Restaurant review: Fox & Hounds, Great Wolford
It's one of life's great paradoxes, is the Fox & Hounds at Great Wolford.
In a quintessentially Cotswold village just outside Moreton-in-Marsh, amidst miles of ancient footpaths and bridleways, the stone pub sits quietly at the back of a sandy forecourt, as it has since 1540.
In fact, unless you look carefully, you'd barely notice it was a pub, save for the tiny, round, peeling sign hanging high above the gutters.
Inside, it's all inglenooks, flagstones and hops dripping from tarred oak beams.
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A taxidermy fox stalks one end of the bar, under the watchful eye of a stuffed owl.
The ancient, blackened, double-hinged door – so hung to allow the coffins of departed villagers to be carried in during wakes of yore – creaks as a steady stream of locals and walkers trip in and out.
Cosy, unstuffy and just on the right side of threadbare, it's a boots-on kind of place. The kind of place the Yanks (of which Moreton is full) love. They even close for a couple of hours in the afternoons. Which is kind of quaint.
You might imagine, then, that the food would be terribly quaint too, traditional and old-fashioned and British. Rather pipe and slippers. Not a bit of it.
Jamie Tarbox's cooking is exciting, eclectic, accomplished. It's Hong Kong to the Cotswolds, to Valencia and Tuscany and back again.
The chalky scrawl on the blackboard champions local produce – Dexter beef and venison from farms up the road, game from myriad local shoots.
But so, these days, does every decent eating pub. Big deal, you might say. Everyone does food miles.
So what makes Jamie's food so memorable?
Well he's travelled widely, and it shows. He makes his own sausages and bacon, chutneys and pickles. He bakes bread. He forages for mushrooms, he gathers wild herbs. He grows his own veg in the pub's kitchen garden.
He's bold with ingredients, is Jamie; he's clever. Very clever indeed.
Here's a man who pairs Kitebrook eggs with crispy capers, chard and sourdough soldiers; oxtail risotto with horseradish and tarragon; venison casserole with sage and juniper dumplings, and soft chocolate pudding with marmalade ice cream.
He understands food.
It was the morning-after-the-night-before when we stumbled across the Fox, our love affair with turkey and mince pies and podgy filo-this and lattice-that party nibbles well and truly over.
What we discovered amongst the bumpy, ruby red walls and stone floors littered with flaked-out lurchers was this: a beautiful dish of silky orechiette, plump with herby duck and red wine and fronds of irony kale to cut through the richness.
We found ribbons of shimmering, paper-thin rice noodles nestling beneath shreds of searingly-hot and fragrant Szechuan pork bejewelled with ruby red chillies, slivers of spring onion and peanuts.
We found a comforting broth of meltingly-tender pork with leeks and potatoes and carrots, and as good a root vegetable mash as I've tasted.
And then we found the banoffee trifle. It was sublime. So much so that the rest of our friends, who were planning to eat Sunday lunch at home, ordered some.
If the Fox & Hounds isn't on your culinary radar, it ought to be.
Blow away the February cobwebs with a Cotswold welly walk or mill about the antique shops of Moreton, and then head into the Fox's cosy bar – before those Michelin inspectors find it.
Because when they do, you won't get a table for love nor money.