Killingworth Castle has ridden so many peaks and troughs since opening back in 2012 that it’s hard to keep up.
From fires and building projects to Covid and numerous awards, it always manages to emerge seemingly unscathed, its staff brandishing another extraordinary plate of food with a smile, standards never dropping.
Estrella certainly thinks so, naming it in their TOP 50 Gastropubs, and with head chef Adam Brown in the kitchen, his dexterity and finesse at odds with his huge frame, it seems that things are certainly paying off for owners Claire and Jim Alexander.
The perfect excuse then to pop in for lunch and check it out, Adam known for his seasonal, intricate modern British cooking.
If you haven’t been, Killingworth Castle is situated in Wootton, a beautiful location on the outskirts of Woodstock built by Thomas Killingworth in 1637.
Adam, formerly head chef at sister pub The Ebrington Arms, was brought over when the latter was sold and has been working his magic in the kitchens ever since.
Hopeful for a Michelin star, the Estrella nod is the first indication that things are going his way, our lunch was the second.
It’s such a charming space; the fire lit, the bar warm and inviting, the dining spaces, interesting and varied, yet intimate and snug, the menu like a warm blanket.
As it was lunch, we eschewed the delicious sounding mains, choosing instead, as is the want these days, to opt for multiple starters and dessert.
That’s not to do Adam’s cooking any disservice, because the same love and attention to detail goes into each element; from the treacle soda bread with cultured butter which arrives in thick cake like slices, enveloping you in a treacley hug, to the cheesy amuse bouche gourgeres, hailing presumably from the tasting menu (£85 for seven courses).
Another appetiser was the apple and walnut salad and stilton (£6), the portion large enough to be a proper starter; the blue cheese punchy, the dressing suitably mustardy, the fruit satisfyingly sharp, the crunch of the nut. Lovely, crisp and even, to paraphrase Good King Wenceslas.
Then the more refined mushroom cream, celeriac veloute, cep and hazelnut (£11), a lesson in texture, technique and seasonality; soft, subtle and earthy, redolent of a foragers knapsack.
The Jerusalem artichoke, orange and candied pine kernels (£10) was a more delicate dish. Immaculately presented, it offered a real nod to Christmas, again texturely sound, the artichoke shavings like leaves, the marinaded orange zesty without being overpowering.
A more vibrant, piquant dish was the chalk stream trout with beetroot (£15), the buttermilk and lovage sauce poured on afterwards from a tiny jug, lending it that bright green colour.
But from the word go, it was the next course I was focused on – the banana soufflé with stem ginger ice cream and toffee sauce (£12) jumping out at me. The sharp-eyed amongst you will note I do have a soft spot for a soufflé, but Adam Brown’s offering was quite superb.
Piping hot, fruity, (I don’t know how he flavoured it so succinctly, but he did), puffed high above the ramekin, accompanied by a little jug of toffee sauce and the ginger stem ice cream, both were worthy companions, complementing the taste of the banana perfectly. Who knew?
The perfect lunch then, and for those concerned with Killingworth Castle’s pricing, it’s worth noting that the set menu is 2 Courses for £28 or 3 Courses for £35, and there is also a bar menu for those wanting something more low key.
So yes, perhaps Estrella has a point. And while the locals are already in the know, for anyone looking for a night away, Killingworth Castle also has rooms, making it the perfect place to just indulge. I’m so there.
The Killingworth Castle, Glympton Road, Wootton, Woodstock, OX20 1EJ https://www.thekillingworthcastle.co