My parents’ house is stranded in a restaurant desert. Our two village pubs are fine for a pint but less so if you’re feeling like something more substantial than a sandwich. And the pubs in our surrounding villages don’t have much more going for them either. So when we heard that the Bedford Arms in Oakley had gone all posh we wasted all of 35 minutes before heading out for a big family lunch.
It’s been decorated with far more extravagance than we had anticipated. If you have shares in Farrow and Ball I suspect you may be in for a bigger dividend than you had hoped for. Behind the bar sits an impressive range of booze including the rather incongruous sight of Crystal champagne tastefully dressed up in its Quality Street orange wrapper. And on the walls hang blackboards offering a jaw droppingly impressive array of fish including lobster which brought up a rather grating memory…
On a similar family outing 3 years ago, we drove off to Norfolk for a family day of East Anglian gardens, scenery and countryside. I was explicitly told that the pub we were going to for lunch specialized in lobster, so I spent the 3 hours of being thrown around the back of the car working myself up into a lather of shellfish induced fantasies. Anyone who has had the misfortune of traveling either left or right in Britain, rather than up or down, will know that for some reason it tends to induce immediate car sickness. So my ecstasy was even more remarkable.
When I found out that they hadn’t got any lobsters for lunch I felt cheated and vowed to never be lured into a long range wild goose chase ever again. The memory lingers and flashes back whenever we go for a family lunch.
Cut back to the Bedford Arms.
We all got very trigger happy and mowed down the waitress with our orders in a burst of hysterical hunger.
My mussels in garlic, white wine and cream sauce were as plump as American school children, but the wine hadn’t been cooked off quite long enough. Not to the extent that they tasted unpleasant, but not quite as awesome as they could have been. And I am never sure whether you really need to add cream either.
Cowie’s scallops were exceptionally good. The cooking was so precisely you’d be forgiven for thinking the chef must have been a Japanese plastic surgeon in a former life. The red topping added a sweet touch that made them taste even more of themselves.
Dad’s white pudding, Parma ham and mozzarella on a pancake had him purring away like a reconditioned Bentley. With his low carb diet it was as if they had designed it just for him.
My rich fish pie was almost perfect. It was depth charged with a couple of shoals of fish and was exactly what I wanted. The only improvement would have been a bolder golden top.
Cowie’s turbot with mussels and prawns with a creamy sauce was very decadent. Whilst it was delicious, it seemed a shame to hide such an amazing fish under so many other flavours.
Dad’s lobster salad was mainly lobster. Which is an excellent thing. Being the lobster purist that he is, he poo-pooed the salad and potatoes and just stuck with a wedge of lemon and a glass of white wine. It brought memories of driving around 90 degree bends in the middle of Nowhereshire churning back to me.
Mum’s garlic and chilli prawns looked every bit as opulent.
Sadly, the desserts were a disaster. As the chocolate mousse was placed in front of me the sight of a paper doily I grimaced with chintz fueled horror. As I shuddered the mousse stayed still as it was set solid. I won’t bore you with the taste, but it wasn’t good.
And a lemon cheesecake tasted about as real as Jodie Marsh and was every bit as unpalatable.
Overall, we loved our lunch despite the occasional slip up, but could have done without the brusque performance from the owner who acted very strangely as he walked off mid conversation with us about the desserts.
If you’re looking for something a bit more than you’re average lunch time pub baguette in the North Bedfordshire countryside and fancy some nice fish then the Bedford Arms is worth a go. Whilst it was very good for the area it makes you really appreciate places like The Hole in the Wall, The Gurnard's Head and The Horse Guards Inn even more. Just fill up on starters and main courses and avoid pudding. And watch your Ps and Qs with the boss!
The Bedford Arms