The Boxing Hare
The Boxing Hare in Swerford has come out fighting with a Michelin chef, experienced owners, a new name and total revamp.
You’d perhaps be forgiven for not slamming on the brakes at the location of The Boxing Hare pub, as it’s so flush to the busy A361 about 5 miles from Chipping Norton. However, that my friends, would be a great big whopping mistake because this pub is well worth parking up for. Formerly The Mason’s Arms and a bit run down, it was taken over just before Christmas by London restauranteur Antony Griffith Harris (The Canal Brasserie; First Floor in Notting Hill) and his partner Stacey C. Elder who both recognised the massive potential – original features, gorgeous windows, balcony, gardens and the kind of humungous car park that only those of pensionable age can get excited about.
Friendly and confident – these guys know what they’re doing and have sprinkled some considerable magic on this Cotwold pub. It looks great for starters, with traditional touches like settles and log fires alongside bold colourings and stylish photography on the walls. Only the conservatory is still a work in progress and feels slightly old-fashioned, but it’s next in the queue for a revamp.
The Boxing Hare was so new when I reviewed that even the signage hadn’t arrived – it was put up whilst I was eating! – and hardly anyone knew it had changed hands, so the pub was understandably quiet, but it still had a lovely feel to it, and by now it will have found its mojo.
Oh My Gee. The food is a huuuge card for The Boxing Hare, gastronomically it really is fantastic. Head chef is Nicholas Anderson, a two time Michelin star and 3 AA rosette winner, most recently cooking up a storm at The Bell of Hampton Poyle so it’s no wonder really. Sous chef is Kate Anderson (wife of Nicholas) who makes all the breads, puddings ice creams and sorbets on site.
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. 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 £14ish and even an excellent bottle of white that’s served at The Dorchester costs a mere £19. Meanwhile if you fancy a sneaky G&T in one of those gorgeous oversized goblets, it’s a fiver. A FIVER!
So, shall we eat? Deliberately trying to keep my first course light, I ordered the Cotswold gin & beetroot cured sea trout (above), with cucumber salad, sweet dill and a mustard dressing that lifted the trout beautifully. If there’s a more striking plate of food to be had on a plate, I haven’t seen it. t was absolutely divine, I couldn’t fault the combination of flavours or the texture of the fish.
That delicate entree made the mains of 10oz rib eye steak (£28) with peppercorn sauce and triple cooked chips entirely guilt free. The best piece of beef I ate in the whole of 2017 and almost certainly the best chips too, they balanced the fluffy/crispy axis perfectly. Not to be defeated after two courses, I had a go at the home made sorbet (amaze-balls, literally) before settling on a sticky toffee pud for dessert. And that, mes amis, with a final flourish of a double espresso, was the end of a perfect lunch.
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 tantrumming 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.