The Fat Fox Inn, Watlington
I reviewed The Fat Fox Inn in Watlington, South Oxon, on Muddy last year, but since then there’s been a tickle of a refurb and a new chef waving his wooden spoon (yeah, they all do that you know). So, not to be too greedy, I dispatched Sarah – ex Muddy Berks doncha know – to see what she made of it…
The Fat Fox is one of those pubs you’ve probably clocked a dozen times as you’ve driven past it and said: Oh well, we’ll stop next time’. It does sit bang on the main road in the centre of the little market town of Watlington, a route that is often more of a thoroughfare as people push on through to the M40. Well, please take the advice from your intrepid superscoffer and next time slam on the brakes and turn in, because there’s a new chef at the helm and his food is absolutely fantastic.
On the day I visited, I invited my friend Victoria to join me and it turns out she’d eaten at The Fat Fox many moons ago but hadn’t been back since for whatever reason, so she was the perfect candidate to try the new menu. When we sat down, John the owner stopped by our table to say hello and also pointed out that apart from the food, they’d made a few tweaks to the decor too, though I’d still class The Fat Fox as more of a cosy inn than a gastropub in terms of interiors (not a bad thing btw, I think we’ve all had quite enough Farrow & Ball paint with our steak).
In terms of layout, the traditional long wooden bar is at the heart of the pub, with the main seating areas to the left and right and a cosier bit towards the back if you’d rather be more tucked away. There are wooden floors throughout, worn tables and chairs and it has a ‘lived in’ feel that’s immediately relaxing.
The real gem though is the more elegant dining room to the left of the large inglenook fireplace, which doesn’t cost to hire but looks like it could easily seat a a few long rowdy tables of revellers – perfect for a girlfriend’s birthday supper or family get-together. It’s all dusky pinks and brass candelabras with antique rugs on the floor, and feels just that little bit special.
Anyway, onto the food! We got straight down to business fighting over who was going to try the pub’s scotch egg with remoulade and mustard mayo (£8) – ‘You have it; no you; no really, I insist…’. Of course I let my guest order it… then promptly ate half. Oh come on, Scotch egg people, all bets and niceties are off. Anyway, it was flipping amazing. My generous slab of ham hock terrine with tangy piccalilli and toast (£6) was equally delicious. We’d hit pub gold.
From the main courses we were intrigued by ‘gnudi’ which of course lovely reader you already know is similar to gnocchi but made with ricotta cheese instead of potato. And yes, gnudi, does mean naked in Italian. You may snigger – we certainly did.
Anyway, the little pillowy delights were served with braised chard, Parmesan and broccoli (£13) and as you can see the dish was as pretty as a picture.
I snaffled a bite (surprise surprise) and it really was delicious – light in texture but full of flavour, worryingly I could have eaten it all day long and never felt full. My own main course was the most amazing piece of plump pan-roasted skate with a rosemary, caper and raisin burnt butter (£18), the fish cooked to opaque wobbly perfection.
We made it to pudding. I practically sunk into my almond and lemon meringue roulade (£6) which by the way, came with quenelles of double cream and extra lemon curd on the side in case, God forbid, my fat stores were running low.
Victoria chose the *lighter* option of cinnamon pannacotta, poached clementines and sorbet and was therefore able to get up from her chair unaided after our meal. I needed a shoe horn for a bit of leverage.
In just a few months, Stuart Lennox, the new head chef (who was previously at Luscombes at the Golden Ball) has catapulted this unassuming country inn into gastro territory. You can of course get a decent steak or really good fish and chips here, but there are also things to help exercise your culinary muscles such as curried cauliflower samosas with sweet and sour sauce, or local pheasant breast with spiced lentils, coriander and heritage carrots, or dark chocolate mousse and caramel ice cream. And given the place was pretty full on a cold and grey Tuesday afternoon, the food is clearly pulling in the punters.
John and the rest of his staff are lovely too. We were looked after by Henry and Scarlet – two bright young things – and they were super-relaxed, warm and friendly.
You only have to read the testimonial from local luvvie resident, Jeremy Irons, to know the Fat Fox is well worth a visit: ‘Beautifully run with amazing food. This has to be one of the most welcoming watering holes and B&Bs on the edge of the Chilterns.’ Couldn’t agree with you more Jezza!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone looking for a more relaxed vibe, this place is (understandably) a firm favourite with the locals and there are no airs or graces or fancy hand soaps in the bathroom, just brilliant food in a rustic and relaxed setting. Excellent for Christmas Common walkers who can head downhill for lunch. There are 9 bedrooms, converted from the old barns, if you or yours need somewhere to stay locally.
Not for: Probably not ideal if you’ve got toddlers in tow – the pub is on the main road and although there’s a perfectly good bit of green space out the back, it’s set far back from the pub past the car park.
£££: Perfectly reasonable prices for top notch cooking using locally sourced ingredients, portions are generous too – you’ll definitely feel you’ve had value for money. Nibbles £3 each; Starters £6 to £8; £13 to £20; Sides £3; Desserts £6.
The Fat Fox Inn, 13 Shirburn Street, Watlington, Oxon OX49 5BU. Tel: 01491 613040. Facebook