I loved the last iteration of The Grapes so went on something of an emotional rollercoaster when it appeared to close down a few months ago and then suddenly reopen soon afterwards, consisting of disappointed alarm followed by relief. One of the few remaining George Street establishments that isn’t a chain, the new-look Grapes is comfy, stylish and now has a new string to its bow: offering evening meals. With this in mind, I fully expect this pub to remain a popular, lively central spot for those wanting something more interesting than its identikit franchisee neighbours.
While I do miss the slightly shambling, cosy feel of its predecessor, the decor of the new Grapes is undeniably impressive: a smoother, stylish look which speaks more to its central location and perhaps to drawing in potential big spenders. The furniture and accessories have clearly been picked out with care, the end result being the feel of a kitchen/dining room you’d see in an impossibly coordinated interiors magazine or catalogue.
Instead of opting for the safe option of traditional pub grub with a contemporary update, as you might expect from the surroundings, the chefs have instead constructed a menu around one type of dish: tacos. While this meant that the menu appeared pared-down at first sight, the options are actually deceptively diverse, the single medium forging culinary creativity, and the imaginative options themselves warrant a second (and indeed third and fourth) visit for a complete impression. In the end, I went for the belly pork and pineapple filling while my partner chose the cajun chicken and sweetcorn tacos. Ordered at the bar, to friendly if laid-back service, the meal arrived promptly - but not too promptly - and beautifully presented. We really didn’t need the sides we ordered, as the tacos and the included chips were more than enough, but I’m glad we did as it meant sampling more of the available dishes. My partner raved about the popcorn shrimp (I took his word for it as I don’t eat seafood) while I made short work of my jackfruit nuggets. I still can’t get over how bizarre jackfruit is, with its meat-like texture, but in this dish it proved an enjoyable starter, with the sweetness of the fruit complementing the crispy crust.
Our mains comprised of a hearty amount of food, all clearly using a decent quantity of fresh ingredients - juicy salad, tender meat, beautifully toasted wraps - although the flavours of the ensemble could have been more bold, to justify more strongly the decision to stick to one kind of dish. On the other hand, well-executed and promptly brought meals a stone’s throw from the main attractions of the city centre stand pretty much on their own as a reason to become a regular here. The stand-out aspect of this magnificently central pub is its fantastic value. We both had soft drinks, as it was a Monday, so didn’t test out the offerings of the West Berks Brewery which now runs the pub, but even taking this into account, dinner for two including starters and drinks coming to comfortably under £40 was wonderful. The value gets even more wallet-friendly if you choose the lunchtime deal - you can get tacos, chips and a drink for a tenner! I spied some intriguing-sounding veggie variations on the tacos so I am already planning to head along to investigate and take advantage of this tempting offer.