Clive Dixon at The White Oak in Cookham – restaurant review

Cookham is an iconic and quintessentially English village near enough to London to be accessible even for lunch or dinner but far enough away to present the diner with a sense of charm and calm.

White OakThe area has been inhabited for thousands of years. There are several prehistoric burial mounds and Cookham is recorded in the Domesday Book as Cocheham where it is listed as having 32 villagers, 21 cottagers (in those days, rural labourers), 4 slaves, 2 mills, 2 fisheries, and woodland with 100 pigs. Part of the current Holy Trinity Church is the Lady Chapel, which was built in the late 12th century.

Perhaps the most celebrated of the locals was the artist Stanley Spencer who was born at Fernlea on Cookham High Street in 1891. He attended Slade School of Fine Art in London where he was given the nickname of ‘Cookham’ because of his habit of travelling home from London every day after class.

A writer much appreciated for his work featuring the tranquillity of the English landscape was Kenneth Grahame, who penned Wind in the Willows, published in 1908. He wrote the book at Herries School in Cookham Dean and as a child lived with his grandmother at ‘The Mount’.

Cookham is beautiful and it’s easy to see why it was voted Britain’s second richest village by The Daily Telegraph in 2011. I guess folks who are lucky enough to live around here can reasonably expect to have dining options to match their undoubtedly sophisticated palates. Clive Dixon restaurantThe White Oak provides just such a venue, but the dishes rely on freshness rather than foams and foodie frou-frous.

Clive Dixon was a chef at the age of 18, a head chef at 23 and Michelin Star chef a couple of years later. He held a Michelin star for four years in the late 1990s when he was head chef at Gloucestershire hotel Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds. He worked at Heston Blumenthal’s Hind’s Head pub in Bray, and as head chef at Pierre Koffmann’s restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel in London. Clive has now joined forces with owners of The White Oak, Henry and Katherine Cripps, who also own the Greene Oak and the Three Oaks. He had been running his own restaurant consultancy company for a while, working with five-star hotels in the USA and India, but he missed the domain of any passionate chef: the kitchen.

Clive Dixon’s The White Oak, previously Spencer’s, has recently been refurbished and now boasts a dining extension. It would have been easy for the designers to settle on a sham-country theme but they have instead presented a light, bright and charming restaurant that one can describe as French rustique. Think taupe and pale grey paintwork with nifty use of tongue-and-groove on the walls. Cool colours which give a nod to those across the Channel who still misguidedly consider themselves to be our culinary superiors. We have moved on, mes amis.

With Chef Clive Dixon’s pedigree one might expect plates full (or not so full) of gastronomic molecules, but he has used The White Oak as a showcase for his love of fresh produce and traditional dishes which he tweaks. The menu changes by the day and by the season, offering even regulars (and there are many) a chance to savour a new creation.

The bill of fare isn’t long but it’s appropriate, and reassuringly proportioned for the size of restaurant. Real food, and something for every taste. Lunchtime attracts families and there is plenty to tempt youngsters. That will be a source of relief to parents who have at last found a family-friendly restaurant that offers food that isn’t dumbed down for the kids, whose tastebuds we should be trying to educate and stimulate.

Clive Dixon burgerMy guest was tempted on this cold and wet day by The Auberge menu, available Monday to Saturday lunch and dinner. A bowl of hot and comforting Cauliflower Soup with a flotilla of gnocchi was the creamiest and most flavoursome of its genre. It was rich and hearty with that home-made quality that’s hard to replicate. So simple and confident.

Leek Risotto topped with poached egg and crisp potato was one of the main courses on the Augerge menu and that was a substantial serving of herby rice with plenty of finely shaved leeks. The potato gave a contrasting texture and added lots to this vibrant green risotto. The poached egg with flowing yellow yolk was delightful.

Manager Mo Hoffelner is dynamic and engaging, and happy to offer suggestions. She told me that day’s potato, wild garlic and cheese Ravioli was a must-try starter and it was indeed exceptional. The pasta was thin and delicate and liberally bathed in garlicky oil, with a crunchy crumb to finish the plate.

It’s good to see that burgers have been elevated to the status of acceptable food at the White Oak. A proper burger should have a place on every smart-casual menu. Fine chopped beef is still fine beef so let’s not be food snobs. This Scotch beef burger served on a brioche muffin was a striking plateful. Clive Dixon doughnuts(Now, American readers might be confused with regard to muffins. These brioche buns are made with a rich and buttery bread dough and are a form of English crumpet. Crumpets are something different in some corners of England, where they are a fried yeast batter, often described as a pikelet. Regular muffins in the US are a sort of English fairy cake which are now called cup cakes. Clear?) This burger was of the saucer-sized ilk and was moist and lightly seasoned. The sweetness of the bread was a counterpoint to the sharp pickles and the tang of the Gruyère cheese. This is a connoisseur’s burger and one to be savoured with a side order of chunky chips. I admit to adding a schmear of ketchup because, after all, food should be fun. I really was “luvin’ it”.

And talking of fun, that aforementioned brioche dough put in another appearance in the guise of hot brioche Doughnuts with raspberry purée and vanilla sauce. This must be a signature pud. One smiles at the prospect of mini doughnuts, and beams at the reality of a portion of Clive Dixon’s cloud-like puffs. He is a man who takes his food seriously but there is delicious humour here. His dishes are cooked with chef skill but those first-rate ingredients are never overworked or fiddled with. The White Oak is a destination restaurant at a very reasonable price.

White OakFood Served:
Monday – Friday
Lunch 12 noon to 2.30pm
Dinner 6.30pm to 9.30pm

Lunch 12 noon to 2.30pm
Dinner 6.30pm to 9.30pm

Dinner 12 noon to 3.30pm
Closed Sunday nights

Opening times
Monday – Friday
12 noon to 11pm

12 noon to 6pm
Closed Sunday nights

The White Oak
The Pound
Berkshire SL6 9QE
Phone: 01628 523 043
Fax: 01753 621 185

Visit The White Oak here


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018