In terms of dining out in the current circumstances, Oakman Inns – the hugely popular pub-restaurant chain that was founded right here with The Akeman in Tring – has every angle covered.
The video at the top of this story shows how Oakman are operating at their pub-restaurants, with a look around The Betsey Wynne in Bucks.
A separate entrance and exit to ensure one-way traffic as much as possible around the bar and restaurant and a subtle hand sanitiser station greets you on entry.
You are directed to your table and one-use disposable paper menus are provided.
Service is kept comfortably distanced while there is also the option to order on the app. The track and trace system operated by Oakman Inns is also done through the app and is quick and easy to use. The app comes in handy to help you find your nearest Oakman Inn too with venues across Bucks, Beds, Herts, Oxon, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and beyond.
The various safety precautions aren’t just for show, though
Just as important is the operation behind the scenes. And chef director, Ross Pike, has even redesigned the spring/summer menu and kitchen workflows so that a safe environment can be maintained with the required physical distancing enforced between the chefs.
“Unfortunately, a couple of old favourites weren’t possible to keep on our menu but our newly designed summer menu continues our focus on offering healthy, freshly prepared, sustainably sourced dishes with a Mediterranean emphasis,” Ross said.
“Our popular hand-crafted Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas using our unique pizza dough recipe as well as favourites from the Josper grill are still be available. I’m very excited about introducing some regional Italian pasta recipes from Venice, Rome and Tuscany together with Josper-grilled Rosso Prawns in the Shell and some tasty vegetarian and vegan options.”
Just being out, seeing other people smiling and enjoying themselves, having someone bring you your dinner and pour your drink, after all these months, it really was a pleasure.
Things we have all taken for granted before, now seem so significant.
We’ve all been in this together. And the atmosphere at The Akeman very much reflected that mood, the reciprocal appreciation of being out again, being back at work, being back to some kind of normal.
General manager Kate smith makes sure of that. The Akeman, like most Oakmans runs like a well-oiled machine which never really feels like it is part of a pub-restaurant group, not in any of the bad ways we would associate some of those types of establishment.
There are very smart, stylish screens between tables which are so subtly done you would barely notice they are there.
Despite the torrid times we have all faced this year some things never change. Top quality service and food and a menu with something for everyone continues to be at the heart of everything good about The Akeman and Oakman Inns venues.
In terms of the menu on our visit we had a real mixture. Sharing platters are easy to share while still being careful and hygienic. The Mezze Plate comes with Fior di Ricotta, rocket and basil pesto, red pepper and garlic hummus, marinated stone-in olives, beetroot falafel, fried artichokes, garlic and basil marinated tomatoes and flatbread.
But I must recommend the new vegetable fritti, a wonderful onion bhaji-looking creation which is a taste sensation featuring pepper, courgette, onion and oregano with an arrabbiata sauce.
For main there remains plenty of choice for all palettes.
You won’t go far wrong with the Roast Pork Belly, whether that’s as the home comfort meal or as part of your Sunday roast. The succulent British pork belly is slow-roasted in cider and finished on the Josper grill. Served with mashed potato, green beans, peas, apple sauce, crackling and gravy it is melt-in-the-mouth stuff.
The Venetian Crab Bucatini of Venice is a lovely addition to the menu too. Bucatini pasta, Devonshire crab, tomato, parsley, lemon, garlic, chives, chilli, rocket and crispy basil combine for a lovely, filling dish.
The good old staple of the Rigatoni All’Arrabbiata pasta is served in tomato sauce with garlic and basil marinated tomatoes, basil, fresh chilli, balsamic vinegar and semi-sundried tomatoes.
I have frequented Naples over the years due to family connections and I can tell you it truly is home to the best pizzas on Earth. But The Akeman’s pizzas run them real close by following the blueprint of the Italian pioneers with their Esposito creations.
There is plenty of choice if it’s pizza you fancy with everything from magarheita to the Napoli Forte with tomato sauce, Fior di Latte Mozzarella, nduja sausage, Napoli salami, chilli and garlic.
If you’re anything like me when it comes to dessert – and you want to feel fit to burst after eating – then the baked cheesecake, brownie or sticky toffee pudding all get the job done and then some.
To be honest the best, most glowing tribute I can pay The Akeman is that the experience on our long-awaited return to dining out was just perfectly … NORMAL.
Safe and sensible of course. But normal. A new normal which works just fine.
As we walked out we almost all said in unison ‘It’s good to be back’. It really, really was.