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Pub review: The Royal Oak is everything you’d expect from a country pub

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Recently, I had the pleasure of dining at The Royal Oak in North Woodchester; not once but twice! More on that later.

It’s a freehouse pub with landlord Niall McInernry at the helm. Niall has an unforgettable accent and a twinkle in his eye. Once owner of the Crown Inn in Minchinhampton and the Halfway House in Box, he’s been running The Royal Oak since 2016, saving this historic pub from the clutches of a developer. 

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The Royal Oak

The pub, which dates back to the 1700s, is hidden away up a residential lane in the village, which is made up of pretty Cotswold stone buildings. The brown heritage sign on the A46 and Selsley Common, are a helpful guide to finding the pub. Niall took on the pub long before the upheaval of the pandemic, but the team have adapted their menu and customer service experience by giving their patrons more of what they want. I’ll explain why in a moment. 

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Faye Hatcher

When arranging the review, Niall wanted me to experience both their Sunday lunch and a la carte menu, which is served on Fridays and Saturday; each offering something very different. I know what you’re thinking, “tough gig”! So let’s begin with Sunday lunch. My family and I booked a table for 12:30pm and when we arrived, the bar was already full of drinkers and every table was booked (around 30 covers).

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We were greeted by welcoming staff, a warm ambience and an impressive open fire. The pub is essentially just two rooms, adorned with rugby memorabilia. It feels cosy and intimate and if you were a tourist wanting a quintessentially English pub, you’d think you’d struck gold stumbling across The Royal Oak. The clientele was made up of locals, families and a few blow-ins. 

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Trish Cooper is Operation Manager at The Royal Oak and is super efficient; like a swan gliding across the restaurant’s flag stone floor. Trish took her time explaining everything on the menu, and for somebody like me who likes to weigh up all my options, Trish’s detailed explainer was very welcomed. She knew everything about the menu and stressed all sauces and gravies are made from scratch on the premises.

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Trish is superb at what she does and front of house. She reminded me of all the great women I worked with, when I used to work in pubs and restaurants as a teenager; getting the best out of her staff, and training the next generation of hospitality workers. 

You know when you’re onto a winner when you like every single choice on the menu, but eventually my daughter and I decided on Sunday roast with all the trimmings, and a side of cauliflower in a mornay sauce. My husband had the veggie option; a pumpkin loaf.

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There’s something very theatrical about your meat being carved in front of you on an antique Parisian hostess trolley. The trolley is a real talking point. Niall inherited it from his father, who was also a chef. He did his best to discourage Niall from working in kitchens, but alas, it was his destiny. It’s a trade that’s taken Niall all over the world, and notably The Savoy Hotel; bringing a multitude of influences and styles to his menu. 

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Sunday lunch was just exquisite, with generous portions of everything. And to dessert. Again, I could have picked every single item on the menu, but opted for a vegan sticky toffee pudding with cream. This is no world of a lie, but this was the best STP I have had in my life! Delicious, refined and plentiful. 

I returned to The Royal Oak the following Friday evening with my good friend Chris and her little dog Oreo. Dogs are welcome, but not during Sunday service. Again, the pub was full of drinkers, diners and a great atmosphere. It did have more of a locals feel, with staff and punters chatting to one another like old friends. 

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Earlier I mentioned Niall and his team meeting the demands of their local community during covid times. After service, Niall sat down to talk to me at our table about how the pub had responded to a changing world, where habits and rituals have changed ever-so-slightly post pandemic. And so the pub introduced a take-away menu. It’s clear this is a pub that really cares about its customers; it listens to what people want, and if needed, hand delivers food to elderly customers who can’t get out.

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As a lifelong real ale drinker, it was good to see a local brewery on tap. Top marks! Trish was back again to take our order and I don’t know how many times I can get away with saying this, but there wasn’t anything on the menu I didn’t like the sound of! For starters, Chris and I ordered a tempura cauliflower florets with a tomato, basil and oregano dip and breaded butterfly prawns with a chili dip. For the main event; baked cod on a bed of spinach with a chive and butter sauce, and escalope of pork with lemon and capers sauce. I am a big fan of sauce with my meal, and this is clearly a chef who knows what he’s doing. It was another fantastic meal, and a very different menu from the Sunday, hence why Niall wanted me to dine twice. 

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The Royal Oak is everything you’d expect from a country pub. From the food to the customer experience; it delivers in abundance. Niall and Trish are a brilliant mix of characters and you feel like you’re in extremely good hands with them. Before even writing this article, I’d already recommended The Royal Oak five times to various friends and families, and we will definitely be going back again soon to dine once more.

My top tip: Booking is essential.

To find out more about the pub, visit the website: https://royaloakwoodchester.co.uk

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