The kitchen calendar is often littered with rushed handwritten squiggles saying things like ‘mum bday’ or ‘dad party’. There’s those set dates in stone like Mother’s Day or Easter Sunday, often accompanied by ‘meal @ 4pm’ or ‘Steve visiting’.
We appreciate that not everyone is in such a position to agree with the above statements. Loss, family divisions and work circumstances mean these cannot be afforded to everybody. Which means those of us who can enjoy them should - they cannot be taken for granted.
Even a low-key family birthday can be a great occasion. On this instance, one wet and windy Thursday evening, four generations of one family descended on The Oakley Arms in Brewood to celebrate.
It’s quite a rare thing to have four generations out together eating, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. And this beautiful venue certainly helped to blow away the cobwebs and forget about office strife and tiredness that would normally blight your midweek evenings.
The Oakley Arms’ location is gorgeous. Sat just to the west of Brewood - a stunning village in its own right - it lounges out in a rural setting, surrounded by trees that shut off the outside world and offer a tranquil haven to fill your belly with good food and liquid accompaniments.
The venue is vast and sectioned, meaning you can either have a pub-like feel wrapped around a table by an open fire near the entrance, sit around large round tables near to the bar for quick drinks refills, or be tucked away in the large extended dining section to the back which offers gorgeous views.
The views are due to the large plot of land the venue sits on, and the windows of this area look out over a lovely enlarged pond complete with ‘duck island’ in the middle. You can walk around it for a pre- or post-meal stroll. And there is also a large patio area from which to soak up the sun and down a few drinks or indulge in a three-course meal on long summer evenings.
Unfortunately, al fresco dining was so far from the memory at this time of the year - the weather was horrendous. Instead, we just wanted to cosy up inside and be kept warm and dry.
We were placed in the extended dining area. Handed a well-sized table for the six of us, it offered enough space for a high chair so the youngest member of our family - just eight months old - could join us properly and see what was going on rather than be shoehorned onto a corner of the table and everyone being in each other’s way. This is so important to a parent and worth remembering when looking for a venue to book for your family do.
The staff were really good with us on arrival. We rolled up in three separate groups and drinks orders were taken as each arrived rather than the first lot being left to twiddle their thumbs waiting for the others to arrive. We appreciated that.
Catch-ups completed and general conversation on the go, food was ordered and we were ready to enjoy the celebration.
To start with I had the whitebait, which came in light batter with an ample helping of tartar sauce in a large ramekin. The batter around the small fish was crisp and light, and the whitebait was full of flavour without being too salty. When the dish first arrived I worried it might be a little too much for one person before a main course, but I was proved wrong. Its moreish flavours and the lightness of each fish meant there was plenty of room for more.
The four generations of the family included my partner, our son, her mother - the birthday girl - and her grandparents. The celebrator chose the chicken liver pâté which came with plum and ginger chutney and granary toast. She really enjoyed the pâté with its thick texture and wholesome flavour. The chutney added a fizz to the flavours and the granary toast was crispy - although, as often with venues, she thought some more bread could have been provided to match the size of the pâté.
My partner plumped for the spicy chipolatas which came with their own sweet-tinged sauce to dip into and create an explosion of flavour on your tastebuds. These were gorgeous. They were cooked perfectly and the meat was good quality.
Only three of us had chosen a starter, so the future grandparents-in-law joined the dining experience for the main courses.
Both myself and the birthday girl had the 8oz ribeye steaks, complete with peppercorn sauce, grilled tomato, mushroom and chips. We both really liked the meat - mine cooked at medium and hers medium-well. There wasn’t too much fat on the meat and they were juicy and cut easily. Our special guest is a huge fan of a certain chain of steak restaurants, and compares each other she tastes to their standards. The kind words she had for the steak here said a lot - she doesn’t offer praise lightly.
A special word for the chips, too, which dipped in the peppercorn sauce were wonderful. They had just the right amount of fluff in the filling and crisp around the edge to please fans of both type of chips. While most prefer chunky chips full of filling, I have always been a ‘fry man’ who favours the crunchy option. These had both, meaning all palates could be satisfied.
My partner had the steak burger topped with grilled bacon and Cheddar cheese, served with coleslaw and chips. She absolutely loved this “juicy, meaty” patty and thought the cheese added a lot of flavour and texture being “tangy” and “smooth”.
It was a big burger, pretty hard to defeat. But she gave it her best shot as she didn’t feel it should be wasted and came pretty close.
Her grandmother had the steak and ale suet pudding with buttered greens and mash. Her high praise was simple. “This might be the best pie I’ve had” she beamed. She thought the meat was plentiful - another failure of many venues looking to cut costs. She was also a big fan of the creamy mash.
Her husband had the deep fried cod in beer batter with chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce. This could have been a shark for all we know, the thing was huge. The crunchy batter added an extra gold star to the fish, which was easy to cut without capitulating around your fork and full of flavour. Another dish that was highly praised.
The baby had been enjoying everything going on around him and snacking on his own provisions throughout. Well, when he wasn’t pinching salad and other accompaniments to our dishes, gladly offered as a sacrifice to keep him calm and happy.
We wanted to leave dessert decisions until late on in case he was ready to go. But the friendly staff had kept him involved by chatting to him whenever they brought dishes out and it kept him happy in his seat and not restless.
As it stood, only myself and my girlfriend still had room for desserts, so we tucked in while everyone else finished their drinks and let their food babies fester.
I had the mango panna cotta with almond brittle, coconut ice cream, and mango purée. The panna cotta was sweet but not overly full of flavour, which was a little disappointing. But the ice cream and purée made up for this with the creaminess of the former and zest of the latter.
My partner selected the chocolate brownie which also came with ice cream and sauce. She enjoyed the “warm, gooey, rich” nature of the brownie itself which prepared her to step back out into the cold and was also a big fan of the ice cream.
We weren’t rushed to leave and the conversations could flow until we felt able enough to walk back out to the cars. It was another lovely get-together for the family, at an accommodating, beautiful and bountiful venue.