23
- Poached Cornish plaice, spring onion, dill pickle, chicken butter sauce £22.50
- 35-day-aged salt chamber beef, beer cabbage, white onion purée, beef-fat chips, bearnaise tuile £32.50
- Cherry soup, crème fraîche, panna cotta, pistachio £9.50
- Glazed and roasted pineapple, golden raisin, pink peppercorn, milk ice-cream £9
- Rhubarb and custard, ginger granola, Marmite meringue, rhubarb sorbet £9
Miller of Mansfield, High Street, Goring, Reading, Berkshire RG8 9AW
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