A historic inn with wonky floors and dimensions that veer towards the dolls house (you’ll need to duck your head to enter, and jostle your companions for a seat by the fire in its tiny bar). A dining room filled with dappled sunlight and simple wooden tables (one of them a large, sociable, communal one). Great music. Five chic but restfully simple (and affordable) bedrooms. And food plucked from a kitchen garden or foraged; delicate, veg-heavy food, cooked heartily, mostly on an open fire. If we were designing our fantasy pub it would look a lot like The Mash Inn in the Buckinghamshire village of Radnage.
Owned by Nick Mash, an ex-London gastropublican and scion of a grocery empire, the recently re-opened, and adults-only, Mash Inn (the pub’s small size doesn’t really lend itself to under-16s) is a modern take on the great British inn. Clean-lined and surprisingly light, with Ercol-style furniture custom designed by local makers Bates & Lambourne, it’s a contemporary nod to the big flavours and rough edges of the very first gastropubs.
The food & drink
The first thing you notice as you arrive is the smell of woodsmoke. It’s a welcoming smell, but not just for show; most of chef Jon Parry’s (ex-Tom Aitkens, The Bull and Last and Trinity) food is cooked on a wood-fired grill.
The Mash Inn’s open kitchen (and we mean open – guests and chefs walk back and forth to each other, in and out of it all the time) is also a place where culinary ideas are encouraged to catch fire. Food is innovative and exciting, the result of serious enthusiasm; so much so that, as we were checking out, Parry had us tasting dots of a pea ‘nutella’ he’d just tried making (it worked).
This is a man who clearly loves cooking and experimenting. Most of the time the results are inspired. Inevitably there will be the odd miss (we loved our rich beeswax panna cotta and the treacly Hunza apricots it came with but not the chewy – and unnecessary – accompanying popcorn). Go with a spirit of adventure, however, and you’ll be rewarded with far more hits than misses.
In Parry’s 30-cover restaurant diners can choose from a daily à la carte menu but the tasting menu is the way to go here, a giddy whirl through the likes of beef tendon crackers with mushroom salt (an umami snap, crackle and pop), hispi cabbage with soy and cabbage beer salt (a great balance between salty charring and soft, sweet crunch), crispy duck tongues with umeboshi puree (exterior bite giving way to a slightly unnerving silkiness), meltingly pink onglet with toffee-ish baked celeriac and the two biggest hits of the night – purple sprouting broccoli with black garlic and housemade cow’s curd and a dainty forest of turmeric-pickled romanesco and stonecrop on salmon cured with Douglas fir and blood orange peel.
These aren’t necessarily menus with a lot of cohesion. The focus is more about what’s in season – and Parry’s latest food discoveries – than conventional menu-planning mores. Surprising, yes, but not slapdash. A lot of time has been spent on getting the details right – a short but well-curated wine list, heavy on Old World and English vines, a Mash Negroni made with Bulldog gin and house-made vermouth and, in place of petit fours, a mini Mash bar (think Mars made with Seville orange nougat and Pomelo butterscotch sherbet).
With the focus so firmly on food, the inn’s four bedrooms are almost an afterthought, an affordable add-on for diners who don’t want to drive home. Yet, although they’re fairly no-frills on the surface (no TVs, no minibars, minimal toiletries, no drawers and just a couple of hooks for hanging clothes), plenty of planning has gone into the details here, too.
There may be no TVs but there are Roberts radios, and decent wifi. Hypnos beds are kingsize, basic toiletries are sourced from Swedish brand L:A Bruket and elegant lighting comes courtesy of Another Country and the Light Yard. Style-wise, bedrooms have the same pared back, Scandi feel as the rest of the inn – a stripped wood headboard here, woollen throws with simple stone and navy-coloured stripes there, window frames highlighted in inky paint, bathrooms fitted with deep tubs and pretty tiles.
Breakfast is served in bed here (or, at least, in room), which works well. Especially if you’re not a fan of giant cooked breakfasts. Instead expect a tray piled with simple things done well – a house granola peppered with pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, apricots and toasted grains), vast warm, flaky croissants, thick yoghurt, homemade Seville orange marmalade, seasonal fruit and – the inn’s signature morning pick-me-up – a bottle of turmeric ginger beer.
The vibe may be relaxed but, as with so much at the Mash Inn, behind the laid-back front is a very polished performance.
Double rooms start from £100, b&b (themashinn.com)
First published March 2017
Images by Carrie Beddall and Rhiannon Batten