Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds boast a pretty fine array of quality eating establishments and in the year that we’ve been back in the area we’ve been truly spoilt. But none have spoilt us with such tasty delights as much as the Kingham Plough, just south of Chipping Norton.
Despite being only a small village Kingham is getting a bit of a foodie name for itself; it’s home to Alex James’ goats cheese farm, it hosts the Big Feastival, Daylesford Organic farm is just round the corner and The Wild Rabbit – a Daylesford owned pub has just recently opened to positive reviews.
The Kingham Plough is owned by Emily Watkins who as Head Chef, some of you may recognise as a name from the BBC’s Great British Menu. Although she didn’t make it through to the final her cooking style and flare enticed me enough to want to sample her culinary skills at her restaurant.
On Wednesday 30 October, Gem and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary and as all our anniversaries tend to be based around good food it was the perfect opportunity to make the half hour journey to see if the Kingham Plough lived up to our expectations.
And let me tell you it did
The service was impeccable from the start. Our waitress for the evening was informative without being pushy or robotic – she knew her courses, and when asked about the Duck Wellington and the Skirt Steak she knew exactly how to sell both while enabling me to make a decision.
I started off with the Jerusalem Artichoke and Lamb Sweetbread Terrine served with crispy Sweetbreads, Lambs Lettuce and Mustard Dressing. The soft artichoke moose encased the tender and slippery sweetbread which offered a subtle yet fulfilling flavour. As I moved round the plate the crispy sweetbreads added a bite and pulling this plate together was the cool artichoke cream sauce which was so good it almost stole the sweetbreads’ thunder. The excellent freshly baked cereal bread satisfyingly helped mop up the velvety sauce to leave not even a crumb of evidence that a starter had ever existed.
For main I had eventually opted for the Duck Wellington with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Baby Turnips and Turnip Puree while Gem went for the Loin of Cornbury Park Venison with Shoulder Stew, Onion Squash Dumplings and Curly Kale.
The Duck Wellington was the star of my meal. The pastry that encased the lovely layers of duck meat was thin and crispy and kind of reminded me of the shell of a McDonald’s apple pie, but in a good way. The crisp, bubbled texture was the only similarity; it was not so hot that I burnt my mouth and internal organs, but it was the ideal thickness to balance the Wellington’s tantalizing innards.
To protect the crisp pastry from the juices within was a thin layer of spinach followed by tender slow cooked duck leg. A layer of mushroom added an earthy depth to the proceedings before at the heart of the Wellington, a perfectly rounded piece of duck breast. I imagine the breast had probably been cooked in a water bath as it had a consistent pinkness throughout. Bring the layers together, though difficult to get all five on the fork at one time, the dish had everything I wanted from the succulent tender breast to flavour packed mushrooms and duck leg to its crisp pastry shell.
It would be also be unfair not to mention the other elements of the dish. It was great to have tasty vegetables as part of the dish and not as a side order. The sprouting broccoli was fresh and tender and the baby turnips had an interesting smokeyness to them.
The Cornbury Park Venison was another number one hit with its succulent superstar meat arriving two ways. The Loin was tender and succulent with a rewarding depth of flavour, while the stew offered rich, autumnal tones in a delicate manner. Sitting alongside the meats were Onion Squash Dumplings and Curly Kale. The Curly Kale provided a crispy seaweed like element to the plate which while being completely unexpected was a welcome addition – the texture differences worked perfectly.
I quite often find that restaurants do certain bits of a plate well. One of my pet hates is vegetables and sauces coming as a side order. Once upon a time they were considered part of the dish – now you have to pay an extra mortgage just to complete your meal. Thankfully the Kingham Plough hasn’t followed this trend and instead gives you a complete meal. Don’t get me wrong it’s never going to be a cheap meal but the quality and care that’s taken over each forkful you eat makes the price completely worthwhile.
Dessert was a no brainer. Already being a lover of Nell’s Dairy and knowing the Kingham Plough hosts a Nell’s vending machine which provided the milk for the ice-cream the decision was easy. We opted for three scopes consisting of Vanilla, Elderflower & Damson and their award winning Blackberry Crumble. All three were luxuriously smooth and creamy. You could taste the seasons of summer and autumn coming together with the Elderflower & Damson, and they nailed the overall taste experience of the Blackberry Crumble – you could completely see why it has an award to its name.
Although we were well and truly satisfied at this point we couldn’t resist a selection of homemade sweets to share. Consisting of what can only be described as the poshest and tastiest fruit pastel I’ll ever try, a burnt caramel truffle, spiced cinnamon apple cake and fudge it was the perfect way to end what had already been a superb meal.
To me, the Kingham Plough is all that is good about the Cotswolds; it’s a celebration of local quality produce that is cooked in a way that really excites. If you have read a few of my reviews, I generally only write about meals I’ve enjoyed, but hopefully you’ll notice this is probably my most positive review yet. The Kingham Plough definitely goes into my top ten favourite restaurants category.
Find out more about the Kingham Plough and its ethos, menus and keep posted for next summer’s farmers’ markets which take place in the Plough’s car park.