Lunch@the Bear & Ragged Staff, Cumnor

The Bear & Ragged Staff is a glorious old traditional pub in a building that dates back to Tudor times. The kitchen is run by head chef, James Durrant, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton in the past and has succeeded in getting his main course to the banquet of the Great British Menu. We are here today to meet our good friends Jasmine & Roland for lunch.

After studying the beer menu, I order a pint of the IPA, but it’s not available.  Instead, I ask for a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, but they don’t have that either.  They do have my third choice – Abbot Ale. Roland is having the set lunch and his starter is roast chicken broth with butterbeans, leeks and pancetta. Jasmine and I both start with twice baked cheese soufflé with soused apples & balsamic pearls. The soufflé is beautifully light and works well with the apple, the balsamic pearls and a simple velouté. Rock chooses not to have a starter.

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For her main course Jasmine is having the poached and smoked salmon fishcake with hollandaise and a watercress salad. Roland has the second part of his set lunch – the Cornish lamb shepherd’s pie filled with slow-cooked shoulder, sprinkled with crispy breast and served with red cabbage.

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Rock is having the sea bream with bacon, peas and baby gem lettuce.  The fish is perfectly cooked though the skin could be crispier.  Unfortunately, the dish as a whole is quite greasy – something that Rock really tries to avoid.  I have the 14 hour braised beef and ale pie with buttery mash and spring greens.  The pie is superb, fabulous pastry and a rich beef filling.

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The final part of Roland’s set menu should be ice cream profiteroles but, as the kitchen has none available, he has the opportunity to choose something else.  He picks the banoffee Eton mess, served with banana, lime and caramelised pecans.  This turns out to be a good choice – lots of cream, lots of banana, the crunch of pecans and the sweetness of toffee.

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Some of the food here was very good but overall the place felt a bit out of sorts.  It was strange to find several beers, and even one course off the set menu, were not available.  Rock’s sea bream dish was far too greasy and none of the dishes would come close to making it to our Great British Menu.  I’d like to think we were unlucky to visit when they weren’t at their best.

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Lunch@The Star Inn, Sparsholt

The search for great pub food in 2017 continues and it’s time to return to another old favourite – The Star Inn at Sparsholt.  We are meeting Jem and Sassy, a couple of our regular dining chums, for lunch.  Sparsholt is a small Oxfordshire village just west of Wantage.

The menu here is always interesting with a mix of traditional pub dishes and then some that are clearly adventures into gastropub territory.  A pint of Prospect from the Shotover Brewing Company puts me in the right frame of mind for lunch, it is a pale bitter with decent body and a pleasing amount of flavour.

Sassy has the pumpkin soup served with almonds, coriander and curry oil.  Rock and Jem both have the smoked & curried chicken terrine with pickled raisins, salted cashews and a rosemary mayonnaise.  I have the Cornish mackerel with Vietnamese quinoa, pineapple chutney, coriander and sriracha (a type of chilli sauce) sorbet.  We all love our starters – a smooth and fully flavoured soup, a great chicken terrine and my mackerel is superb. The accompaniments are inventive and they work well.

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Cornish mackerel with Vietnamese quinoa, pineapple chutney, coriander and sriracha sorbet

Jem and I both move on to the roast partridge breasts served with a leg and apple sausage (presumably a partridge leg), salt baked celeriac, braised red cabbage & cider gravy.  The partridge is tender and is complemented by the perfectly cooked vegetables and the rich cider gravy. Sassy has the roasted walnut gnocchi with wild mushrooms, celeriac, turnip, cauliflower and spinach cream.  She likes the taste and the vibrant yellow of the cauliflower and the bright green spinach cream make the dish look amazing.

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Roasted walnut gnocchi with wild mushrooms, celeriac, turnip, cauliflower and spinach cream

Rock has the Kentucky fried cod cheek burger with hand cut chips, pickled cucumber and roasted garlic coleslaw.  It is well presented but she find’s the cod cheek quite firm – almost like monkfish. Also, she can’t taste any of the promised Kentucky spices. Disappointing.

Jem has the dark chocolate financier with praline mousse and mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  I have the orange tart with dark chocolate sorbet and candied almonds.  Sassy has a selection of home-made vanilla ice cream and orange and autumn fruit sorbets. Rock simply has a coffee served with home made fudge.

Apart from Rock’s cod dish, the quality of the food has been really good.  The service from Toby has been helpful and efficient throughout.  This is certainly one of the better pub meals we’ve had during 2017.

Lunch@The Five Alls, Filkins

Another day, another favourite place – though we have not been back here for a while. The Five Alls at Filkins is owned by former London restauranteurs, Sebastian & Lana Snow. After creating a great vibe at another local gastropub, the Swan at Southrop, the Snows bought this place in 2012.

Rock orders a glass of Les Coteaux. It turns out to be a fine example of Cotes du Rhone Villages. I have enjoyed the Five Alls Ale before and I see no reason to try something different today.

We scan the menu and Rock selects the skillet roast fillets of mackerel with a warm Tuscan panzanella salad & crispy basil. I really fancy a steak and I know they will cook it well here. I order the 28 day aged, chargrilled ribeye with a red wine jus, fries and a green salad.

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The mackerel and the Tuscan salad are fabulously flavoursome and the ribeye is beautifully tender. I only have two issues. First, my food is served on a board rather than a plate – where do I pour my jus? Second, the portion of fries is tiny! We should all be eating a healthier diet…. but even I don’t need to cut back that much.

The lack of fries has left me with room for dessert. I decide to try the baked alaska. It arrives in a small steel pan – soft meringue peaks rising over a cold ice cream centre. Not bad at all!

2015 Awards – Part I

WadeandRockandFoodAwards 2015

Over the past year we have visited almost 200 places looking for the very best eating experiences. Almost all of these places have been carefully hand-picked based on recommendations or reviews.  However, we only made posts about those experiences that were, in some way, truly interesting or exciting.

The WadeandRockandFoodAwards 2015 (part I) are made to three outstanding pubs that delivered superb food and great service – listed in alphabetical order.

The Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote – great beer brewed specially for them but their food is the highlight – it consistently looks and tastes beautiful. Nest Review

The Pipe & Glass Inn, South Dalton – a place to go if you want to be spoilt. Great ambience, excellent service and sensational food. Glass Review

The Red Lion, East Chisenbury – a pub for grown-ups that knows how to treat children. Exceptional food and great guest beers. Lion Review

During 2016 we aim to return to some of the pubs we have loved and to visit numerous other places looking for fabulous food.

The WadeandRockandFoodAwards (part II) will be made to our top 3 restaurants and (part III) will be made to our top 4 small independents.

Lunch@The Nut Tree, Murcott

We are heading into Oxfordshire for lunch at The Nut Tree in Murcott. It is a few years since we last visited the Nut Tree but we have been encouraged back as an opportunity to catch up with friends, Roland & Jasmine.  Plus, the food should help us finish our 2015 eating adventures on a high!

We start this stage of our culinary tutorial with an amuse bouche of warm parsnip soup, curry oil and toasted almonds. It is an interesting start….and earns high marks. Rock, Roland & Jasmine all have the pave of smoked Loch Duart salmon with whipped horseradish cream, pickled cucumber & Avruga caviar. The salmon is simply beautiful. I have the Cornish crab salad with citrus fruits, seaweed crisp & coriander. The seaweed crisp is an education in itself … it tastes far better than it looks and works really well with the crab and citrus flavours.

Roland and I move on to the roast saddle of Scottish venison with potato puree, creamed spinach, sautéed wild mushrooms and a thyme jus. The meat is beautifully tender, all elements of the dish are cooked perfectly – I’ve had venison numerous times this year and this one is top of the class. Rock has the pan-fried fillet of sea bream with a green herb rissotto and a wilted pousse (which I learn is French for shoots). Jasmine has the fresh open lasagne with a fricassee of wild mushrooms and tender leeks.

Between main and dessert courses we are served a complimentary white chocolate mousse with caramel and salt, presented like an out of context Easter egg, in a real eggshell! For dessert, Roland chooses the artistically presented sticky toffee pudding with caramelised apple tart and praline ice cream. I am unable to resist the warm vanilla rice pudding with Armagnac marinated prunes, honeycomb and caramel ice cream. But, I find it too sweet and the honeycomb tastes slightly burnt – that will teach me to give in to temptation. A small blemish on an otherwise fabulous meal.

Overall the Nut Tree has performed to high standards and passed the oral examination with ease.

Lunch@The Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote

If you really liked a place first time round, then when you return, your expectations will usually be much higher than normal. Today, we are unreasonably excited about returning to The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote and we are hoping the food and the service will match our high expectations! As we walk through the door, there is a hive of activity – a shedload of hungry diners and thirsty drinkers have arrived just before us.

I don’t recall the beer I had here last time but I don’t think it was as interesting or as unusual as today’s pint of Sapsucker, a pale ale created locally by a master brewer specially for the Feathered Nest. Rock decides she doesn’t need a starter but I go for the watermelon salad and cumbrian ham with feta, rocket and mint. I have burrowed my way through hundreds of dishes that feature melon and ham but….this is one of the very best. Looks beautiful, tastes beautiful.

Rock’s main is the suckling pig with creamed potato, black pudding, cabbage and apple. The pork is fantastically crunchy on the outside, has the right balance of fat and meat and sits in a pond of heavenly gravy. It is surrounded by creamy mash and silky apple sauce. I have the sea bream lodged on a cocoon of lobster tagliatelle, pattypan, courgette and a bisque. The sea bream is cooked to perfection, my only disappointment is the lobster tagliatelle, which I find a little uninspiring given the quality of everything else.

I move on to the summer berries gratin with a strawberry sorbet and mint. Fruits of the earth have been set around the sorbet with a light swirl of cream and jus. Another plate which looks and tastes like a piece of art. Rock has a more straightforward sorbet dish. Two different flavours, rhubarb & buttermilk, served on lemon granite and with a web of delicate sugarwork. She loves the flavours and the smooth texture of the sorbets.

We really did not want to come here and be disappointed. The Nest did not just meet our expectations this time round….it exceeded them!

Lunch@The Swan Inn, Swinbrook

A drive through the Oxfordshire countryside is taking us to The Swan Inn located in the small but almost perfectly formed Cotswold village of Swinbrook. We arrive to find a busy but relaxed pub that looks as though it places some importance on the business of providing food for its customers. The whole scene is improved further when we are soon joined by our friends, Jasmine and Roland, or Jazz & Roll for short.

It is unusual when we are dining with friends for no-one to choose a starter or a meat dish – but that is what happens today. I select the pan fried hake with slow roast tomatoes and green beans.  It is served in a circle of piquant flavoured green olives and walnut pesto that works really well with the perfectly cooked hake. Jazz and Roll both spot the whole grilled plaice with baby carrots, cucumber, new potatoes and herb oil and both are very happy with their choice. Rock enjoys the fishcake sited on a bed of salad leaves and surrounded by a herb & mustard seed mayonnaise.

No starters, no meat and now almost no dessert! However, after asking about the Affogato, I am unable to resist!  As usual it is a strong shot of espresso coffee served with vanilla ice cream but, here they serve an extra special ingredient that makes all the difference, a walnut liqueur!  I am now in the ‘wow’ zone. Rock n’Roll and Jazz share a board of cheeses from different regions that includes: Cornish Yarg; Oxford Blue; Montgomery Cheddar; Stinking Bishop; and Cerney goat’s cheese. All the cheeses are really well-kept and good quality.

Fabulous fish, outstanding Affogato, fine cheese all enjoyed with good friends. We will try at least one starter and at least one meat course next time we are in the neighbourhood of The Swan….. and there will be a next time!