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Review: The Mole & Chicken, Easington

The food has had a shake-up under the new chef at this cosy pub & restaurant with rooms - but does the new menu cut the Mustard? Muddy investigates...

THE LOWDOWN

A great country pub & restaurant with five rooms on the Oxon/Bucks border, The Mole & Chicken has built up a solid reputation over the past 20 years. In the last 9 months it has brought in the dream team of manager, Kelly Cherry (ex The Nut Tree) and a new chef Jan Hvizdos (ex Fat Duck group). So, it’s still got all the friendliness of a buzzy local pub, but now with fresh ideas and stellar presentation.

Perched on a corner of a bend in the road, it’s easy to miss/disregard, but once you’ve parked up and stepped inside, this is no roadside inn. Though not flashy, the cosy pub works equally well for winter (warm tones twinkly lights) or summer (pretty garden and epic views).

THE VIBE

We arrived on a chilly November Saturday night and were instantly warmed by the outside lighting and glow from inside. There were inviting leather sofas (for a pre or post dinner drinks), a roaring fire and Buddy the resident Labradoodle sleeping in the corner. The place was full and it felt like a mix of locals and diners like us from further afield, with couples and family groups.  Wedding guests for nearby Notley Abbey and Nether Winchendon Manor often stay over for the accommodation and grab a drink before, or a hungover breakfast after.

Décor is rustic, with low beamed ceilings, wooden floors, and country-style tables and chairs.  The best tables are either in the front conservatory with its original windows or by the roaring fire tucked away. You might want to walk through the modern bit at the back to the outside decking area to eat alfresco in the summer – it has great views.

Service was friendly, thoughtful and couldn’t welcome us enough. The manager and staff were very attentive without being fussy and offered us complimentary nibbles while we waited.

PILLOW TALK

I didn’t see the rooms as it was a Saturday night and all were taken, but I know the 5 rooms are popular with out of towners. They look classic and homely with some modern touches, and are currently booked out until March 2022 at weekends, so you need to get in early to snap them up.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Having dined at the Mole & Chicken a few times before, it was the food that I could see the biggest change in. The new chef has added finesse to presentation as well as boosting local produce, original flavours and interesting textures for more of a gastro experience.

The menu has always been good and I was pleased to see my pub favourites; venison burgers, fish & chips and the trademark crispy duck Thai salad still available, but also with more adventurous things like crapaudine beetroot (don’t laugh, it’s a heritage veg), pave of halibut, and hay-roasted guinea fowl, showing the new chef’s flair.

The nibbles of pulled pork and apple croquette were flavoursome, light and fluffy with a nice bit of crunch to the exterior. For starters we ordered G&T cured Lock Duart salmon, which was, I would say, ‘delicately’ flavoured (possibly could have been a bit more generous with the gin!) , and the ever popular crispy duck Thai salad (still a complete triumph).

For mains we ordered the free-range pork collette and chargrilled hispi cabbage with bacon and crème fraiche and a 35-day, dry-aged Hereford 10oz bone-in sirloin steak with marrowbone and tarragon sauce. Both were great autumnal choices. The portions were generous and the smoky flavour of the hispi cabbage complimented the sweetness of the pork and burnt apple puree. The steak (above) at £35 per head was a bit of a stretch for most pockets, but we wanted to see if it was worth it. The answer is ‘yes’, it was tender and rich in equal measure. If it’s a special occasion or for a keen carnivore, I say go for it.

Dessert was sticky toffee pudding, given a festive shake-up with Pedro Ximenez caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, and we had dark chocolate and pink peppercorn cremeaux with pecan nuts, coffee bean cream and meringue – a great sugar hit and beautifully presented, again.

The Sunday lunch menu looked impressive with fish and veg options alongside the roasts, and a kid’s menu has the usuals plus mussels for the mini-foodies. It also struck me what a great place it would be to hire for a party because of the enticing set menus and variety of spaces to book.

The wine menu had all the bottles you’d expect for a place of this calibre, from Champagne to Chenin Blanc, plus Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre, and for reds, Malbec, Shiraz and a rather nice looking Barolo. Prices ranged from £23 to £70 per 75cl. As I was own my own drinking (my son was driving), I ordered by the glass and enjoyed a nice cold glass of Sauvy (just the trick with my pork dish).

OUT & ABOUT

The Mole & Chicken is in the hamlet of Easington with gorgeous views across the counties and less than a mile from the pretty thatched cottages of Long Crendon (voted Bucks’ Best Place to Live in 2021 so it’s obviously special!) It’s perfect for walkers as a stop-over between Chilton, Chearsley and Long Crendon, or for a nice night out with friends from any of the local towns of Thame, Haddenham or Aylesbury, without the taxi company doubling the cost of the night!

Waddesdon Manor

If you are staying over, then further afield the no-brainers are Waddesdon Manor (7 miles), Bicester Village is a 12 mile zip up the road, and both Oxford and Woodstock, home to Blenheim Palace, are 25 miles away. A little closer to home and more low-key, the windmill in the pretty hilltop village of Brill, thatched cottages of Cuddington and the market town of Thame are worth a meander.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: Treating yourself for a delicious yet informal lunch or dinner with friends and family, and special celebrations if you are looking for something intimate, welcoming and not too showy. Perfect for Sunday lunches, dog friendly stays and affordable wedding stopovers if staying at local venues.

NOT FOR: With it’s rustic interior, it’s probably not for London hipsters or Wallpaper mag fans, but the word is Wills and Kate have frequented when visiting friends in the area, so rubbing shoulders with Royalty is not out of the question.

THE DAMAGE: I would say this is at the slightly more premium end of gastro pub pricing, but worth it for the quality. Starters £7-£9, Mains £16-£23, Sides £4-£5, Dessert £7-£8.50, Cheese £7-£11.50 2-4 persons

Single rooms £95, Double rooms £125 and Family room £140, incl. breakfast

The Mole & Chicken, Easington, nr Long Crendon, HP18  9EY; Tel: 01844 617745; enquiries@themoleandchicken.co.uk

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