We’ve had a bit of an up and down relationship with the Village Gate. We went there en famille (and we’re a grande famille, trust me) for my Mum’s birthday last year and had an excellent time. The place is absolutely gorgeous: a typical village pub revamped in a really clever, stylish way. The menu was great – creative and varied, the service fast and friendly and the food was as good as the menu promised.
So when we got an email through offering a table on New Year’s Eve for £30 a head we jumped at the chance and booked. The whole evening was a bit of disappointment, to be honest. Even though the restaurant was relatively quiet it took 45 minutes for our starters to come out (by which time we’d already finished one bottle of wine and frankly, were a bit past caring about the food), and then waited nearly as long for mains which were a bit disappointing. My sea bass was okay, but the tiny portion was full of bones and the crab crust made it difficult to catch them before you put them in your mouth, resulting in a bit of embarrassing hiding behind the napkin and fishing them out.
The desserts were disappointing too and to add insult to injury, we were charged £35 a head, not the promised £30. I emailed several times afterwards but never received a response.
But then, just when we’d given up hope, a new General Manager appeared on the scene. He’d read our email, he said, and would we please come back for a meal ‘on the house’ so he could show us what the restaurant could really do? ‘Too right’, we said, leaping at the chance in an ungainly fashion.
And I’m happy to report that John (who is lovely, and very passionate about his food) has totally turned the place around. For one, it was packed (always a good sign), not just with diners but with people just in for a drink, giving the place a delightful background burble of happy conversation and chinking glasses. The menu is still fabulous – the Death Wish Dude and his dad were delighted to discover that the whitebait was still on the menu – and I was happy to see that John tries hard to source a lot of his produce locally (obviously not the whitebait, unless they came from the Grand Union Canal…). They also have creative gluten-free options.
My starter of bubble and squeak was topped with a perfectly poached egg and some delicious crispy pancetta, and was smothered in creamy hollandaise. It was absolutely massive, but that didn’t stop me polishing off the whole thing. The whitebait, I am assured, was delicious too.
For our mains, the Death Wish Dude and English Dad went for 28 day dry-aged Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks which were cooked perfectly to order and were melt-in-the-mouth tender. The Prof went for beer-battered North Sea haddock, generously served with nice fat chips and a creamy pea and mint purée. All yummy. I went for the slow-roasted pork belly with a sweet potato dauphinoise, parsnip crisps and apple sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with tender flesh that pulled away in gorgeous flakes and an amazingly crisp crackling. Top drawer.
We were really a bit stuffed for the desserts, but the boys managed to force down a few of the ice cream flavours. All in all, we were delighted, and although we only paid for the drinks, we agreed that we would happily have paid for the whole lot. The service was friendly and attentive and John was around to give advice on the compact but very interesting wine list. We’ll definitely be back. Maybe even en famille. Brace yourself, John.
The Village Gate is in the beautiful Chiltern village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. If you pop in, tell them English Mum sent you. Thanks to John and his staff.