If you are one of those people who love nothing more than to sit in a country pub in front of a roaring fire, working your way through the weekend papers while you also work your way through the selection of well-kept ales at the bar, then the Crab and Boar is the place for you.
Located in – well, the middle of nowhere really, being within sight (but not sound) of the M4 in Berkshire and a few miles from the nearest village, Chieveley – the Crab and Boar is a classic country pub; thatched roof, comfy sofas, good food, a massive beer garden, but with unexpected treats – such as hot tubs in most of the rooms.
When we stayed there the weather was a classically British wintery day – howling gales, pouring rain, grey skies – but that didn’t stop other guests spending the afternoon in their personal outdoor jacuzzis as the covering umbrellas flapped in the wind, while the barstaff were kept busy with room service deliveries of champagne and ice buckets (it has been called one of the most romantic pubs in the country).
Our room, on the upper floor of the bedroom block just next door to the pub, didn’t have a hot tub but given the weather, that was no hardship – we bagged the sofa next to the fire and didn’t move all afternoon except to get another drink at the bar.
Built in the 1600s, the pub was originally known as the Blue Boar, the name apparently due to Oliver Cromwell staying here one night in 1644 and leaving a statue of a wild boar behind. It’s not clear where it is now – although there is a stuffed boar’s head in the restaurant – but either way the story is now commemorated in the new name, the pub having until recently been a seafood restaurant called The Crab at Chieveley.
Now part of the Epicurean Collection, the Crab and Boar might be a relaxing place to spend a weekend but it takes its food very seriously indeed. The bar snacks menu alone is far removed from the standard choice of crisps and peanuts, offering instead oysters, prawns, boquerones and wild boar salami, but also some classic English comfort food dishes such as fish finger and roast beef sandwiches.
Dinner in the dark but cosy restaurant was a delight, even if we got off to a slightly rocky start by having been giving the wrong menu and therefore choosing dishes that weren’t available. Once we’d sorted that out we piled first into the hearty and warming lobster soup and then the rump and shoulder of lamb, beautifully pink and with cavello nero, artichoke and anchovy on the side.
The desserts, from rhubarb and custard to plum souffle and chocolate cremosa, were tempting but the cheese board won me over, with some delicious local cheeses such as Barkham Blue and White Nancy goat’s cheese. There was a good selection of wines by the bottle and the glass and we retired upstairs to our room feeling very content.
The room itself was the perfect place to hide away on a wild and blustery night, with a cosy sheepskin run, warm blankets, wooden floor and decorated in a simple, almost Scandinavian style.
Breakfast the next day was very pleasant, from the friendly sign on the blackboard to the cheerful and efficient staff. There were cereals, cold meats, yoghurts and pastries for people to help themselves to, and hearty cooked breakfasts were also available.
There are several attractions nearby, such as the Newbury races, the real-life Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle and the pleasant town of Wantage. However the beauty of the Crab and Boar is that you don’t actually have to go anywhere. While on a sunny afternoon I’m sure the spacious beer garden will be the place to be, there was something rather delightful about spending a cold winter’s night here and I would highly recommend a visit (whether or not the hot tubs are available).
Crab and Boar, Wantage Rd, Chieveley, Berkshire