The Boxing Hare
A strong Muddy fave, The Boxing Hare in Swerford comes out fighting with a Michelin chef, experienced owners, a newly renovated orangerie and celeb clientele. Book us in!
There are some pubs that you just know are going to be a success. I first reviewed The Boxing Hare pub in Swerford, North Oxfordshire in January 2018, when it was so new the signage hadn’t even been put up. The creds were already screwed firmly down though – new owners restauranteur Antony Griffith Harris (The Canal Brasserie; First Floor in Notting Hill) and his PR-savvy partner Stacey C. Elder with head chef Nicholas Anderson, a two time Michelin star and 3 AA rosette winner, formerly of The Bell of Hampton Poyle.
Only five miles from Chipping Norton, and a 15 minute jaunt from Soho House, the Boxing Hare has a steady stream of celebrities like the Beckhams (they live nearby), in-the-know locals and foodie day trippers making the pilgrimage.
Buzzy, confident, well-heeled – these guys know what they’re doing and it shows with Griffith Harris and Elder both actively working in the pub and keeping an eye to proceedings absolutely ‘in’ the business. Style-wise, the building itself is largely the star of the show, with its arched windows, wooden beams and fireplaces, so the decor is elegant and pared back mostly with wooden chairs and tables, but then there are bold colourings, modern photography on the walls and the kind of quirky touches I love, like the monkey statues wearing rappers chains and pretend stuffed swans on the walls.
The conservatory was a work in progress on my first visit, but it’s now been given a sprinkling of style magic, and is an ideal spot for private dining or larger parties, particularly as it looks out over the gardens.
You can have charming pubs that succeed with average food and scruffy pubs that succeed with amazing dishes, but it’s not that easy to run a charming pub with relentlessly superior gastro offering but The Boxing Hare does it all brilliantly, and without pretension.
The menu is a pleasingly eclectic mix of pub classics – fish and chips, sausage and mash, bavette steak – and more foodie offerings of which the gastro showboat is the 50 day Longhorn dry aged beef, on show in its futuristic-looking dry ager opposite the bar. But I think the team has been very smart, because they’ve gone strongly for quality and provenance but kept the prices very pub friendly. So the pub staples like burgers are £15ish and even an excellent bottle of white that’s served at The Dorchester costs a mere £19.
There’s also a bar menu that shows just how comfortable The Boxing Hare is in its own skin – happy to offer a simpe sausage roll with the chef’s ketchup (£3.50) or a Provençal fish soup with gruyere croutes & rouille (£6.50).
So, shall we eat?
Anyone unlucky to have been cooked dinner by me will know that soufflé is not my forte! Its really hard to pull off, and I’ve given up on it at home, so I always like to have it when it pops up on a menu. This twice baked cave aged cheddar soufflé with spinach & parmesan (£8.50) was exquisite – fluffy and airy, beautifully crusty at the top, very moist inside, and the spinach, all lovely and gooey from the cheese, made sure the overall effect wasn’t cloying.
On a previous visit I’d had the Cotswold Gin & Beetroot Cured Sea Trout, cucumber salad, sweet dill & mustard dressing (below) which I can’t recommend highly enough too – it was such a pretty plate of food I’ve included it here by way of comparison.
I was pretty tempted by the Ecuador white prawn fritters, saffron aioli & lime as a starter too (£8), so you’re not going to starve for options here.
Mains was XXXXX. Delicate combinations cooked superbly, XXXX.
Desserts deserve their own medal at The Boxing Hare. The sample menu offers 11 desserts, 12 if you include cheese, and they’re worth saving room for. Had I taken my own advice I would have chosen the vanilla cheesecake with Champagne rhubarb, but – poor me! – I only had space for affogato. But in my opinion there are few things more fun than pouring an espresso over home made vanilla icecream and funnelling it in, so I was more than content.
AROUND AND ABOUT
We’re on the Oxfordshire side of the Cotswolds, so there’s no shortage of lovely things to see and do. Chippy Norton is just around the corner, the National Trust beauty Chastleton House (made famous most recently by Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies) is a few miles further and Soho Farmhouse is a 15 minute chug up the road. Daylesford Farm is 10 miles away, and then it’s a hop and skip into the Glos side of the Cotswolds. If you want to keep it truly local, there’s a charming 5 mile walk from Swerford (check out the gorgeous church) to the pretty village of Wigginton, though it’s not circular so you’ll have to either retrace your steps or get a lift back.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Everyone really. The food is fab, there are enough crowd-pleasers to suit little palates, the pub has a pleasing number of different areas and nooks and crannies, and it works equally well for locals heading in for those £5 G&Ts or destination foodies searching for the perfect Sunday lunch. Parents can fling their tantruming toddlers into the garden and those on a budget can nosh a set lunch of 2 courses for £12 or £17 for 3 courses.
Not for: Those strongly averse to roadside pubs – though once inside I should point out that you can’t hear the road at all, and the lovely garden to the back of the pub is large and feels protected from the road too.
£££: Reasonable for the quality. Starters £5-8; mains £14-17.50; 10oz rib eye steak £28; side orders £3.50; puddings £7.
The Boxing Hare , Banbury Road, Swerford, Oxon, OX74AP. Tel: 01608 683212.