Too often you come away from a restaurant and the experience is instantly forgettable, the atmosphere isn’t great or the food not up to scratch but not at The Cherry Tree in Olney near Milton Keynes.
As you take your seat in the big warm heart of the restaurant with kitchen staff on full display it is hard to believe this used to be a care home.
The beautiful Grade II listed building retains all of its Georgian charm and is named after the Olney Cherry Fair that takes place every summer.
The Fair dates back to a time when the town produced a large, annual, commercial cherry crop from the vast orchards that surrounded the area, from the early 14th century onwards.
In those days, the Cherry Fair would coincide with the local church’s Feast Days, known as Holy Days, the only time holiday was given to the local workers.
Over seven centuries later - just process that for a moment it really is quite staggering - the Cherry Tree is a truly sympathetic and stunning restoration that bears all the hallmarks of ever-growing pub-restaurant operator Oakman Inns.
The first thing you will notice is the warmth thanks to the super cosy underfloor heating system which is one of the big benefits of bringing this age-old building up to 21st century specification.
But we haven’t come here to get cosy and admire the parquet flooring and sumptuous interior. We’ve come here to eat. And eat we did.
As with all of Oakman’s expanding collection of venues, The Cherry Tree’s menu is extensive and caters for all.
The emphasis is very much on Mediterranean inspired food whether your choice comes fresh from being roasted over the Josper charcoal ovens and grills or hand-crafted by the visibly hard-working chefs - lead by head chef Michal Dabrowski.
We plumped for the new and improved Greek meze which didn’t disappoint and comfortably feeds four as a starter.
At Oakman restaurants there is a new initiative to make children more adventurous in their eating habits which is reflected in its updated menu.
To encourage children to try new flavours and ingredients, The Cherry Tree and its fellow Oakman Inns has introduced dishes like Sweet Potato Hash with rocket, avocado, feta, toasted pumpkin seeds and tzatziki and the like.
Of course you still get all the usual favourites and there’s even a cool twist to the kids pizza - cooked in the authentic Italian wood-fired pizza oven - which is in the shape of a bunny rabbit with big ears to match.
Ditching chips is not just paying lip service to healthy eating for children or a PR stunt. The children’s menu also boasts things like Portabello mushroom cottage pie, grilled salmon, calamari, broccoli and carrot and lettuce and tomato salad.
The adults need to eat too though and whether a giant delicious Scotch egg and halloumi sticks is healthy I’ll let you decide. One thing is for certain though it was delicious.
The sea bass special was expertly cooked while the more traditional cod and chips was standard top class Oakman fayre.
The crowning achievement for me was the mouth-watering lamb and coriander burger. It is as good as it sounds and packed full of flavour. If you manage to finish it you won’t have much room for anything else mind.
The panna cotta special was a delight too, prepared to perfection with a sharp coulis.
While the restaurant was abuzz downstairs, there is the super cool Hipwell Gin & Cocktail Bar upstairs which serves an interesting range of cocktails and mocktails and is the perfect place to meet for after work drinks or to get your evening started.
The Cherry Tree has a broad range of cocktails, craft beers, fine wines, gins and spirits and given its position in the centre of town also aims to cater for the tea and coffee breakers with high quality Artisan coffee brewed with Rainforest Alliance certified beans from estates in Colombia and Brazil and a selection of teas from Teapigs.
The Cherry Tree manages to combine history, subtle and sensitive interior design, warmth and most importantly good food and drink to make it a real hub for Olney and a must-visit venue for wider Milton Keynes and Bedfordshire.
With attentive but not overly intrusive service and staff who clearly do their homework on the menus and their offering you can’t help but be impressed.
That is testament to manager Stevie Watts who has been there every step of the way of The Cherry Tree’s development from care home to empty shell and now thriving pub restaurant, even donning a hard hat and boots to ensure she played as active a role as possible in the historic building’s transformation.
For more information visit The Cherry Tree website.