Sometimes I feel obliged to try the worst sounding item on a menu. It’s an instinctive impulse to satisfy my curiosity that happened recently at The Orange Tree, a smart pub in the affluent village of Chadwick End. A tandori chicken burger with advocado, raita, and mango chutney, rounded off with a bucket of fries. What? Why?! My first thought was that perhaps this was the closest the villagers would get to a kebab shop offering and that the evenings bell for last round would see a rush of boat shoes to the bar, all drooling at the thought of satisfying their grease quota for the night. My second thought was wow, this sounds atrocious, I must try it.
Try it I did and low and behold, it was tasty stuff. Quite why it worked, I’m not so sure, though there was an element of gourmet kebab shop to it. The chicken moist and with good flavour of both bird and spice, the bun soft and the raita a natural accompaniment to the heat from the whole chilli that lurked unannounced underneath the breast. The mango chutney was mercifully served on the side, as its cloying sweetness really had no place on the plate. That aside, this was a quirky, fun, main course.
And so to the rest of The Orange Tree, which is part of a small chain in equally well-to-do areas. Its light and cosy, with the names of game species hanging from the white washed walls, as if to reinforce the rural spot it sits in. There is a fine wine list, a good selection of ales and some truly horrific lagers on tap. The staff are unobtrusive, if a little stretched at times.
I plumped for a starter of pulled pork chilli with nachos, sweet corn sour cream and guacamole. The meat was tender and spicy, yet swamped by the flavour of the chilli to the point that it was unrecognisable as pork. Not that I am bemoaning this, it was flavoursome, the nachos were grease free and the portion was huge. Many a man could get lost in this over an afternoon and several pints. Another starter was wisely shared between three as the portion was again massive. It was a mezze, Moroccan in style and with too many elements to list before I fall to sleep at the keyboard. It was all declared delicious, in particular the salsa dotted with pomegranate seeds and watermelon. A salad with beetroot, feta, and carrot was all earth and salt. The accompanying flat breads left the plate useless to the dish washer.
I knew the pasta dish would defeat it us before it reached the table. It was a generous portion that could have been visible from space. Within the mound of bucatini was fennel sausage, pine nuts, and goats cheese, with a good amount of red pepper pesto to provide moisture. It was as satisfying and comforting as a hug from your mother. It was also way too much food, as was the roast beef with traditional trimmings. The meat perfectly pink and from a good beast, hiding some very good roasties. There was a thick gravy and carrots thankfully boiled past al dente. There were also some green veg served separately. There had to be. Because there is no way that huge pile of food would be enough to fill one person alone.
Somehow room was found for desserts. A brown sugar meringue that was chewy in all the right spots was paired with rose water cream and pistachios. It was impressive in the way that we wanted to try and recreate it at home, though knew that we could never quite manage. It was this course that also saw the only duff dish of the day. A coupe, or sundae, call it what you will, should be a sum of its parts: Good quality ice cream, some crunch, a good quality sauce or syrup, all so that every spoonful feels different. Here it was coffee ice cream with a dusting of amoretti crumbs, bashed beyond the point of any textural recognition.
Once I was rolled out of the dining area and into the car, I stopped for recollection during the journey home. I really enjoyed The Orange Tree. The food is well sourced and equally well cooked. It’s at a fair price point for seriously big plates of food. The portions here may get the back up of those who hate waste, but those should go to enjoy a main course and leave feeling wonderfully replete. It’s a great place in a great location. The locals have it lucky.