Many would argue that a pub serving great food is hardly a novelty nowadays and not worth a detour. In fact, within an hour of Emily Watkins's Kingham Plough there is Josh Eggleton’s legendary Pony and Trap, Dominic Chapman’s star studded Royal Oak and the Michelin two star institution, Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers. But on a sunny April afternoon, en route to an Easter weekend near Hay-on-Wye, I decided to make a lunch stop to sample her food in Chipping Norton.
My erratic TomTom brought us, an hour later than planned, to the prettiest of village greens where it wasn’t immediately obvious that there was a pub. And then we spotted it, just off the village green, with the simplest of Cotswold facades, a few window boxes and a cavernous entrance to a car park, that resembled a giant’s mouth! The first sign that something a little bit different was going on here, was that in the very busy car park was a milk vending machine that sells Guernsey milk produced at Adam Fleming’s local dairy for £2 per litre. In fact we even have a recipe for how to turn this liquid gold into butter from Emily!
It is worth saying that I was travelling on this occasion with my wife and our 13-month old son, who has thoroughly enjoyed eating at both Luke Holder’s Limewood and Adam Bennett’s The Cross. Taking one's kids to highly rated restaurants is always a little bit nerve-wracking and so I was relieved when I spotted some photographs of Emily's kids on the wall, and a paper hot air balloon hanging above the bar. This is a restaurant that makes you feel at home. There is a pile of board games in one corner, a large welcoming fire with a life-size pig, (rideable at least for my son), and of course a classic pub bar. We didn’t indulge in the bar snacks but they give you a feel for what Emily and her team are doing: home-made sausage rolls, potted brawn with pickles and toast, hand raised pork pie and ploughman’s pickle.
The interesting thing about the restaurant menu however, is that while the dishes sound classic they are produced using a combination of really modern techniques like sous vide and old fashioned approaches gleaned from old cookery books.There is clearly a dedication to local ingredients and the menu is peppered with local producers who are delivering to Emily’s exacting standards: Windrush goats cheese; Daylesford salad; Tamworth Pork from Paddock Farm. While every restaurant in the land worth its salt is into local, the team at The Kingham Plough talk of foraging local elderflower with a degree of enthusiasm and excitement!
My son was hungry so we ordered quickly and made sure that we got some of the local cereal bread (that is guaranteed to keep him happily rocking in his chair)! We started with the stew of razor and palourde Cornish clams with heirloom tomatoes, wild garlic and preserved lemons and a portion of confit rabbit dumplings, with rabbit ham, glazed baby carrots and piccalilli. Both of these dishes were full of flavour and a level of sophistication that you would expect from a chef who has trained at The Fat Duck. The rabbit was my favourite - an unusual combination using one of my favourite meats. It was perfectly set against the sharpness of the piccalilli and was very moreish. The stew was more of a consommé with a subtle, fresh flavour showing off the seasonal wild garlic.