Helen Browning’s Royal Oak
Homespun charm, yummy, wholesome food and dreamy rooms to overnight in, there is NOTHING not to like here!
In the middle of bucolic English countryside, but so close to Swindon you wouldn’t believe it! The village of Bishopstone is IDYLLIC and feels like a throwback to the days of Trollope with its ribbons of church-owned farms running through it. Helen Browning’s Royal Oak is bang in the middle of one of them (and the village) and the pub is informed by the farm with home-grown produce including its own mozzarella and ricotta!
There are no stand-offish, gastro pub airs and graces at the Royal Oak (though it would probably beat the competition hands down if it was thrown into a gastro-pub face-off). The vibe is properly welcoming, so much so that it feels like you’re visiting a (slightly eccentric) family friend rather than a pub – everyone is welcome – kids, dogs, muddy boots, muddy stilettos…
The interiors are relaxed but also surprisingly hip considering you’re a long way from Shoreditch. But, indeed, the reclaimed red-velvet cinema seats, funky décor with mis-matched retro furniture and vinyl, record-playing corners are straight out of hipster, east London but without any added pretensions. It’s all real here and authenticity seeps out of every eye-catching corner.
SCOFF & QUAFF
When Muddy arrived on a sunny afternoon, we were seated in the garden (cue more charming, pre-loved tables and chairs with lots of lose-yourself nooks and crannies) and told we were going to be fed. No menus. Apparently, this isn’t an unusual happening and personally Muddy Wilts ed Joanna and I were excited to go with the flow.
First up was cute espresso cups of gazpacho, red chilli & anchovies, and rosemary foccaccio. Yum! The veg in the soup tasted as fresh as if it had just been picked that morning – and it probably had.
Appetites were whetted for what was to come next. Which was an array of salads, including rice, avocado, lime and herbs served with salmon, cauliflower, chickpea, orange, dill & walnut salad, and a rare roast beef salad with parmesan & truffle oil that was incredible. It was all incredible actually and we were fully sated with no need for pudding. If we’d had space though, on that day the rhubarb, strawberry & crème patissiere galette was calling to Joanna while I would have happily face-planted in a ricotta & chocolate chip tart.
Not only is the Royal Oak a superlatively good, it’s also definitely worth checking in for an overnighter for not only are the 12 rooms gorgeous (and quirky, our favourite combo), you’ll get a better opportunity to really drink in the atmosphere of the place which is wholesome and hospitable and somehow makes you feel like you’ve landed on holiday in France or Italy thanks to its chilled-out Mediterranean vibe. It’s the kind of place you can really kick back and recharge your batteries. And the full English breakfast made with ingredients from the farm sounds amazing!
There’s always something a bit different going on here, from the annual International Pig Race to yoga classes, gin parties and classic car days. And who knows what else? There’s something unpredictable about the Royal Oak which is a recipe for a good time I reckon.
I should say so, I mean they do farm tours in a ten-seater red Land Rover – what kid wouldn’t love that! And the staff are so hospitable they welcome everyone as if they’re family – so off you go mudlets, enjoy yourself while I nurse this G&T…
OUT & ABOUT
I reckon hanging out on the farm, strolling around the village, walking The Ridgeway and generally whiling your time away should in a state of utter relaxation should be the order of the day here, but if you do hanker after a day out, you’re very near Swindon with its steam museum and the amazing Cotswold Water Park with all its splashtastic fun. There’s also Roves Farm if you’ve caught the farm bug and Jungle Parc Swindon for a twist on the theme.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone who likes to feel at home in their public houses, lovers of deftly cooked wholesome food and a relaxed vibe, and those in search of something a bit different.
Not for: The Royal Oak is all about providing a hospitable, non-elitist welcome, so diners in search of a something more formal might want to look elsewhere.
The damage: Pretty reasonable with starters around £7, salads and sandwiches between £9 and £10, mains not more than £16 and puddings £7. There’s also a rather fine cheeseboard offering, which includes a mouth-watering selection of everything from Crozier Blue sheep’s milk cheese to Godminster vintage cheddar.