Losing my Heart at The White Hart, Wytham.
I know. It’s been a while. I also know that I said I’d be writing about Oxfordshire restaurants. And I will. But it has been harder than I thought. I’m used to reviewing in the relative anonymity of London, where I can post an honest review, safe in the knowledge that if it is less than glowing, I never have to return and even if I did, they wouldn’t recognise me.
Not so easy in Oxfordshire. It’s not that I’m recognisable. It’s just that there are fewer places. So even the ones that are mediocre, which is the majority, tend to get a free pass, because I am likely to want to go back. Because mediocre is better than nothing. Although ask me that when I’m in purist mode and you might get a different view.
As it is, I have to drive around thirty minutes to get anywhere decent (Mash Inn and Le Manoir excepted) and even then it’s usually just glorified pub grub or tweezered fussiness by people who don’t give you enough food. One such place served two small rounds of squash, the size of a Hob-Nob with a few other bits of veg. This does not a main course make, at £30, before service. Or at any price. I had to eat when I got home. And the Manoir and Mash Inn aren’t places you just drop into, even if you fancy.
So it’s a joy, nay a delight to be able to tell you that I have found somewhere new and lovely. Yes, it does take me 30 minutes and yes, it’s worth the petrol.
I’d seen that Jon Parry, ex Mash Inn had moved to this pub. It’s an interesting move, from a food-fashion-forward gastropub, to a more classic country pub. The styles could not be more different. Having eaten a number of times at the Mash Inn, I was intrigued to see what he would be doing with the menu.
An Instagram picture of Crispy Buttermilk Chicken with “Coronation dip” meant I had no choice but to book within minutes of the image lodging in my brain. Sadly, I have decided to give up eating anything with a face, so I did it as an act of pure selflessness for C. Who has not.
The White Hart at Wytham is your quintessential country pub, albeit minutes in a car from the centre of Oxford, when there is no traffic. Which is never. Please do not get me started about the one way system of torture that is the Oxford road system. I am trying to live without hate in my heart.
Wytham is just north of Oxford centre and has that Midsomer Murders feel. In a good way. There is parking. These things are important out of London. I have learnt this.
Because I had stuffed a delicious custard-y Pain Suisse au Chocolat into my face mid-morning – thank you Orange Bakery – my legendary appetite was not quite in attendance. That doesn’t mean I didn’t eat, it just means that my finished plates looked like those of a normal person, not practically licked clean. Because on any other day here, they would be.
A golden beetroot and kohl rabi terrine was served simply with some dressed lamb’s lettuce. Unusually, it was served at the correct temperature, i.e. not fridge-cold, so you could really taste the delicacy of the flavours of the vegetables. Golden beetroot is subtle and doesn’t have the punch of the purple version. The kohl rabi was a good match for it, vegetal and light. A line of what I think was a sort of garlicky pesto sat between the layers. It was elegant and unusual.
I was staring at the frankly enormous portion of the fried chicken, which, at £9 is a bargain. Easily big enough for a main course. Even for me. C demolished the dish. There were little scraps of crispiness which fell off and which he failed to mop up, because he is not a clean-plater and I tidied them straight into my face. That dish alone would be worth your while.
I must, before banging on about the pie, tell you about the starter of soda bread and cheese. Because of the Pain Suisse situation, I didn’t order the Treacle Soda Bread, Butter and Oxford Blue. I regret that now. And butter is specifically mentioned. So I expect it isn’t the butter bit-part that it sometimes is. And bread, butter and cheese as a starter? Genius.
Who doesn’t love a pie? If you don’t, I’m not sure I can be your friend. Even were I not avoiding food with a face, I would have ordered the Local Cheese, Potato and Wild Garlic Pie, with pie liquor. I am fairly certain that it was a suet crust. Have a look and see if you agree. It was epic. Rich, with slivers of potato swimming in a garlic-rich sauce, dotted with chunks of delicious Witheridge in Hay from the Nettlebed Creamery. Go there for their toasted sandwiches. The liquor sauce, which I think was parsley-based, worked well and added a little contrast. I was too busy trying to finish it to ask. I’m out of practice.
One thing that got in the way of sauce curiosity was the layered chips. Layered. Let that sink in. I first had potatoes in layers, then deep-fried at The Quality Chop House. I don’t know if they created that dish, but that was my first exposure to the layering thing, other than Dauphinoise. Life wasn’t quite the same after that. These came with a dip. It may have been aïoli. I’m sorry to be so imprecise, but my head was turned.
I was feeling less than sparky at this point and C was sensibly suggesting that we skip dessert. He hadn’t seen the Instagram trifle clickbait that had passed into my consciousness a few hours earlier. The Jubilee Trifle. It was the Jubilee. We were eating out. We were missing Trooping the Colour. Eating it was my personal contribution to the celebrations.
I think it might have been the best trifle I have ever eaten.
In the words of the chef, taken direct from his Instafeed: Cointreau-soaked lady fingers, lemon posset, marmalade and blood orange coulis, crème Anglaise, whipped Lacey’s single cream, some white crisp pearl things (tasted like white chocolate to me) and orange zest.
Never mind the 30 minute drive, I would happily drive cross-country for that. The Pain Suisse was a distant memory as we managed to leave a clean bowl. And when I say we, it was, obviously, the Royal we, as would befit a Platty Jubes trifle.
Obviously I had the final cleaning the bowl spoonful. The proprietor looked surprised that we had managed all of it. He doesn’t know me yet.
The White Hart. You know you want to.