The Gileses have significant experience in hospitality which they brought to the struggling Butlers Arms pub near Four Oaks some years ago. It’s a proper family affair. Landlord Chris, with his head chef wife Paula, along with sous chef son Dan and front of house manager daughter Becky, have turned around the fortunes of what was once a struggling suburban pub. Suburban it may be, pedestrian it is not, and its idiosyncrasies have built the business in to one where hordes of diners turn up on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening for their three course for £14.50 special. I’d advise you book, whenever you plan to go.
We always try to be transparent with our reviews so note that we’re friends with The Gileses. However if I thought any word of our praise was untrue I wouldn’t be writing them up, and none of the stuff we’re writing about was a freebie.
The decor is not your typical local boozer. You may find yourself sat on a 50s leatherette hair drying bench, complete with driers, overlooked by the bust of a smartly dressed ram, and a multi-coloured flamingo. Don’t think this is ill thought out maximalist guesswork from an unskilled hoarder, it is fanciful and fun design by experienced eyes. The sharp eyed amongst you will find plenty of other objet d’art that amuses.
While the decor may be a little off the wall, the cookery is classic. We’ve been on a number of occasions, for celebration dinners, a cheese and wine night with The Guardian’s Fiona Beckett, a charity black tie event, Sunday lunch, and dinner with friends to cheer up a dreary mid-week. It really does get very busy, unsurprisingly given the quality and price point. The venue often holds special events and hosts other chefs such as Masterchef’s Stacie Stewart, Nathan Eades from Simpsons, and Romy Gill. You can sign-up to their mailing list here to keep up to date.
Chris and Paula often have weekends away to the coast, London, and other interesting cities, visiting the best eateries the UK has to offer. They bring a little of that inspiration back with them. While Paula is most definitely the boss in the kitchen, Chris does take some hand in the food, including producing their own charcuterie, pickled eggs, and he’s in charge of the million Christmas puddings they make each year. He keeps a wonderful cellar, and their wine list is full of interesting accessibly priced bottles. I loved the “Cabaret Frank” Cabernet Franc red we had with our beef Sunday lunch, and I struggle to think of many other venues that could offer this quirky Californian for less than twenty quid. Their back bar is also varied offering lots of curios including, sometimes, home infused gins.
The menu here is typical classic European cookery. On a Sunday you can take the roast lunch as we did, or something from the normal menu. My beef was medium-rare and plentiful, and the roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding were crisp. While I thoroughly enjoyed my beef, I had major food envy for my friend’s twice cooked pork belly with black pudding, which was thick and succulent looking, with a crispy crackling top. Unsurprisingly provenance is important here, they have great relationships with suppliers including Packington Farm who provide that amazing pork. The pork terrine to start was delicious served with toasted brioche and piccalilli, and it makes my mouth water to think of my crispy pork belly salad starter.
It’s not all about the meat, for starters we also had the crisp whitebait, and a plate of their own smoked fish. I’ve had the hake dish, with baby pan roast potatoes and chorizo, a couple of times and it’s a perfect light dinner with firm white fish coated with spicy chorizo oil. The smoked haddock dish with a light curry sauce is also delicious.
I’m not big on puddings, but we had an awesome espresso ice cream that kept me awake till Tuesday, a fudgy chocolate brownie, and comforting sticky toffee pudding with custard.
Their three course Sunday lunch is £15.95, and a normal three course dinner on non offer nights will cost around £20 to £25. Given how busy it gets I can hardly describe it as undiscovered, but it is a bit of a local’s secret, which you’ve now been let in on.
Thanks to The Gileses for their wonderful hospitality, long may it continue.
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Butlers Arms in FourOaks review