Review: The Beetle & Wedge Boathouse
"The star of the show is the service"
Positioned, as it is, directly overlooking the Thames in the sleepy village of Moulsford, The Beetle & Wedge would have to be doing something seriously wrong to not provide a gorgeous location for a few early evening drinks, given the right weather.
A stone’s throw from the Berkshire border and directly on the Thames Path, picnic-style benches adorn the riverside frontage and well-heeled Henley types sip prosecco and bathe in their good fortune.
Given its singular location, it would be all too easy for The Boathouse to rest on its laurels. On a warm Friday evening most of us, myself included, would rather tolerate a less than exceptional meal in a stunning locale bathed in sunlight than nibble on the loftiest haute cuisine in a claustrophobic, underlit gastropub with which we are all too familiar in the more rural parts of the Home Counties.
As soon as your first course arrives, it’s quite evident that the Beetle’s proverbial laurels remain decidedly unrested on. Head chef Bruce Buchan has cooked at a wealth of venues across the UK and Europe during his career and his experience is evident in the combinations he presents on the old-school laminated menus. Seafood features heavily – just across the starters there are grilled scallops, smoked salmon, cracked crab and devilled mackerel, the words seducing my appetite like a glorious nautical fever dream.
I may have a predilection for fish and shellfish bordering on the psychotic, but the Beetle & Wedge sear the best foie gras I’ve ever tasted – sometimes one has to make sacrifices, no matter how heart-rending they may be. The goose liver is just firm enough on the outside to give it some bite whilst remaining dizzyingly smooth and unctuous on the inside. Red onion marmalade provides thick sweetness and half a grilled peach lets you trick yourself into thinking that you’re doing your health some good in the process. If you prefer your bird-based dishes less creamy and more crispy, go for the duck, which arrives with plum sauce and a risotto cake laced with ginger, in another one-two punch of sharp and sweet.
The main course allowed me back into my maritime status quo with wild Cornish sea bass fillet; delicate, crisped skin giving way to the white, flaky flesh exactly how it should. The centrepiece is adorned with seared squid and a duet of Spanish cecina – soft Serrano ham and thick, smoky chorizo. Glorious. A wild mushroom, truffle oil and parmesan linguine didn’t fare so well – given its pungent lineup of constituent materials I expected a far more hefty, savoury kick from one of the two vegetarian options that was offered that evening, but the rest is so good that I won’t shake my fist for too long.
One of the Beetle & Wedge’s quirks is an addendum at the bottom of the menu - “rosti potato is served with all main courses”. Which begs the question: why? I like grated and fried potatoes as much as anyone else with functioning glutamate receptors, and having kitchen staff slice and serve the intimidating carbohydrate slab at your table is a pleasant touch of personal service, but it also comes across as a fairly simplistic way to beef up serving sizes with a one-side-fits-all attitude. “Would you like rosti potato with that?” If I had ordered bratwurst, sure, but it often just doesn’t make any sense.
The final course brings the levels back in great fashion - crème brûlée is spot on and their strawberry and mint sponge mousse is indulgent and refreshing in equal measure. The real star of the show, though, is the service – the waiters and front of house are attentive, charming and faultlessly polite, with flair usually seen at far more expensive establishments. It’s easy to be enticed by the idea of a glass of fizz on the waterfront, but in this case, you’d be a fool to neglect what’s inside the building.
Seafood, foie gras, top-notch service, more rosti potato than you’ve ever seen before
Don’t go for:
A wide variety of veggie dishes