Is this the Chilterns’ best inn?
Very rare that I gush, but The Mash Inn is getting it with two barrels for its fantastic offering just over the border in the Chilterns.
This charming, higgledy-piggledy, 18th century red-brick inn in the rural hamlet of Bennett End (near Radnage, mid Bucks) was formerly known as The Three Horseshoes before being taken over by local boy turned seasoned London restaurateur Nick Mash two years ago. He’s managed to pull off quite the magic trick – creating a non-pretentious, deeply foodie and slickly run venture deep in the Chilterns countryside, with the added twist of all the food being cooked on an open fire. There’s an exclusive, special-occasion feel to this place – a vibe you can extend by having a sleepover on weekends, in one of the six attractive double-bedrooms in the main building and gardens.
You enter into a small bar, with cosy wooden seating, a log fire and heaps of character, before walking through to a more modern, Scandi-inspired dining area,with a huge prep table for chefs around to the right (you can’t call it a kitchen but that’s deliberate – there’s no sense of being ‘in’ the kitchen and customers being ‘out’ there, we’re all in it together). There are plenty of tables in the restaurant including a 16 seat whopper for big parties and for clement days there are large glass doors that lead out onto a lovely patio area, looking up to the hill on the right, and down into a dale in front of you.
It’s a grown-up feel – no under-16s are allowed – but what could make for a flat atmosphere elsewhere somehow creates a buzz here. I think that comes from the fun of the open fire cooking, the quality of the food but also the exceptional service. Nick Mash has charm oozing from every pore, but I tip my hat to maître d’ James Shaw – formerly at Tom Kerridge’s The Coach in Marlow. He’s a massive asset to The Mash Inn – incredibly knowledgeable about the food and its provenance (I got a great tip for a local sparkling wine five miles away that I didn’t even know existed) and helpful without tipping over into oily. The chef Jon Parry is also on hand to deliver food, chat to customers and make his presence felt. In short, it feels like an operation driven by teamwork and passion and that excitement rubs off on guests.
SCOFF & QUAFF
No point in having great service without incredible food and having eaten here twice now and tasted excellence both times, it’s a no brainer to send you here. It’s a restaurant rather than a pub so don’t pitch up expecting Sunday roast and sticky toffee pudding! There’s a set lunch menu from Weds – Fri (2 courses £22.50, 3 courses £25), a 4 course daily menu (£60) or a push-the-boat-out 10-course Tasting Menu (£80) with recommended wine flight (£90), with local provenance, originality and simplicity the order of the day.
I find tasting menus hard work sometimes so instead we opted for the daily menu. It’s not often I find myself gushing, but the whole meal was just a pleasure from top to toe. Exquisite snacks like Grilled Peas with Rapeseed Oil and Chapa Flatbreads with Fermented Wild Garlic Butter (above), and Smoked River Trout with Cucumber Ketchup and Snail Caviar from Chiltern Escargot, Mash Inn neighbours who are cultivating snails out on the terrace, led to the main event inside the restaurant.
We started with tomato consommé, all from the garden, Burnt Leek and Bog Butter hollandaise (butter buried and aged in the bog, literally!), hand-dived scallops cooked in the shell on coals, with pickled Romanesco stalk and garden sorrel. And then Aberdeen Angus Cote de Boeuf with Duck Fat Chips and Bonemarrow, with pickled walnut ketchup and anchovy mayonnaise, which was utterly, totally, melt-in-the-mouth divine.
Local cheeses from Marlow, Little Wittenham, Nettlebed, with honeycomb from Wargrave, with wines from Harrow & Hope (Marlow), Dinton Folley (Dinton) plus the organic Matetic EQ Syrah 2014 from Chile (well, it can’t all be local!), made this the most special of meals.
The Mash Inn is only available for sleepovers on the weekend, but unless you’re super-local I’d recommend you take the option. There are four rooms above the restaurant itself and two in the garden (where I stayed). Over winter you may want to stay in the main building – Room 2 has the biggest bed just so you know! – but for summer the garden rooms are ideal though be aware that they are adjoining so there’s a sense of slightly less privacy. Fairly compact, but well-appointed with king-size Hypnos bed, free-standing bath, or ensuite shower and L:A Bruket beauty products. There are plans to build more garden cabins in the spring, so I’ll let you know when that happens.
A simple breakfast of croissants, jams, house granola and coffee was delivered to the room, and we sat out on the terrace feeling very smug at our child-free night and morning.
OUT & ABOUT
Bennett End and Radnage are small, attractive hamlets but there’s nothing to hold you here. Put on your walking boots and have a good stride out into the Chiltern hills to really appreciate your surroundings. If you’re coming from further afield and want to explore the local area, you’re a 20 minute drive from the National Trust’s Hughenden Manor (Disraeli’s former home), roughly the same to Marlow with its lovely high street and river walks, and around 30 minutes from Amersham and its feast of indie shops (particularly good for fashion btw).
Good for: Super foodies, discerning boutiquey-searchers, romantics desperate for a night away, special occasioners – you can hire out the whole place for 32 guests.
Not for: Casual drop-ins, families with kids under 16. Anyone feeling the urge eat here early in the week – it’s only open Weds to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
£££: Set lunch menus are good value at £22.50 for 2 courses and £25 for 3 courses, but with the 4 course daily menu or Tasting menu between £60-80 before you drink anything, it’s on the expensive side. Although I would argue it’s value for money.
The Mash Inn, Horseshoe Road, Bennett End, Radnage, Buckinghamshire HP14 4EB. Tel: 01494 482440.
Words: Hero Brown
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