Cookham Dean pubs and grub - what's your view?

Due to an epic house-keeping failure on Saturday, we were forced to eat out.  Very fortunately, Cookham Matters HQ is within walking distance of every hostelry in the village – so we are spoilt for choice.

Of we set to Uncle Toms and unsurprisingly, it was heaving.  You could barely move out the front and the back had reserved on every table.  The girl went to ask if it was possible to squeeze a couple of little ones in, but unfortunately not.  Packed to the gunnels.  Rammed.  This left us with a dilemma, and is where this post might become a little contentious, because we all have our favourite pub don’t we?

By far our nearest pub is The Chequers.  We were Friday night regulars along with many in the area.  Carlos was quite simply the best front of house host I have ever come across and we were welcomed and very comfortable, even when just having a drink.  We ate there only for special occasions and it is true that I found myself wishing that in addition to the white table clothes and silver service, they would do can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-mid-week-pub-grub.  Now the Mango Lounge, I have no idea why this village needs another Indian?  We have been a couple of times since the new ownership, and whilst the staff are charming, there were few customers, I found the food average and the service perhaps a little over attentive.  Plus, it was in my opinion, expensive - £120 per couple (with only 1 bottle of ordinary wine).

The Jolly was our default for a long time, when we could get in.  Full of locals, proper hearty pub food at a reasonable price.  But what on earth has happened?  After a series of frankly, very poor meals in a nearly empty pub we have been left determined not to mindlessly head there again.

In another life, I used to get in my boyfriend’s Ford Escort Harrier with a blue go-faster stripe and head to the Hare and Hounds (now The Sanctum) to play pool.  So 1982 was probably the last time I went there because I like an elephant (in many respects), I never forget.  Seriously, I can bear a grudge for years!  Cross me and I will remember that slight forever – and cross me The Sanctum did.  Before I even lived in the village, I was walking with a girlfriend and we were looking on an OS map, for the path that sneaks down the side of the pub by the front door.  Never having followed the route before, we were struggling to find the path.  Outside the back of the pub were a group of staff having a ciggie.  They saw us approaching as we were heading for the car park, looking at the map in my hand, looking at the view in front of us, back at the map – it must have been very obvious what was happening.  Literally in front of our noses, someone pressed the button to shut the electric gates to the car park and stop us going in.  I was absolutely furious at the rudeness – I can’t remember what was said, but I remember admonishing them.  Since that day, I have not been back to The Sanctum.  I refused any and all invitations and failed to recommend it when people asked.  However, on Saturday our need was great and I had heard that it had changed hands.

So in we went with our open-minds.  On the basis that there was no one in there, we felt fairly confident that they would be able to feed us.  I scanned the menu and whilst it all sounded quite nice, there was nothing that really grabbed me.  Apart from the prices.  £16 for a home-made burger?  Am I the only one that thinks that is too much?  The steak was recommended so we both ordered that (£20), and bottle of wine (£25).  When the food arrived, I am afraid it was a big disappointment.  Dressed with way too much rock salt, soggy, custard coloured chips and salad with no dressing.  About a third of my steak was so tough it was in-edible.  Now, to be fair, I like my steak rare so there is no wiggle room for gristle, and the other steak was perfectly OK.  So perhaps I was unlucky.  Because I told them (very nicely) about the saltiness, the one dessert we had was on the house.  Mango cheesecake.  If I was making mango cheesecake at home, it would have been better.  And it came still a bit frozen and with no dollop of cream and nothing green on it – although the picked, wild blackberries were a nice touch.  The young men waiting on table were absolutely charming but clearly very inexperienced, and I assume that the intention was to learn on the job, but I feel for them because that is going to be very difficult when there are so few customers.  So following this experience, whilst we wish them all the very best with the new venture, we will not be hurrying back.

So what is going on?  Uncle Toms has (and for some time) been getting it spot on.  My personal view is that in Cookham Dean, landlords need to make a special effort to appeal to the locals that arrive on foot.  If anyone from the village is going to get in the car to go out, I think they are probably going to go down in to Marlow – which let’s face it is replete with eating venues for every budget.  And then, with a foundation of regular locals that will recommend, I think you will get people from further afield.  I am clear on what I want as a local.  Good quality pub grub at a fair price in an (atmospherically) warm and comfortable pub environment.  I don’t want to go to a pub for an Indian, I don’t want to look at a plate of food and feel disappointed, and I don’t want to sit in what a London club thinks a country pub is.  I’m interested to know what you all think? 


  1. Personally, I find the Jolly pretty good, for a pub - their pizzas are very tasty with nice thin bases, their pies are home cooked and flavoursome, and their homemade burgers always spot on. You need to remember that the Jolly is a pub, with pub food, while Uncle Toms is a restaurant with a bar - I don't really consider it a pub at all. Of course the food will (should) be better there, if you are not looking for pub grub. The bonus of the Jolly is that you get Rebellion beer there and guest beers/ales, whereas Uncle Toms just seems to have the usual commercial stuff.

    The old Chequers was ok, bit too expensive, but I didn't really rate their food too highly, when you took price into consideration.

    Kings Arms I used to like, but haven't been there for a long time, so not sure what the food is like now - it used to be good. Bel & Dragon, I have no idea, as I have only been there once, and that was before the refurb (and it was expensive then). Not sure I'll ever go there, as seems a bit pretentious, but that is just my opinion.

    If we want decent non-pub food and a good night out, we tend to go into Marlow, but otherwise The Jolly is always my choice for a nice pint and a plate of tasty pub grub...and I am fussy!

    As for the Sanctum, don't get me started on that...but then I know the inside story on that ;-)

  2. Sanctum On the Green is an intriguing place to say the least; a beautiful location / building lovely facilities and GOLD MINE waiting to happen... for the last 20 years! How they are a financially viable business is beyond me.

    Nevertheless, wanting to take advantage of the heatwave in early summer we booked a night's stay and planned to use the pool. We were also going to eat there, but I'll come to that in a minute. Odd on arrival, they check you in at the bar and also accused me of being a day late (although the booking confirmation had the correct date on it). However, we were the only guests that night, so was told it wasn't an issue (which leads to question why it was important for them to mention). We planned to go straight to the pool, we were offered to drop the bags off to the room and if we wanted some drinks. The persona of the place suggests 'upmarket' so asking to see a cocktail menu seemed to fit. They didn't serve any. OK, a gin and tonic please (no offer of different gins). Again, market a lavish upmarket experience, then I expect you to deliver one (within 2 minutes my spider senses for poor service are tingling). Ah well, let's get the bags in the room and get out and enjoy the pool.

    Door handle to room was literally glued on (lady apologised as a wedding part wrecked the place a few weeks back). Up to the room - very nicely laid out, but could have done with a touch up to paint work - looked old and lived in. (Again, not experience not matching persona of the place). Get down to the pool, sun loungers have no cushions - not enough cushions for all sun loungers. The foot on the sun lounger was broken, had to swap for another. Furniture not laid out neatly, stones and other debris on the beautiful paving which simply needed a quick sweep, Drinks took another 15 mins to arrive, pool surface was dirty and not attended to all afternoon, how long would it have taken a member of staff to skim the surface?

    Decided to eat elsewhere as was disappointed with the delivery of the experience so far and didn't want a nice evening ruined with poor food, poor service and delivery. Turned the beautiful shower on stemming from the ceiling into large bath and some of the water outlets were pointing out of the bath and on to the floor. No problem, I turned it off redirected the problematic outlets in the right direction and low and behold all was fine. (why a member of staff couldn't do that before me arriving is beyond me). Air con kept switching itself off that night so as it was so hot we didn't sleep to well. Breakfast was included in the room rate, which helped prove to us that we made the right decision going elsewhere for dinner the night before. Dirty tables not laid, old filthy looking cushions on the seating area that needed either cleaning or replacing, very mediocre food that would have been otherwise expensive if not included in room rate.

    Went to check out, nobody about at reception desk but door to back room open with cables and computers everywhere, paper all over the place etc. not something you should leave on show to customers whilst marketing an upmarket experience. This is a microcosm of the place; Markets an elite experience, but behind the scenes is a total mess.

    Also found cheap promotional flyers in there marketing prosecco and nibbles on a Friday for a tenner... Such a mixed message, what do you want to be? An upmarket venue delivering to similar clientele or attract and cater for the clientele of a Whetherspoons?

    Such a shame; location, building, facilities all set to deliver, but the place seems confused with it's identity and has management and staff incapable of delivering that extra attention to detail you'd expect.

  3. Interesting to have similar view on The Sanctum....

  4. Current management took over a few months ago, but from reports are just as bad. When current owners (who have handed management over, but not ownership) bought the Sanctum, now renamed as Sanctum-on-the-Green, it was meant to be the 'country' retreat for those who frequented the Embassy nightclub and Sanctum Soho (owned by the same people). However, it always had a confused identity, even more so when the young chef came in a few years ago, only to be too big for his boots, swanning off to London and leaving his junior chefs in charge. So, those London clientele never came over, and the owners spent most of their time at their London establishments (eventually selling the Embassy). So our Sanctum was neglected. This was the reason for the new management, but they seem just as useless.


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