Head chef Andrew Lewis took me completely by surprise. Not only was our lunch at The Sir Charles Napier in Chinnor exemplary, but extraordinarily good value for money for a meal of this calibre.
But then with a CV which includes a long stint at The Hand and Flowers under Tom Kerridge, it’s hardly surprising that the 28 year-old’s skills in the kitchen are so memorable.
And what a lunch it was. Run like a tight ship by owner Julie Griffiths, we were seated in the cosy bar for drinks and then led through to the restaurant dining room, with it’s light, airy space that looks out onto the scenic garden outside.
Framed by sculpture and art, it feels refined and elegant but comfortable, the perfect setting then for such an epic meal.
I am now a huge fan of Andy Lewis’ cooking and am already planning my return
Which it absolutely was from start to finish. The bread, as always, set the scene, both the rye soda bread, and puffy, sticky, sweet caramelised onion brioche, which were offset perfectly by the light, salty cultured butter.
One of us was trying the extremely well priced set menu – two courses for £20 and three for £30 – which included the white onion soup with truffled egg yolk (I asked for it without), kibbled onion and chives, a stunning dish that delivered on taste with a light almost whipped density and a crunchy, textured topping.
Here is someone who understands the complexity of texture, taste and presentation
From the main menu we also chose the cured chalk stream trout, served with a delicate arrangement of kohlrabi, smoked parfait buttermilk and lovage (£13), the sauce being lovingly poured on by our excellent waiter, which was wonderfully nostalgic.
Andrew Lewis’ lightness of touch doesn’t belie the depth of flavour he manages to evoke, however delicate, whilst ensuring that every dish paints a picture. Very clever.
But his ‘clever’ touch was most evident in the celery root risotto with Berkswell cheese, pickled celery, truffle mayonnaise and celery crisps, again from the set menu, which was a masterclass in texture and flare.
The celery root replaced the rice which is then offset with a myriad of textures, and fresh with vegetables and flavours – a really original and a brilliant adaption of a classic and usually predictable dish. Genius.
The soufflé was a must – who can resist a clementine soufflé with cocoa rub ice cream and clementine anglaise, which delivered on every front? Light, fragrant, yet sharp, it was truly impressive.
Look what Andy Lewis produced? It was the sexiest apple crumble I’ve ever come across!
The set menu offering was an apple crumble tartlet with cinnamon ice cream, which sounded fairly innocuous but look what Andy Lewis produced? I mean come on! That fruit sauce base, the layers of crispy, crunchy warm puff pastry encasing apple compote, cinnamon and nutmeg, and then the spicy, silky cold gelato was the sexiest apple crumble I’ve ever come across!
Anyone already drooling will be pleased to hear that the Sir Charles Napier is running an equally enticing offering on Tuesday-Thursday lunch and evenings and Friday lunchtimes in January and February, of two courses for £20 and three for £25, which is an absolute bargain for this standard of cuisine.
I, for one, am now a huge fan of Andy Lewis’ cooking and am already planning my return. Here is someone who understands the complexity of texture, taste and presentation. He is an exceptionally talented young chef whose ambition and passion is evident in every dish.
The historic pub may have lost their Michelin star back in 2017 (before Andy’s time), and were visibly relived not to be under so much pressure, but with food like this they better be careful!
The Sir Charles Napier, Sprigs Holly, Chinnor OX39 4BX. http://www.sircharlesnapier.co.uk/index.html