It was November when landlord Nick Evans decided to transform The Black Horse in Standlake, near Witney, into a viable and invaluable village pub. He also knew that to spread its name further afield he needed someone in the kitchen worth writing home about.

Cue Martin Sherriff, who hailed from The White Hart in Wytham and brought his acute skill and enthusiasm to the kitchens in Standlake. Nominated in the Best Gastro Pub category in our Ox In A Box Food awards this year, The Black Horse was already making great strides towards its goal.

Martin Sherriff outside The Black Horse. Pic Ed Nix

And then lockdown arrived, and while some faltered, The Black Horse rode the wave, immediately organising a massively popular takeaway and delivery service, transforming their outdoor space, growing their own veg, holding an socially distanced VE Day, and afterwards celebrating with an all week Oktoberfest.

Dish after wonderful dish poured out of the kitchen with the kind of attention to detail and innovative bent that should have the Michelin inspectors rushing to its doors

The new outdoor/indoor dining area

In short, the cat is out of the bag, and the pub is now packed to the brim with eager diners and grateful villagers desperate to try Martin’s excellent food.

And we were one of them when we popped in for lunch recently. I took my vegetarian son as a treat before he went back to university, knowing that Martin devotes as much love and attention to the veggie dishes as the meat, and Ed Nix whose photographic genius is evident in these pics.

Pic by Ed Nix

And oh my, we dined like kings. Dish after wonderful dish poured out of the kitchen with the kind of attention to detail and innovative bent that should have the Michelin inspectors rushing to its doors.

Martin’s trick is setting out a simple sounding menu and then delivering a dish beyond all your expectations. The element of surprise works well but the delivery is as rewarding.

How on earth Martin sherriff makes a yolk out of yellow pepper which breaks like a normal egg is beyond me, but it looked authentic and tasted divine

Trading on the Oktoberfest theme, we tried the delicious, yeasty, beer-soaked roasted Camembert with pretzels (see above pic) and the beetroot tartare with avocado puree, yellow pepper yolk, a tapioca cracker and slow roast beets, which demonstrates perfectly what Martin is trying to achieve here.

How on earth he makes a yolk out of yellow pepper which cracks just like a normal egg yolk is beyond me, but it looked authentic and tasted divine.

And despite some strong ingredients, the dish was beautifully simpatico; each element complementing the rest. Throw in the textural contrasts, the crunch of the cracker against the squeaky beetroot and mulch of the avocado and it was sophistication personified. One of the best dishes I’ve tried for a long time.

Then the celeriac panna cotta with celeriac remoulade, artichoke chips, burnt shallot puree, pickled celeriac and nasturtiums (£7) which was elegant, subtle and gently flavoured.

Pic by Ed Nix

The Roscoff onion risotto with Jerusalem artichoke, cream and vegetarian cheese espuma (£12) was another instant hit. No stodgy rice here!

The poached Roscoff onions are blackened in the fire and then peeled and presented on onion petals with artichoke and local egg yolks from Mayfield Farm, cured caraway seeds are then grated on and cream cheese mousse foam added. It was an absolute showstopper. Ingenious.

The Roscoff onion risotto. Pic by Ed Nix

Ed’s main course stunned him into a rare silence. The tandoori lamb rump with a prune and tamarind puree, lamb belly samosa, spiced lentil Dahl and minted butter milk defied all expectations.

Just the right shade of pink, its Indian nod emphasised how Martin can twist a dish to encompass a mix of English and continental flavours so accurately.

Tandoori lamb rump with a prune and tamarind puree, lamb belly samosa, spiced lentil Dahl and minted butter milk. Pic by Ed Nix

Dessert sounded much more moderate – the vegan pistachio and olive cake – but then the truth lay in the details – chickpea meringue, baked baby beets, pistachio ice cream and basil oil.

And look what turned up! Only someone as crazy and passionate about food as Martin would make this much effort. You can almost hear vegans around the world taking a collective intake of breath. He cares!

The vegan pistachio and olive cake (my pic)

Chatting to Martin after the meal he said: “I don’t understand why chefs so often pass over vegetarians and vegans when they just need to be a bit more imaginative. Why not offer something different? You just have to think outside the box a bit more.”

And thank God for that because with vegetarian numbers increasing exponentially, the majority eating less meat thanks to the likes of David Attenborough and the current vegan revival, it’s about time chefs stepped up to the plate. Martin’s just been there for a long time already.

The Black Horse, 81 High Street, Standlake, Oxfordshire. OX29 7RH

For more details or to book go to: https://www.theblackhorsestandlake.com

The Black Horse interior

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