The Woolpack: Risborough Road, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, HP22 5UP
The Woolpack is a large pub, locally known as “The Woolly” and it is certainly a favourite in the area. It can be both intimate or casual, perfect for relaxed drinks outside on the terrace, in the chic bar or great for meals with friends or loved ones at the rustic tables and sofa benches. The staff are friendly without fussing and the menu is traditional pub fare with Mediterranean twists and interesting specials. Nestled on the outskirts of Stoke Mandeville, The Woolpack is like a large slice of the fresh and the summery, despite sitting by a busy road.
To start, we nibbled on smoky chilli nuts served in a quaint box jar and rustic bread with a side of pomodoro sauce and a whole roasted garlic, the sound of the cars dead to us out on the back terrace. Both were satisfying, authentically presented and great for sharing while we poured over the extensive menu. On one hand, the mix of pizzas, pastas and salads is a little off-putting as it seems like “The Woolly” can do anything and everything, but there are some more intricate and interesting dishes also.
The starter special was black sea scallops with potato salad – there were three scallops nestled against a monstrous potato salad lathered in mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was too overpowering for the delicate salad though the scallops were cooked perfectly. Not worth £9.95 but I must commend the manager who, before we’d had time to complain, offered to take the starters of the bill because of a lengthy wait for them. The excellent service took away the sour taste immediately though later mistakes, such as wrong drinks and forgetting orders, were sometimes a little irritating. The second starter of arancini risotto balls was delicious: the crispy balls stuffed with mozarella on a bed of blended sweet red peppers (a full-flavoured, thick sauce; delicious!) and a green chilli mayonnaise which had an intense chilli flavour but, like the scallops, was let down by the generous use of mayonnaise. The risotto itself was creamy, mixing well with the mozarella, though the cheese’s flavour failed to come through.
Moving onto the mains, we had the special of marinated half of quail though the marinade was tasteless. The quail itself was well-cooked but the sauteed potatoes were ever so slightly overdone. The accompanying trio of salads consisted of a thick and gloopy coleslaw, a colourful and fresh Asian slaw and a bright, well-dressed house salad. Tasty and satisfying overall. The spit-roast half chicken came with a thick garlic aioli, perfectly offsetting the charcoal flavour of the chicken which was, in true spit-style, left on the bone. The fries were great: thin-cut but with the skin left-on and super-crunchy with fluffy insides. The Asian slaw dressed with soy sauce brought a splash of colour and crunchy texture, rounding out this rustic, summer dish well. A hit!
The pudding menu is certainly worth looking over: there’s crumble, gelato, sticky toffee pudding and more, all served in generous portions as you might expect in a pub. A white chocolate brulee was a let-down however; the topping was beautifully caramelised, breaking with a snap, but underneath there was no taste of white chocolate and it seemed more like a pot of bland custard. The sticky toffee pudding was the star of the show: a brick-like portion drenched in a thick, sweet toffee sauce and finished with a dollop of creamy vanilla gelato on top. Hints of maple and date came through the light sponge and the textures of airy sponge, gooey sauce and silky gelato melted wonderfully.
The evening was consistently relaxed and good-natured, with nothing too much trouble for any of the staff. The drinks are fairly expensive but the food is generally well-priced, with a few exceptions, but the portions are generous and the atmosphere infallible. Meeting “The Woolly” mightn’t be a bad idea this summer.