The Double Red Duke, Clanfield.
I’d almost come in summer as part of a little Cotswolds foray, before the glowing reviews, (look at me, ahead of the curve), but had to cancel, on account of having overestimated how much my stomach could actually absorb over the space of two days. Turns out that there is a limit. Even for me.
It’s near the west Oxfordshire town of Bampton; not part of the chocolate box parade that is further north and that is no bad thing.
The meet and greet is warm and helpful. We booked the cheapest room at £100 for bed and continental breakfast. The room is described as “very cosy” which translates to tiny. I think it might be the smallest room I have ever stayed in. I had to take my puffer coat off before walking round inside. It is fortunate that both C and I are not particularly large although I am working on that.
But it was a really pretty room. The bathroom, a great use of space, rocked a sort of Plain English vibe with its panels, marble splashback and signature red. Standouts: great bathroom products, a superb (red) double tub from Albion Baths, a lovely Alessi kettle, which I have been stalking on the internet, a decent radio, good bedding and a fabulous enormous antique wooden toilet seat, you know, the type with wings. Homemade cookies and fresh milk complete the picture.
Downsides? Thin walls. A couple with a dog in the next room were noisy and a hiss of “you’re a complete arsehole” was as clear as if I’d said those words myself. Their dog was barky. People upstairs were dancing with what sounded like clogs for a short while. But for £100 including breakfast I am really not complaining. I would, next time, ask for an upstairs room, or possibly something in the original house.
There’s a lovely, comfortable lounge area and bar, for pub grub and a ‘chef’s table’ style counter, as well as a restaurant. Even though not the oldest oldies, we were first in the restaurant at pensioner-special 6pm and it was empty. Despite C’s protests, we moved to the kitchen counter.I started chatting to the new chef, who I’ve google-stalked to discover is Henrik Ritzén, ex-Racine (sorely missed) ex-Boundary, ex-Arts Club ex-Aquavit and ex-Bluebird. I hope he isn’t planning to be ex-DRD as well, because his cooking is spot on and he’s a sure hand in the kitchen.
It’s incredibly hard to get the balance right at a place like this. It’s trying to attract the mini-break/London crowd as well as locals. It’s not a purely gastronomic destination, but it does have ambition. So the menu caters to all comers, with flatbreads, burgers and fish and chips, as well as serious grilled meats and fish and some modish ingredients such as kimchi and miso butter. The kidneys are the most popular dish, thanks to a glowing review. Ew. I still won’t.
I go for Wood-fired Vegetables, because I like the sound of the black treacle and seeds that it comes with. It’s a pretty plate, with a mix of grilled root vegetables and fresh leaves and the chef asks what I think about the treacle. I have actually forgotten about it, because I can’t really taste it. I do fess up ( I can’t lie- it’s a burden at times) and he tells me that some people think it’s too much. Maybe these people don’t know what treacle is. I grew up ruining my teeth with treacle toffee. Did you know that it is also called bonfire toffee? And claggum, or clack. Whatever it’s called, I couldn’t really taste any it, but it didn’t matter. C’s Brixham Crab, Rye Brioche and Pickled Kohlrabi was more ambitious and complex. Perfectly executed, it almost stopped him asking me whether he could talk about financial investments. I tried a mouthful. Rich and creamy. Top note of kohlrabi. Good.
I talked C out of the Spit-roast piri piri chicken, because there were more interesting things on the menu and obviously he cannot choose his own dinner. Whilst I fully own my food-control-freakery he will tell you himself that on his own he will often make the wrong choices.
Also, obviously, I know what C likes, even more than he does himself. So I suggest he has the venison, which comes with grilled red cabbage. It’s seriously good. Rich, perfectly charred, pink in all the right places. I have the turbot. Again, it’s prepared on the grill and is glazed in what seems to be a citrus-based oil. It is firm, moist and has that lovely charred, bubbly skin. It comes with a grilled lemon which I mangle a little so that I can actually eat it. I suspect I am the only person who would do that. It’s really good. As is the grilled hispi cabbage with miso. It’s quite hard to get that dish right, but here they do. The correct amount of firm in the stalk, proper char on the edges and sufficient wilt. The miso adds interest.
Because there has not been bread, there is a carb-shaped hole in my meal. I am beyond even the pretence about pudding. There will come a point where I have to rein it all in again. We are not at that point yet.
C goes for the Blackberry Apple and Salted Oat Crumble with Custard. The chef feels it’s his duty to point out that the custard is cold. I would expect nothing less. We discuss the gold standard of crumble accompaniment which is, simultaneously, but in three separate containers, hot custard, cold custard and ice cream. I could add clotted cream to that. Don’t judge.
I go for the crowd-pleaser chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream, because I feel it will be marginally less sickly than the sticky toffee pudding. I am not dissing the sticky toffee pudding nor shall you read any negativity into the word sickly. But sometimes the sugar rush is too much even for me.
I am glad the crumble was burnt (they came and told us) because they brought C a creme brûlée to tide him over whilst he waited for a new one to be prepared. Details like this make all the difference. So obviously I ate a fair amount because C wasn’t going to have all of it and there is a reason he is very slim and it was there and it was calling my name and I hate waste. And it was good. My chocolate was more a fondant and a good one. The recipe carried all the way from The Square, according to the chef. No wonder it was good.
The ice cream wasn’t homemade, but I’m told it will be, as they’ve got themselves a repaired Pacojet. Obviously I want a Pacojet all of my own. But I want a lot of things and unless I win the lottery (and I do the lottery now, because I’m in it to win it) I won’t be getting one anytime soon because even a second hand one on eBay is £2500.
The crumble is good. C doesn’t finish it all because he is not a clean-plater. I tidy the edges into my face. The desserts are basically your pub specials pimped up a bit and none the worse for that.
Because we are overnighters, I must mention the breakfast and not only because it’s a great buffet. Good sourdough, Cacklebean eggs, Netherend butter salted and unsalted. Yogurt and fruit. Pastries. There is also Skippy peanut butter, for which we give thanks to the Lord. The only way they could have bettered this, because I cannot help myself, is by having all the various iterations of Manilife peanut butter (including the new chocolate one ) but if that had happened, then there would be nothing to look forward to, because I would know I had died and gone to heaven.
Heaven aside, you’ll have a good time at the Double Red Duke. It’s a great name and a great place. I googled in vain to find the “local folklore” said to be behind the name and I suggest you don’t google Double Duke on the Urban Dictionary, as I did. At least not when a child is present. Or at work. Brace yourself.
This is slick, professional and stylish, operated by a company that knows what it’s doing, understands its audience, cares about the detail and offers great value for money. It’s definitely worth a detour if you’re on the way out west and even if you’re not. Service was flawless and intelligent. There are another two places in their stable and I’ll be trying both of them. Midweek. Eating at 6 pm. Living the dream.