The Mash Inn
Horseshoe Rd, Bennett End, Radnage
It doesn’t start well. ‘Would you like to see the kitchen?’ we’re asked as we’re led to our table at The Mash Inn, a serious restaurant hidden within the cosy eaves of a higgledy-piggledly red brick Home Counties pub. Um, no, we’d like to see lunch.
Anyway, this particular kitchen stars a vast, cast-iron grill, with lots of smouldering embers, sizzling fat and enough wheels and racks to titillate even the most exacting of medieval torturers. The dining room wears a discreetly expensive hue, all muted pastel paints and artfully bare wooden tables and chairs. Decent prints too. While the view is sublime, all pretty duck ponds, soaring red kites and softly undulating valleys. Service is immaculate, with James, the hirsute GM, as clued up as he is charming.
The Mash Inn. The dining room wears a discreetly expensive hue, all muted pastel paints and artfully bare wooden tables and chair
There’s no à la carte, rather daily or tasting menu. And for once, the tasting menu actually appeals, written in fashionably terse prose, all ‘Burrata and Cardoon’ or ‘Burnt Leek and Bog Butter.’ But first, a ‘snack’. A shimmeringly fresh, still opaque, scallop ceviche, properly seasoned and sharp with yuzu. It’s so clean and pure that it doesn’t just amuse the bouche, but gets those taste buds tumescent too.
Smoked romanesco soup is more espuma than old-fashioned potage, but captures the essence of that punkish cauliflower and has tiny cubes (top knife skills) of tart Bramley apple, and a bosky dusting of dried venison. The technique may be cheffy, but there’s nothing poncy about the flavours. Charred, chewy, buttery flatbread, slathered with fermented garlic, mops up any fugitive smears. Laverstoke burrata comes with home-grown and pickled cardoons, with a grating of local black truffle. What seems initially messy and incongruous turns out to be anything but, a wintery dish with the delicate scent of spring. That pickle adds exquisite bite, proof of a kitchen that understands the subtle art of acidity. As well as knowing when to let loose. And when to hold back. Head chef Jon Parry has just returned from Japan, and his travels are writ bold across his food. That yuzu with the scallop; and a piece of smoky, grilled Severn and Wye eel with English wasabi on a tapioca crisp. It’s magnificent, the skin crisp and caramelised, the flesh despotically rich and blissfully sweet. A small glass of dashi broth has a slyly inauthentic chilli kick.
Next, a lollipop of delicately battered quail, with sprouting broccoli kimchi, and a Renegade Monk blue cheese sauce. Sweet Jesus. What could resemble an Anglo-Korean bar brawl turns swiftly into a multicultural love-in. There’s salty, stinky and hot, all vying loudly for your attention. But just when things get too brutal, the flavours retreat, and all meld into a joyously concupiscent harmony.
Sea urchin, with its heady mixture of purity and filth, is piled atop another tapioca crisp, with blobs of spiced prune purée. It’s one-bite delight. Burnt leek is drenched in hollandaise, the sauce flavoured with something dank and fermented, like a body buried in a peat bog. What starts off slightly worrying ends with a grin. Those strange depths accentuate the sweetness of the allium.
Aberdeen Angus Côte de Boeuf. At The Mash Inn, high art meets base pleasure. A roving palate, with technique and talent to match
Cod and samphire has an Indian accent, a whisper of turmeric, the immaculately cooked fish sat beneath a pile of cod floss. While wagyu, properly rested and sliced across the grain, sit on a splodge of celeriac purée, piqued by the merest hint of superior quality Sichuan pepper. France, by way of Chengdu.
Puddings are decent, but not quite up to what came before. Because this is one of the most thrilling and original lunches I’ve eaten in months. Parry’s character and travels are indelibly etched into each dish. High art meets base pleasure. A roving palate, with technique and talent to match. Parry is a seriously exciting chef, and The Mash Inn is just smashing.
Tasting menu: £80