STEPHEN WEBB meets a familiar face as he enters racing country for a meal at Silks On The Downs

I GOT the feeling as we walked into Silk On The Downs that our evening was in safe hands.

That may have been because of the cheery, attractive décor of the pub/restaurant. Or because of the specials board on the wall, offering mouthwatering treats.

Or because of the bloke behind the bar, smiling and giving us a warm welcome.

That bloke behind the bar was none other than former Swindon Town goalkeeping hero Fraser Digby (“in safe hands” – geddit), who it turns out has been running Silk On The Downs for the past three years and is doing very nicely thank you, apart from a recent set of roadworks in Ogbourne St Andrew which have been as welcome as a dodgy penalty decision on a muddy pitch in Peterborough.

As Fraser poured our drinks, I remarked to my wife, who has a passionate disinterest in football: “It’s all right, he won’t drop your glass.” (I was on comedic good form tonight).

She gave me one of her exasperated “What’s he on about now?” looks. “That’s Fraser Digby!” I told her. “Wow, even I’ve heard of him,” she said. Fraser smiled politely, and so did I when, as we made our way to our table, my wife whispered to me: “What position did he play?” “Goalkeeper,” I replied. “Hence the ‘he won’t drop your glass’ comment…’” Bless.

But enough, we’re not here to talk about football – we’re here to talk about… horse racing? Well, keeping the sports theme going, Silk On The Downs of course gets its name from the local area’s links with the sport of kings – it is an attractive name for a restaurant and the racing theme is prevalent inside, with related art work and framed jockey silks adorning the walls.

“You’ve got the place to yourselves tonight,” Fraser told us. It was a chilly Thursday evening and the place had been packed the night before for Valentine’s Day so perhaps a quiet night wasn’t unexpected. But what it lacked in atmosphere it more than made up for in the quality of the food.

So, we were under starters orders… the menu had several tempting dishes and our choices were difficult to make. But eventually decisions were made, the dishes were brought to us and… They’re off!

My order of starter was creamed ham hock and tarragon on toasted sourdough, with a poached egg (£7.95). It was delicious, with chunky hunks of ham hock smothered in a really tasty, creamy sauce. The egg finished it off superbly. It was a generous portion too – not too much to make you struggle with the main course, but not a silly little amount that’s gone in a forkful.

It’s the best dish of ham and eggs I’ve tasted.

My wife thoroughly enjoyed her smoked haddock and pea risotto with pea shoots (£7.95). She said it was light and delicate and “smelled really nice”. It was just the right amount too.

The going is good… I chose pan roast Cornish hake, with spinach, sauté new potatoes, and brown shrimp buerre noisette (£17.95) for my main course. I’m sure I heard somewhere (probably on Masterchef) that hake is difficult to get right. Well the chef at Silk On The Downs got it just right – beautifully cooked, gleaming white flesh, crispy skin and nice and flaky. And it tasted divine – as did everything that accompanied it.

My wife had slow roast pork belly, with roasted new potatoes, braised cabbage, caramelized apple puree and star anise jus glaze (£13.95). The pork was nice and soft and it came with “excellent crunchy crackling”. “Good textures and the star anise gave an oriental touch,” she said. She also loved the cabbage, which was “not soggy”.

At the finishing post… There was a good selection of fairly traditional desserts, and I chose the vanilla crème brulee (£6), which was a delight to end the meal with - an eye-catching presentation was complemented by the silky smooth brulee and a nice soft biscuit to offer a contrasting texture.

A similarly picturesque dish was being lovingly devoured opposite – the lemon posset with winter berries and home-made shortbread (£6) was smooth and creamy, and had a “lovely taste. And it was not too stodgy to make the button pop off my trousers.”

Throughout the evening the service was excellent. Well, the service was Fraser – most of the staff had the night off so we had him to ourselves, and he was happy to chat between courses. You might not be so lucky on a busier evening, but this night Wembley play-off finals, Glenn Hoddle, Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona were on the menu.

But while it was a delight to chat to him, this was a bonus to our night out – the berry on my brulee, if you like. The real winner was the food, which was superbly prepared, beautifully presented, and extremely tasty. And around £80 for three courses each plus drinks wasn’t bad at all.

Would we be making a return visit? That’s a dead cert.

Silk On The Downs

Main Road, Ogbourne St Andrew, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 1RZ

Tel. 01672 841229

Parking: It has its own car park

Disabled access: Yes

Our ratings:

Food: 9/10

Choice: 8/10

Décor: 8/10

Customer service: 10/10

Main course prices: £12.95-£24-95

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5