A gorgeous gastro-offering in a National Trust village six miles north of Banbury, this quirkily stylish pub is worth the trip into Warwickshire.
This stunning pub is just over the Oxfordshire border, so I had to scrap with Catherine, my superglam Warwickshire editor over who was going to review it. Turns out she’s surprisingly good at arm wrestling, so here’s her verdict.
Snuggled in a beautiful ancient National Trust village in Warwickshire on the Oxfordshire border, near Gaydon and six miles north of Banbury, is this stylish, independent Grade II listed 300-year-old honey-coloured stone inn owned by husband-and-wife team Jo and Anthony Robinson. The pub is no more than 10 minutes from junctions 11 and 12 of the M40. Close by is the National Trust owned Farnborough Hall, an Italianate 18th mansion (reopening in April 2018), still a family home, surrounded by historic parkland with a 5.5mile circular walk so you can combine culture and gastronomy with ease.
Hearty seasonal British fare and imaginative global inspired dishes whipped up from Jo and Anthony’s self-sufficient vegetable garden & micro tunnel – you couldn’t get any more seasonal or local than that! This newly refurbished kid-friendly, dog-friendly pub has also won the accolade of being chosen as one of only three new entries in The Good Food Guide 2018 across the South-East.
It was turning dusk on a slightly chilly autumn evening when Mr Muddy and I arrived for Friday night dinner. It was so lovely to walk into the warm, welcoming buzzy bar – a clear favourite with locals in the village. The styling is contemporary rustic with lots of nooks and crannies. After running the place for 16 years Anthony and Jo decided to re-style the place 18 months ago, transforming the inn from a gastropub to a rustic kitchen country eating house. They were looking to create a chilled-out home-from-home vibe and have definitely succeeded there. It’s a little bit rock and roll with lots of personality, deer horns on the fireplace, vintage ivory cutlery, Blue Willow china and quirky touches like the fairground inspired illuminated letters spelling out The Kitchen above the well-stocked tiled bar.
We were led to a table next to a table by the huge feature fireplace with its magnificent centre-piece – a bright red log-burner – how cool is this? You instantly want to curl up under one of the super soft throws.
I loved the gorgeous thick Cotswolds stone walls, beamed ceiling, shabby-chic furniture, wooden tables and fresh flowers on each table too – it’s a building full of character yet feels modern, relaxed and informal. On the bar there was also a display of colourful home-grown pumpkins, squashes, veg and flowers on the bar.
Outside there’s a beautiful garden with attractive grey painted wooden seating area and garden boxes full of home-grown veg and herbs, a covered decking area with heaters, charcoal grill, and traditional stone pizza oven with throws and a giant Connect 4. A fab sociable place all year round – perfect for summer parties and alfresco dining, there are also heaters and throws for the cooler months.
Fine food without formality or stuffiness is the ethos here. Anthony trained classically at The Savoy and The Dorchester in London, before spending several years in Michelin-starred restaurants in the South of France including Hotel du Cap. Jo loves searching out local food and drink ‘heroes’ like award-winning Leamington Spa-based Aubrey Allen Butchers and Warwickshire’s Cotswolds Distillery in Shipston-on-Stour. Head gardener Emma has cultivated The Kitchen garden – impressively it’s 50% sustainable in the summer months growing beets, sweetheart cabbage, carrots, celeriac, black and curly kale as well as a superb collection of pumpkins, squashes and even olives, alongside, fruit, herbs and edible flowers.
The Kitchen’s menus change on a weekly basis (with daily specials), reflecting the seasons and what is growing in their Kitchen Garden. Like many pubs who want to offer choice and appeal to a large range of palates, food ranges from hearty and rustic British classics to more globally inspired dishes.
On arrival, we ate Warm Flowerpot Bread, a freshly baked bread roll in a cute mini Terracotta plant pot, with some delicious fennel butter.
Mr Muddy ordered a pint of Estrella and after skimming through the wine-menu decided on a glass of the very drinkable fresh dry, citrus-y French white, L’Abeille Picpoul de Pinet, and our lovely waitress, who made excellent recommendations, also brought over a bottle of complimentary cucumber-infused water.
I fancied the two seasonal Specials of the Day starting with a Smoked Aubergine and Tomato Salad. It was as pretty as a picture decorated with herbs and edible flowers from the garden.
Mr Muddy Warks’ Toasted Goats Cheese with Spiced Pumpkin, Pear & Lentils and a Pomegranate Dressing, below, was not only extremely tasty but also very Instagrammable!
For mains, you’ll need to wear a pair of elasticated pants as the portions are quite generous. I had the prettiest looking seafood risotto made with sustainable British fish – prawns, mussels and coley. I couldn’t quite manage the entire dish, but it was perfectly executed and every mouthful tasted full of flavour.
Here’s Mr Muddy’s Spiced & Smoked 24 Hour Aberdeenshire Steak Beef Short Rib, Pumpkin & Potato Bake and Pickled Cabbage. He hardly even took a sip of beer, so it must’ve been good.
All the puds coming out of the kitchen looked irresistible including Apple Crumble with Blackberry Ice Cream & Vanilla Custard; Elderberry Fool; Sticky Toffee Pudding and diners rave about the Chocolate Orange with Seville Orange Sorbet and Honeycomb.
KID & DOG FRIENDLY
Definitely! Children can choose from four mains – fishcakes, peas and skinny fries; bangers, mash carrots and gravy; a burger with skinny fries and crudities or pomodoro pasta – all £6, plus beans on toast, £4. For pudding there’s ice cream sundae with popping candy, £3 or nursery pudding, £4. Alternatively, for tweens and teens smaller sizes from the grown-up’s menus are available. Well-behaved pooches are welcomed in the bar. Furry friends get a water bowl and woofy treats.
OUT & ABOUT
A walker’s paradise with some of the best walks in the region close-by – Farnborough Lake being the nearest, just a couple of minutes from the pub car park. There are links to local walks on their doorstep on The Kitchen’s website here including the rugged hilltops of Burton Dassett Hills Country Park. Two National Trust properties are virtually on the doorstep – 18th century Farnborough Hall, home of the Holbech family, is literally a minute away by car and Lord and Lady Bearsted’s 1930s made-to-measure country home, Upton House and gardens. Car crazy kids will enjoy the family-friendly British Motor Museum with the world largest collection of historic vehicles at Gaydon – which is on the same site as the futuristic Warwickshire headquarters of Jaguar/Landrover.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: A chilled-out rural escape. If you’re looking for a romantic recharge surrounded by beautiful the Warwickshire countryside, this is absolutely your spot. Equally it’d work well for girl’s night out, posh family meal or Christmas party.
Not for: I seriously can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like The Kitchen. Great for kids, especially when the weather warms up with a lovely outside space, and dog-friendly too. The food is amazing. I guess the only issue would be if you enjoy the hospitality so much and fancy staying for a few more drinks, the taxi ride home to one of the main Warwickshire towns might be a little pricey as it’s quite remote. But there are useful links on the pub’s website to several good B&B’s and hotels in the vicinity if you feel like treating yourself to an overnight stay.
The damage: For the quality of ingredients and standard of cooking prices are pitched about right. Starters £7-£10; Mains £14-£25; Puddings £2.50-£8. The wine list is broad and interesting.
The Kitchen, Main Street, Farnborough, Nr. Banbury, Warwickshire, OX17 1DZ. Closed Tues & Wed.