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Here at Wildflower Magazine, we are on a mission to seek out the most interesting wine bars and restaurants across the UK,
with a special nod to those supporting local wine producers.

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The Oarsman

Could we be so bold to say that, outside of London, Marlow is the second dining capital of the UK? This Georgian river town between Henley and Windsor is as historic as it is gastronomic. Home to more than 20 restaurants, a few with Michelin stars on their doors, this charming town in Buckinghamshire is spoilt for choice when it comes to dining.

One of Marlow’s more recent restaurant openings, The Oarsman launched under new management in the autumn of 2021. Revitalised under a passionate team of renowned hospitality personalities, we were a tad giddy at the anticipation of what was to be an eye-opening and taste-punching lunch.

Elegantly designed into four spaces, The Oarsman opens into a semi-private snug, through to a buzzy pub bar and on to a cosy bistro where teal-grey tones and brown leather booths welcome guests to dine under large brass lamp shades. There’s also a cosy outdoor terrace (where we suspect bookings will be required well in advance of sunny days).

From the open kitchen (who doesn’t love watching professional chefs at work) and a choice of an à la carte menu or small plates, what shines through from the kitchen to the chalk boards and on to the tables is the genuine support and love for local, seasonal ingredients.

With whimsical, quirky French artwork on the walls, and a glint in the team’s eyes as we glide to our table, we have a feeling that wining and dining here is not only going to be fun, it’s going to be special.

Date of Visit

Spring 2022.

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Feels like

A sophisticated pub crossed with a stylish French bistro.

Best for

Curious food and wine lovers with a sense of adventure.

A leisurely, long lunch with friends and family.

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The wine list at The Oarsman offers a whopping 300 bottles, featuring 200 grape varieties from 40 countries. 20 of which are available by the glass.

It’s all about trying new wines here, getting out of your comfort zone and being adventurous. Renowned for his award-winning wine lists, co-owner Nigel Sutcliffe has curated a list not only to surprise and delight but to create discussion and debate. Just like the food, there’s a mix of the familiar and the new. There are the classics (whole pages are dedicated to Burgundy), alongside a number of fine and rare wines, however it’s the natural, organic and biodynamic bottles that take centre stage.

It is at independent restaurants like The Oarsman that you can sit back and explore wines from small, dynamic wine producers, most of which you would not find at your local supermarket. In Nigel’s words “we (as independent restauranteurs) have a responsibility in hospitality to offer something different …” Getting out of our comfort zone never felt so thrilling or tasted so delicious.

If you have to drive or prefer not to have a whole bottle, there’s the option to enjoy a 500 ml carafe and pay 2/3 of the full price (of any wine on the list excluding the fine and rare bottles), The remaining 250 ml is then chalked up on the blackboard for another guest to purchase and try…. keep an eye on the board – it’s a great way to taste wines you may not have considered before.

We handed the control of our wine selection to The Oarsman team, and how pleased were we with the results! Food and wine matching is a special skill, and we were not disappointed. Our paté starter was paired with the organic Testalonga Baby Bandito Chenin Blanc 2021 from South Africa (an earthy example of a ripe Chenin, bursting with fresh white peach and honeysuckle notes). A Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills followed, made by Gentle Folk. This, another organic wine, was cloudy, showcasing minimal intervention complemented by its unique terroir in the hills of South Australia. Sour cherries gave way to ripe strawberries on the palate, the sweetness of which beautifully pivoted against the salty salinity of our main course of sumptuously buttery cod. Having looked this wine up later, it did not come as a surprise to find that the global wine bible, Decanter awarded it a mighty 96 points.

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Love local wines?

You can’t get more local than a vineyard near Marlow and Harrow & Hope is one of the local sparklings on the wine list. The Blanc de Blancs, all baked apple and rich brioche notes, is a wonderful Chardonnay-forward fizz and a real crowd pleaser.
The wine list also featured a Blanc de Noirs from Ancre Hill in Wales, which if as good as its Pet-Nat (which we tasted in our review here is one to look forward to tasting on our next visit.

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Dishes on the menu have a carefree spontaneity about them. Each is clearly meticulously planned and created; yet changes are made to the menu almost daily at the whim of the kitchen and restaurant team to complement the season at its freshest. Foraging is a passion here, so don’t be surprised to find a one-off cocktail or dish picked and crafted by one of the team on their walk to work.

The kitchen team is headed up by Scott Smith, a Scot by name and birth, his creativity and passion for local, seasonal produce shines on every plate. Taking us on a taste adventure, the medley of flavour combinations and produce were as surprising and inspiring as they were comforting.

From imaginative dishes such as a sweet and spicy slow cooked beef chain, BBQ mussels and Kimchi to classical dishes with a twist like slow cooked pork loin, lightly pickled onion and chimichurri; and nods to his roots in the fruity and festive Ecclefechan Tart dessert, Scott and his team are not afraid to be bold and experimental, the result of which is enlightening.

There is a palpable respect for the produce, everything feels nurtured and cared for. Every dish tells a story of the vision, time and energy that went into it, a highlight was the paté en croute, made on site by Sous Chef, Peter Webster, showing his attention to detail and sophisticated palate, combining chicken, pork and ham peppered with crunchy pistachios encased in a light, melt-in-your-mouth pastry.

Other pips ‘n pieces

Upstairs, there’s a light-filled, private dining room for meetings, celebratory lunches or dinners, for up to 14 people.

Conveniently, there’s a large public car park opposite The Oarsman.

Marlow is approximately 1 ½ hours’ drive from central London or 45 minutes by train. From Marlow station it’s a 15-minute walk to The Oarsman.

The Bottom Line

Wines by the glass start from £5.50.

Starters start from £8.50. Mains from £17.50.

*Please note, wines, dishes and prices are correct at time of visit and may be subject to change.



The Oarsman
46 Spittal Street

Pub Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: Midday – 11.00pm
Sunday: Midday – 7.00pm

The Main Menu Is Served:
Monday to Saturday: Midday – 2:30pm | 5:00pm – 9:45pm
Sunday: Midday – 5.30pm
Charcuterie and Larder counter is available all day from midday.