In the shadows of Windsor Castle an idyllic gem is just waiting to be discovered. Introducing, The Boatman, first and foremost a proper pub, Windsor’s only one on the river in fact. As I approached from the opposite riverbank a Boatman feature becomes very apparent, the terrace, lighting up a dark corner of town both literally and metaphorically. Former residency must not be named for various reasons, most notably its dreary exterior; as for the inside, I never once entered. Ideal for summer drinks as you can imagine with a capacity of 100, however the terrace is beautifully lit as the nights draw in, grab a blanket provided and enjoy a post-work pint just like a group were doing on my arrival.
This picturesque retreat also sits directly next to Windsor & Eton Riverside railway station so expect to be surrounded by London commuters, making for a great atmosphere. When the dust settles you’ll find a number of locals choosing The Boatman as their pub of preference, I hear there are unlimited vacancies. What about when it’s baltic outside? Well, a roaring log fire should take care of that in their large yet cosy bar area where dogs are most welcome. There’s an immediate sense of continuity here, particularly between online visuals and certain aspects of the venue itself. General aesthetics like interior design, colour scheme, lighting and spatial appearance are identical with their website, a rare but pleasantly surprising find.
Speaking of the identical leads me nicely into food, which was by no means an afterthought. The management were quick to inform me prior to indulging that their food is a working progress. I’ll be the judge of that I thought. The majority of my culinary exploits, especially food reviews, involve a general tour of the venue whereby I wander around unchecked nodding while jotting notes. During this visit I not only received an enthusiastic guided tour but was invited into the kitchen to cook a dish alongside the head and sous chef. Observing from the pass while a party of 20 were being served, I was first struck by the cleanliness behind those flapping doors. Having worked in pubs I can confirm The Boatman will be getting a 5/5 rating from Mr. Clipboard. This is further reflected in the food. We cooked a simple sea bass fillet with wilted spinach, buttered new potatoes and what later became sought after, pesto dressing. Coincidently it was a dish favoured by a member of the management so I was joined, it really was superb.
My guest joined me just in time for table service, whereby I had challenged head chef Jetmir Dauti (remember the name) to whip up a béarnaise to accompany my steak main. To start, I was presented with grilled goats cheese salad. Being grilled on full flame created a crispy exterior to the goats, almost caramelised. ‘Salad’ worries me when it proceeds a main ingredient, too often an afterthought. Not this time as drizzled over carefully prepared onion, cucumber, tomato and salad leaves was pesto dressing, yes, the very one. Opposite, my companion, who was once a professional chef, devoured a rather large prawn cocktail (there be no moaning of diddy portions ‘ere). ‘A proper Marie Rose’ to quote and I concurred. Stand out features otherwise were two significant layers of prawns and impressively prepared lettuce chiffonade. If they swap the quantities there’d be no fault to find.
On to mains, which were essentially a globally known chorus of noises made when experiencing great food with little talking, always a good sign. Almost blue steak, buttery in texture, well seasoned with a top notch béarnaise, especially as the menu only offers peppercorn; curveball negotiated with flying colours. As good as my plate was it quickly became clear that the slow-cooked lamb shoulder edged it. Creamy mash, fresh green beans and a rich red wine jus brought everything together. I must mention just how consistently stunning the presentation was, stunning.
Having indulged sufficiently my guest and I decided to share an Eton Mess, which just so happened to be The Boatman’s signature dessert; would never have guessed. Combined with compulsory elements of this popular sweet were fresh berries and a raspberry coulis. The fresh berries in particular provided a rich jammy element, not something to follow two generous courses however I will remember it for all the right reasons.
Value for money best describes our accompanying red wine, at £23 a bottle the organic Rioja turned out to be an incredible discovery. I’ll be back for that asap! Prior to eating I tasted a palatable local ale from Windsor & Eton Brewery, again competitively priced at £3.60 a pint, particularly in this town. A single espresso rounded off the evening nicely.
All basis covered then for The Boatman. It will be well worth following their progression into 2016 and beyond. We should see them plain sail to a reputation of simplistic beauty paired with an irresistible atmosphere if my visit was anything to go by.
I’ll be attempting to recreate Jetmir’s pesto dressing after he politely declined to share his recipe. I would have it patented.