Eating Out review: Another Oakman success story on our doorstep as Polecat proves an instant hit
The Oakman Inns pub restaurant operator started from small beginnings but it seems there is no limit to its success.
The company has become famous for rescuing old buildings and establishments and breathing new life into them both aesthetically and literally.
From humble beginnings at the Akeman in Tring, Peter Borg-Neal's company continues to lovingly and expertly restore, rejuvenate and reinvent venues across the Home Counties and beyond.
Oakman's portfolio of venues has grown to 25.
The latest of which is The Polecat Inn at Prestwood in Bucks.
Following a substantial investment Prestwood’s village pub led by new general manager, Damien Hughes, re-opened its doors over Easter.
And this place is a real treat on the eyes, blending in seamlessly with the backdrop of the Chilterns.
Not only is it believed to be the only pub named The Polecat in the UK, the building itself is unique.
The original pub building has been sympathetically restored and meets with a copper-clad extension that would have Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame salivating.
The network of original bars with their cosy fires have been retained and redecorated with a modern twist and plenty of comfortable seating while, upstairs, the Ladies’ ‘Powder Room’, with its large, circular velvet seat and sumptuous design, is becoming a real talking point.
We were lucky enough to visit when the weather was pleasant and the outdoor area was abuzz with people enjoying after work drinks or celebratory meals with friends and family.
The extension is brilliantly done. The 65 seat restaurant with glass outside ‘walls’ and sliding doors opening onto the landscaped terrace makes for a wonderful setting.
As is a trademark of Oakman venues there is the open theatre-style kitchen, clad in local flint - a tribute to a traditional craft, used in a contemporary way.
From their seats, diners can watch craftsmanship in the kitchen as The Polecat’s head chef, James Norie and his team prepare their food.
Ah yes. The food.
Some restaurants, particularly those still finding their feet after an overhaul, look great but fail to back it up when it comes to service and the quality of the food.
There was no evidence of that at The Polecat, though.
Quite to the contrary. Service was attentive, knowledgeable and not intrusive.
And the food was superb from start to finish. Anyone who has been to an Oakman before will be familiar with the menu and the Mediterranean influence.
There is a wide range of choice to suit all tastes.
But you won't go far wrong with the haloumi chips - served with a deliciously spicy sauce - or the mozzarella di buffala bruschetta which has been prepared in the Polecat's Josper-grill before being drenched in garlic and basil and marinated in marzanino tomatoes.
If you're sharing a starter the antipasto misto is the go-to dish. There is something for everyone on here with prosciutto, Napoli salami, marinated stone-in olives, mozzarella, bruschetta, friarielli, Josper-grilled peppers, courgettes and sourdough with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
It is plenty for two but depending on your appetite could even serve three so generous are the portions.
The specials at The Polecat should be your first port of call. We almost overlooked what turned out to be the star dish of our meal the steak with king prawns, a triumph.
If you're plenty hungry the 12-hour roasted pork belly won't disappoint. Succulent British pork belly slow-roasted in cider, finished in the Josper oven and served with mashed potato, apple puree, broccoli, carrots, crackling and gravy.
Another dish that is great value for money is the chicken milanese. Fried oregano and panko crumbed chicken breast, Josper-grilled peppers, courgettes, arrabbiata sauce, mozzarella, gem lettuce and rocket make for a vibrant plate and a hearty main.
If it is something lighter or vegetarian you are after the salads and pasta dishes again offer something for all tastes. We went with the ravioli di zucca which features summer squash filled ravioli, squash butter, toasted pumpkin seeds and rocket.
If you have room the dessert menu is a veritable feast and the portions are sizeable. From panna cotta to white chocolate cheesecake, brownie, apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding there are no bad choices to be made here.
The overall experience at The Polecat is memorable for all the right reasons. You will want to visit again and again. And there is something about the place you could close your eyes and be in the south of France (weather permitting of course!).
It is yet another success story for Oakman Inns and word of mouth is already ensuring it keeps busy so book ahead to avoid disappointment.
And in true Oakman style they are already giving back to the local community.
The Polecat is the start and finish for the ScannaRide 100 on July 14th in aid of the Bucks’ MRI ‘Scannappeal’. To find out more visit the Scannappeal website.