Sunday lunch@Churchill Arms, Paxford

Nick Deverell-Smith, the head chef and owner of The Churchill Arms in Paxford has recently appeared on two culinary TV shows – the Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. Although this is not the usual way we choose where we are going to eat, it has led Sebastien & Rebecca, to suggest The Churchill Arms as the place to meet for Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch menus tend to be traditional & boring so, we are hopeful that with Nick’s pedigree, there will be some more interesting options.

Sebastien & Rebecca are already there when we arrive. In terms of interesting options, I am immediately pleased to find an ale that I’ve not tried before. Shagweaver is an award winning pale bitter from the local North Cotswold Brewery. This is a refreshing ale – perfect for a warm summer’s day.

Before any starters arrive we are presented with a very pleasant amuse-bouche of artichoke and bacon arancini – light, crisp coated and well flavoured risotto rice balls.

Rock starts with the pea &spinach soup. Sebastien and I both go for the smoked haddock soufflé with a chive velouté. It is very well flavoured but I’m not sure that I like the consistency. The soufflé, originally quite light & fluffy, has become thick and heavy after the velouté has been poured over it. Rebecca chooses the most interesting dish in terms of presentation – heritage tomato with avocado & quinoa.

The main course selection is not as interesting as I had hoped. Rock has the leg of Cotswold lamb with roast potatoes, local greens & gravy. Sebastien & Rebecca have the pork T-bone with apple, crackling, sage & roast potatoes. All good quality but very traditional, the roast potatoes were excellent. I have the only non-traditional dish – whole roasted mackerel with bobby beans, peas and broad beans. It is very good.

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Sebastien and I both examine the dessert menu and there is one that really appeals – the gooseberry tart. Sorry, we are told, we have just sold out! If Churchill was here, he would have settled for a Havana cigar and a cognac – but he would have to sit in the garden…

This was a typically British menu but I think we may have been better to visit Nick’s kitchen on a Saturday!

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Lunch@Jack Hare’s Bar, Westonbirt

These days I don’t have too many business meetings over lunch but, today, I’m with Kimberley, Jane, Hugo and Akela at The Hare & Hounds Hotel in Westonbirt. The Hare & Hounds is part of the Cotswold Inns Hotel Group and is located just a few hundred yards from The National Arboretum.

The food is from Jack Hare’s Bar, the country pub part of the hotel which is next door.  While most of our group are having a BLT sandwich or something similar, Kimberley is trying the broccoli soup and I’m going to sample the lamb shank with parsnip & apple mash and a rosemary & garlic jus. The lamb shank falls off the bone and the mash and jus (gravy) all work together beautifully. Meanwhile, Kimberley is thoroughly enjoying her soup.

Although our business meeting is pretty much over….it would be rude not to sample the desserts. I have the New York style cheesecake with forest fruit sorbet, Akela has the lemongrass crème brûlée with citrus ginger biscuit and Kimberley and Jane have the white chocolate brioche bread & butter pudding with crème Anglaise and rum & raisin ice cream. After only a few minutes, all these desserts have disappeared without trace.

The Hare & Hounds is a fabulous place to meet and Jack Hare’s Bar provides some fine food and drink. With Westonbirt Arboretum and other Cotswold attractions nearby – this would also be a great base for a holiday.

Lunch@The Wheatsheaf, Northleach

We are back at an old favourite, The Wheatsheaf at Northleach to meet Roland & Jasmine for lunch. Northleach is a quiet and beautiful Cotswold village, mostly undisturbed by tourists, and the Wheatsheaf is a popular venue for those needing a drink or some decent food.

While Rock cleans her palate with a lime & soda, the rest of us have pints or halves of Coaster – an excellent honeyed malty light ale from Sharp’s Brewery. We decide to pass on starters and go straight to the main event. Rock is having smoked aubergine with roasted Romano peppers, tobacco onions and Tabbouleh salad. It looks colourful and fascinating – the huge slices of aubergine surround the tomatoes, bulgur, parsley, chickpeas and mint of the Tabbouleh and the peppers, all topped with pieces of crispy onion. However – Rock feels that the dish really doesn’t quite work. It is a disparate collection rather than a harmony!

Jasmine and I have the rump of lamb with marinated Evesham tomatoes, slices of new potato, tzatziki and long strips of cucumber. The lamb is beautiful and, thankfully, the dish is a triumph. Roland has the peppered flat iron steak – deeply scorched on the outside but beautifully pink inside. It is served with watercress, tomato and fries.  He is loving it!

More Coaster and then, dessert. Roland & Jasmine both have the warm peaches with marsala, almonds & clotted cream. Fabulous sticky flavours of the middle east, with a nutty crunch all complemented perfectly by the cream. Rock & I share the lovely Wye Valley blueberry & apricot crumble with vanilla ice cream.

Overall it has been a high quality affair with only Rock’s vegetarian dish falling below the standards we had been hoping for. It has been good to be back here and we have enjoyed fine service from James and other members of the team. If you are in this part of the Cotswolds, both Northleach and the Wheatsheaf are well worth a visit.

Lunch@Ebrington Arms, Ebrington

We are driving through April snow to meet Gustav, Isobel and their young, excitable dog, Nora in Chipping Campden. Then, we will all be walking to The Ebrington Arms for lunch. The Cotswold countryside is briefly covered by an almost celestial white sheet of snow. However, as we start our walk to Ebrington, we soon find this hides a planet of water and mud.

When we arrive at the pub we are all quite wet and muddy – especially Nora. Gustav and I soon discover that they brew a galaxy of their own beers here. The Yubberton Brewing Company is inspired by the original name for the old village of Ebrington. Gustav orders a pint of Goldie – a premium pale ale with strong hoppy notes – and I choose the Yubby – a fruity copper coloured bitter. Izzy sets a different course and has the local cider.

The walk has created a real desire for food and Gustav and I both order the smoked salmon roulade with potato blinis, cucumber, fennel & tiny asteroids of salmon caviar. We don’t often comment on knives & forks – but the meteoric curves of the Studio William cutlery are very stylish. Izzy is having the carrot & orange soup while Rock is holding back in the hope of landing an afternoon tea later. The beer and the soup are good but they are eclipsed by the salmon roulade which is heavenly.

Gustav has another pint of Goldie while I move on to the Yawnie – a full-bodied chestnut coloured ale with notes of toffee and malt. Izzy decides to have a cheese & pickle sandwich served with coleslaw, mayonnaise and chutney. Gustav & I both pick the venison burger with smoked bacon, cheese, tomato, gherkin & hand cut chips. Rock is the most adventurous – she is having the constellation of haricot & borlotti beans with sprouting broccoli, a gremolata dressing and almonds. It is all good quality but Rock would have liked more gremolata. Gustav & I agree that the venison burger is beautiful, though I find the brioche bun to be almost as dry as the surface of the moon.

Overall, this is a great pub in a fabulous Cotswold village. It has been fantastic to catch up with Gustav, Izzy and Nora and we certainly won’t wait light years before doing it again!. Despite the snow and the mud – this trip to Chipping Campden and its satellite, The Ebrington Arms – has been very worthwhile!

Lunch@The Birdcage, Malmesbury

Malmesbury is a small market town in the south Cotswolds. It is famous for two things – one relatively old, Malmesbury Abbey – and one relatively new, the headquarters of technology company, Dyson. After a good circular walk around the town we have chosen to have lunch at The Birdcage, a pizza restaurant owned by the local Wild Food Company – who also own a deli in town.

We order drinks – I have a Budding Organic Pale Ale from the Stroud Brewery while Rock is unable to resist ordering an Organic Blackcurrant with sparkling water from a company called Rocks! Both drinks are just what we hoped they would be – refreshing and tasty.

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The Birdcage menu has a long list of thin crust pizzas – all named after places or streets in Malmesbury.  It also has pasta dishes, stromboli(Italian filled turnovers) and salads. Rock and I decide to share the Cowbridge pizza with toppings that include mozzarella, organic tomato, sunblush tomato, olives, capers, red onion & pine kernels. We add pepperoni as an extra topping and a side dish of mixed salad.

The pizza is a blaze of colour when it arrives and it tastes fantastic. The mixed salad is huge and we have been very wise to share! The colours on our plate are almost as interesting as the colours on the restaurant walls – the vibrant wall murals have been painted by local artist Philip Kingsbury.

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Rock has no room for dessert so, while she is drinking her coffee, I simply enjoy an Affogato – vanilla gelato with a shot of hot espresso. A perfect way to end an Italian meal! Bella!

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!

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.