A year after reopening, the Bottle & Glass Inn in Binfield Heath is attracting diners from near and far for its outstanding food, whilst keeping the locals very happy, finds Jessica Jonzen
I last visited the Bottle & Glass in the year 2000 as an Archers and lemonade-sipping 18-year-old. My abiding memory of it was that Tom Rowlands, one half of The Chemical Brothers (one of my favourite bands at the time), was on the next table drinking a pint of Brakspear. Not what you’d expect in a small village pub just outside Henley-on-Thames, but then everyone loves a country pub – even superstar DJs.
Or at least they did. Despite some starry clientele, the Bottle & Glass closed in 2013, a casualty of the countrywide desertion of the local pub in favour of three-for-two supermarket offers. The Grade II-listed building stood empty for over three years, a sad relic of an era when pubs were the beating heart of village life.
But things are changing, as restaurateurs and publicans alike spot an opportunity to breathe life back into rural communities, offering superb food as well as a welcoming bar. New owners David Holliday and Alex Sergeant reopened the pub in April 2017, rebranded as The Bottle & Glass Inn. The former managers of London’s only Michelin-star pub, The Harwood Arms in Fulham, where they met in 2008, the duo spent £250,000 furnishing and fitting out the pub after its 18-month restoration.
Whilst the restaurant is becoming known as the local go-to place for Sunday lunch, I decided to visit on a Friday night with my great friend, Harriet Reed-Ryan, who runs the Henley Literary Festival. When I arrived, Harriet was already propping up the bar chatting to people she knew from the village, and the general hubbub of gossip, pints being pulled and glasses filled assured me that the heart of the Bottle & Glass had been resuscitated.
The cosy, welcoming bar with its fireside nooks and wizened beams remains a buzzing hub for locals, and offers a tempting menu of bar snacks. The double-height extension to the rear, meanwhile, houses an elegant restaurant that seats 70, which is garnering accolades and glittering reviews. Black and white country prints by photographer Jake Eastham line the walls, and oak tables and mismatched refurbished chairs all add to the character so it feels connected to the original part of the pub.
Our meal began with oven-warm malted bread with a golden tablet of salted butter – truly, is there anything better than this? The menu is, naturally, seasonal and local as much as possible. Harriet opted for the elegant cured Cornish mackerel with salt-baked beetroot, horseradish and dill, whilst I chose the barbecued Roscoff onions. Served with onion purée and aptly named Lancashire bomb cheese, this has become the pub’s signature dish and has never been off the menu. Sweet and unctuous, the cheese lends bite whilst the smokiness from the barbecue elevates it to sublime levels. I wanted seconds.
Our appetites whetted, the arrival of the main courses was perfectly timed. Harriet had chosen the Cornish cod with roasted cauliflower, samphire and smoked mayonnaise, whilst I ordered the braised Herefordshire ox cheek. So tender it cut like butter, parsnips, chestnuts and sprout tops rounded it out to make it a truly outstanding dish that I didn’t want to end.
The marinated blood oranges with cream cheese, white chocolate and blood orange sorbet for pudding was a delight, and the dark chocolate mousse with salted peanuts and milk ice cream was perfectly balanced.
The service throughout our meal was outstanding, and it was great to see families, couples and friends catching up in a familiar but special environment.
With the restaurant now serving breakfast, and with summer upon us, I think we can safely say that David Holliday and Alex Sergeant have put the heart and soul back into this quiet Oxfordshire village.
Images: © Jake Eastham