So. On Wednesday, I ended my Brit-bashing rant of despair with a heartfelt cry – ‘Is dried pasta in powder really the best we can do?’ Henry V, eat your heart out.
The answer, of course, is no. At the risk of parroting a commonplace fact, in the last few years it’s clear that any lingering shame at the pinnacle of British cuisine being fish and chips has evaporated. Instead, we have witnessed the rise and rise of the New British Classic, steered by a new – and now endemic – beast; the gastropub.
Once a welcomed innovation, now they are being held up as one of the causes of the decline of the British pub. Traditional boozers – go to Save the Boozer to recommend your local one – have found themselves stripped, left colourless and with little more than an Ikea chair and an overpriced menu to cover their dignity.
But they’re not all like that. One of the success stories is to be found tucked away in the Buckinghamshire village of Haddenham, familiar to Midsomer Murders fans as one of the sets for the long-running series. Given its location, amidst the village’s picturesque duck pond and Tudor-beamed houses, the owners of the Green Dragon pub could easily have succumbed to temptation and transformed the Grade II listed 18th-century building into an over-priced gimmick designed to appeal solely to Londoners on the hunt for a day out in the ‘country’.
Instead, the Green Dragon combines the best traditions of an old-fashioned pub with some really great food, attracting locals and Londoners alike. The inside is cool and airy, and even on a Tuesday lunchtime in term-time, most of the tables were full. The newly-redesigned summer menu is a delight – full of gentle twists on traditional classics.
I could happily have eaten about five things – the Fettuccini Primavera with seasonal vegetables, Parma ham & artichoke looked especially good, and if I’d have been going for dinner I’d have been tempted by the steak, with its intriguing – and delicious-sounding – smuggler rarebit-stuffed mushrooms.
But, after I’d seen it whisked past me by the efficient and friendly staff, I plumped for the bubble and squeak with crispy bacon, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. A simple staple, maybe, but it was gorgeous – the homemade bubble and squeak was golden and crispy on the outside, with a perfect balance of potato and cabbage inside. The streaky bacon was substantial and meaty rather than wafer thin, which made a nice change, and the hollandaise was rich and creamy without being sickly or cloying.
As a poor student/blogger/not-quite-yet-employed person, I can’t wax lyrical about the five other dishes I tried, but suffice it to say everything coming out of the kitchen looked great, and regulars tell me the Sunday roasts – and even the selection of lunchtime sandwiches – are well worth trying.
But, despite not having much of a sweet tooth, for once the dessert was even better than the main. I managed to snaffle one of the last portions of the Dragon’s gorgeous summer puddings. Served with a generous dollop of clotted cream, it was full of ripe raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries – partly supplied by local allotments – which were tart without hurting your head (or your teeth).
My only criticism was that, on a beautiful sunny day, seats outside were limited, but it’s a minor point against the great food, relaxed atmosphere, and sense of proper old-fashioned pub-ness – real ales are still proudly on the menu.