“Well the chef certainly knows how to cook,” my mother said, smacking her lips together most uncharacteristically, having not spoken AT ALL since her main course was served at the quintessential Oxfordshire community pub The Plough in West Hanney.
She’d already been strangely quiet during her delectable starter of torched mackerel fillet with seaweed focaccia, citrus fennel and horseradish cream (£9.50), but the advent of the fish had put her on mute as she worked her way with great alacrity through the pan-fried cod and its elderflower and caviare beurre blanc (£22).
OWAIN LLYWD-JONES AND HEAD CHEF LUKE MAYOR HAVE NOT ONLY BREATHED LIFE INTO THE COMMUNITY PUB, BUT MADE IT POSITIVELY LEVITATE
The rest of us were too busy exclaiming about our own food to pay much attention, understanding the reverence she was experiencing.
One thing’s for sure, the wonderful Owain Llywd-Jones and head chef Luke Mayor have not only breathed life into the Jacobean inn since taking over in May, but made it positively levitate. READ ABOUT IT HERE
Take the black pudding sausage roll with mustard mayo (£7) for instance which wasn’t even a starter, more of a nibble from the small plates offerings – and yet the pastry was light and crispy, the filling dense, dark and proud, the sauce making your nose smart just so.
Enough to make us sit up and start paying attention as each dish was laid in front of us by the knowledgable, young and lovely front-of-house team.
And yes, perhaps it meant that we then over ordered, eager to try everything from the lamb shwarma flatbread with flageolet bean hummus, mint yoghurt and pomegranate (£9.50) to the beef tartare, beef dripping croissant, anchovy and Worcestershire sauce gel (£12.50) which you had to try to believe.
The warm peach, watermelon and tomato salad with Muscavado dressing (£8.50) fell into the veggie/vegan category (an additional option of feta or burrata would have enhanced it further) but was literally bursting with flavour, the tomatoes out of this world, supplied by a local apparently.
While sitting back and congratulating ourselves on such a stellar meal, the mains arrived, sealing the deal – the pan-fried cod as aforementioned, cooked to perfection, the 8oz sirloin steak with fat chips, cherry tomatoes and bearnaise sauce (£28) needs an entire column all to itself!
The chips – OMG THE CHIPS – so crispy without being oily on the outside and then soft and potatoey inside. Both steak eaters had to cover them with their hands to stop them being pilfered, especially when dunked into the béarnaise which really sung with tarragon. The tomatoes were little bursts of summer sweetness and the meat (from Aubrey Allen) cooked beautifully. Really good.
We also ordered the compressed courgette, mint and chilli pizza with lemon ricotta and then worried it was a wasted vote but it was another real highlight of the meal – not only delicious but really unusual – smoky, salty, piquant, warm, delectable and moreish.
How to top that? With dessert. The sticky toffee pudding blew our socks off, the ice cream from Oxford Cow on a nearby farm in Kingston Bagpuize seriously the best I’ve ever tried. The rum and raisin creme caramel (£8.50) was boozy, creamy and autumnal while the lemon thyme panna cotta with strawberry salad (£8.50), more summery, a beautiful balance of sharp and sweet with just the right wobble.
Mission accomplished. A superb meal in a beautiful village community pub. What could be better? But that’s what comes of passion, flair and Owain’s laugh which ricochets off the historic beams. How we’ve missed it.
The Plough at West Hanney is hospitality at its best. Every village should have one!
To book or find out more go to: https://theploughathanney.co.uk