Top Oxfordshire chef Johnny Parke is heading up the kitchens at the new Back Lane Tavern in Woodstock which is due to open in August.
Sister pub to the new Duke of Marlborough, also in Woodstock, the former Kings Head is being revamped this month ready for a busy season ahead.
The concept at The Back Lane Tavern will be totally different to the The Duke’s, the latter being more of a family pub.
“I love the concept of everyone sitting around the table together sharing their food”
And with an extensive budget of almost £300,000 for the refit, the former boozer is set be transformed into a stunning but relaxed wine bar with an extended beer garden, a sharing plate style menu and endless wines by the glass.
So getting Johnny Parke on board to head up the kitchens, especially when good chefs are like gold dust, is a massive bonus.
So what enticed Johnny to leave The Mole in Toot Baldon? “I don’t want to leave The Mole because I love it there and I love the team, but when this position came up I couldn’t resist it. It was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.
“We are definitely bringing something new to the table”
“I love the concept of everyone sitting around the table together sharing their food rather than the more formal three course set up. I think of it as relaxed eating but we will also be doing a proper Sunday lunch.”
“Food-wise it’s exactly the food I want to eat and cook – sharing plates. I hesitate to use the word tapas because ours will be truly international, but I will source everything as locally as possible,” he says.
Having seen a sample menu I can verify: think tartar of tuna, avocado, black garlic, ponzu and sour dough or Cornish scallops with lemongrass, caviar, Salcombe crab and lime leaves. Try the Korean wings with ranch dip and black sesame or the summer squash croquettes with sage smoked aubergine. Dishes start at £7 and the team are also running a proper Sunday lunch offering.
“We want to make The Back Lane Tavern somewhere people pop in and then want to stay”
Johnny grew up at Studley Priory in Horton-cum-Studley, run by his father Jeremy who also lives in Woodstock now. He started off as a pot washer and slowly learnt to cook before moving on to The Rusty Bicycle in East Oxford, The Unicorn in Deddington (which he opened with Chris) and then The Mole.
And with a newly fitted kitchen and lots of high tech equipment at his disposal at The Back Lane Tavern he couldn’t be happier.
Plus landlord Chris Brewster has amassed a stellar team – Chris, Johnny and GM Hugo Kelly go way back, and were all at school together at St Edwards in Oxford.
Chris said: “I’ve always dreamt of opening an establishment in central Woodstock and I have the dream team here ready to run it. So we will have a dry run on August 13 and then open on August 14. I’ve always thought that if you are going to do it properly do it with friends who know the industry inside out and that’s what we have here. It’s great to be back together.”
Both pubs are owned by Star Pubs and Bars, but Chris and partners have also invested, most heavily at The Duke.
As for GM Hugo, he is equally as thrilled. “It’s so exciting and something Oxfordshire really needs. I don’t think there will be anywhere like this,” Hugo tells me.
With a CV as long as his arm Hugo opened at The Bell in Charlbury, and has worked everywhere from Soho Farmhouse to Cafe Coco, Oxford Kitchen, The Crown in Woodstock and Rickety Press in Jericho.
“I’ve already procured an amazing team for the Back Lane Tavern, with some great personalities and characters whom I am hugely confident in. We want to make it somewhere where people pop in and then want to stay. The menu is unreal and the space here is so expansive that it’s really exciting,” he says.
“We are definitely bringing something new to the table.”
Watch this space for further details!